It’s your employees. Just try doing your work without them.

In these difficult times, it’s easy to forget that the people doing the work are truly the people who make a difference with our customers.

The receptionist, people in the warehouse, technicians making repairs and performing maintenance — each of these employees is what provides the glue in your business. They keep things together.

What we also have today are people who are under enormous stress. The unemployment roles are as large as they have ever been, and although we have an official rate near 10%, the number of people looking for a full-time job who can’t find one is one in six. More than 40% of the people looking for work have been out of a job for more than six months — the largest percentage of this number since the Great Depression. These are indeed tough times.

So how are your employees feeling? I’ve talked about creating a sanctuary for our employees at work. I think it should be a place that is exciting, fun, progressive, and supportive. How are you doing? Is training and employee development still at the forefront of your thinking? Remember, everyone wants to do a good job. Everyone can do more than they think they can. And yes, everyone is lazy. What are you doing to provide the “spark” that gets your employees wanting to develop themselves and to grow in their capabilities and capacities? This is one of the critical elements in today’s workplace.

Working with Heads Down

There is a common feeling as I travel around the world and work with distributors of many brands within many industries. Employees are keeping their heads down. They are working hard in increasingly tough conditions and hoping they will continue to have their jobs.

I want us to become more accountable in everything that we do. If we did that we would be prepared to weather storms like the ones we are in at the moment.

A common theme is “A lot more work is being done by a lot less people.” Or as one person said to me, “Too much work is being done by too few people.” Have we gone too far? Are we abusing the employees we have left with too much to do?

We are seeing production rising at levels that are almost unheard of in recent times in the United States. It’s a direct reflection not of increased use of technology or process improvement, but rather a result of more units of work being produced by fewer people who are working harder.

It’s also a reflection of the fact that a lot of work that used to be done is no longer being done because something has to give. What I worry about is who is making the determination about what is important and what can go undone? Is it the leadership in the company or the employees?

A concept I use in training classes recognizes that the people who are doing the work know the work requirements and inefficiencies better than anyone else. Rarely does the “boss” know what to do in finite detail in the daily work going on within the business. Again, remember that the employees are the glue that holds everything together.

Excite Your Employees

So how do you “excite” the employees to perform at a consistently high level of effectiveness and be “happy” in their work?Well, what are the working conditions like? How about the hours of work? Are the benefits and pay package competitive and rewarding to highskilled and high-performance employees? Do you have a pension plan that has a company contribution match? Do you offer financial counseling services to your employees? Is there an incentive program that rewards employees who produce extraordinary results? These are all simple questions that have farreaching implications.

Usually at the end of business recessions or slowdowns there is job recovery. According to Mort Zuckerman, publisher of Business Week:

The recessions we had in the ’70s and ’80s took 12 months to recover all the jobs that were lost during the recession. In the ’90s, it took 23 months. It took 31 months for Y2K, and the expectation is that this recession will take in excess of 60 months before all the jobs lost are recovered.

That means it will be sometime in 2014 before we get back to employment levels like we had in 2007. That’s a long time to be working under a dark cloud for both business and employees.

We have to do everything we can to “excite” our employees. What is it you can do to make a difference to them? How can you make your workplace a sanctuary? These are the critical questions.

Don’t Lose Them

I will pick this up again next month when I explore “The Clarity Imperative,” which I believe will contribute to making the job better for everyone in your company. We will explore “what do you do,” “culture,” and “direction” — simple ideas each with a strong impact.

It goes to the heart of helping everyone understand what good performance looks like and the metrics of a task or job. It provides a company with a performance review similar to what we should provide to each employee every year.

How can we help you do better at what you do and grow more so that you can take on more in the future? Now that’s a question worth answering. The penalty is only evident at the end of these down cycles. It’s when the employee has enough confidence to explore other employment opportunities due to how they “felt” they were treated during the tough times.

I’m sure you don’t want them leaving you when things get better. I’m quite sure you want to keep everyone who has contributed to making you a success. I’m sure you want to protect your most valuable assets — your people.

by Ron Slee
April, 2010
Water Well Journal

About Water Well Journal

The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.