Managers' Corner: Owning Up
Looking to find ways to cut costs and boost profits? Ask your employeesby Pamela Bilbrey and Brian Jones | Published in October 2009 employees | management | managers' corner | Departments
Looking to find ways to cut costs and boost profits? Ask your employees
By Pamela Bilbrey and Brian Jones
If you’ve spent the past few months racking your brain for innovative ways to cut costs and jump-start sales, you’re not alone. Every business owner knows all too well how daunting it can be to tackle the challenges that come with running a company in good times, let alone turbulent ones. But what if you weren’t the only owner of your company? What if you had a group of people who could help you shoulder the burden?
You don’t have to just imagine it. When it comes to problem-solving, you can tap your most valuable asset: your employees. After all, those closest to the work are the most likely to see opportunities for innovative solutions. And by helping your employees feel that they have more of a stake in the company’s success, you’ll be able to access that. When employees view their organization as owners do, they’re more likely to voice their ideas for improvement, and they’ll be more passionate about realizing them.
Here are the five questions you need to ask to get the creative juices — and your profits — flowing.
1. What would make this a better place to work?
One of the most important aspects of any well-run business is employee retention. Happy, satisfied employees stick around, meaning less time and money spent recruiting and training new people. They’re also more productive, do better work, and are more likely to want to do what’s in the company’s best interest. Managers often shy away from asking this question because they’re afraid of the answer. Don’t be. It’s often the little things that matter most to employees, meaning minor, cost-effective changes. It may be something as simple as ensuring that the water cooler stays stocked in the break room, or keeping the temperature in the office regulated throughout the seasons. You will most likely not get outrageous requests, and employees will appreciate the opportunity to be heard.
2. How can we enhance customer service?
Just because something worked great when your business first opened doesn’t mean it’s still the best, or the only, way to do things. Ask your staff how they would improve customer service. What do clients complain about most? What do they seem to like? What you hear may surprise you. For example, at one organization, the staff kept receiving complaints from clients about their business hours being inconvenient. Had the owner never asked his staff what clients were saying, he never would have known that his store hours were hurting business. Simply shifting the store opening time up one hour increased both customer satisfaction and sales.
3. What would you do away with and why?
Just because a policy or process exists doesn’t mean it’s necessary. As a business grows, its needs change. The rules and regulations that were once vital may now be antiquated and futile, only causing extra work and headaches for your employees. To weed these roadblocks out, ask your employees’ opinions. The ability to streamline your business by ridding yourself of ineffective procedures will make you and your employees happier in the long run, and help all of you run a better business
4. What would you do if you were footing the bill?
We’re all much more conservative when spending our own hard-earned money, and helping employees look at the company’s money as they would their own could save you big bucks. Have your employees sit down and look at the money each department spends. Ask them to imagine it coming out of their own pockets. Then have them help you brainstorm ways to eliminate unnecessary expenses. By giving your people a sense of ownership over how money is spent, you’ll find new ways to cut costs.
5. What is working well, and how can we make it even better?
All too often, we focus on what isn’t working in our organization, and forget to consider what’s going well and why. Have employees list things that make their job easier or help make them more successful, and why they think that is. Then ask how these things could be even better.
Successful organizations have figured out that employee ownership drives success. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. You hired your employees because of their talent and skills. It’s time to put all of that talent to use in new and innovative ways.