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MANAGEMENT: FIRE 'EM UP--MOTIVATING EMPLOYEES

Mar 1, 1999 12:00 AM


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When it comes to motivating your employees, money isn't everything. Workers today are looking for much more than a paycheck, as evidenced by national surveys listing good wages fourth or fifth among rewards people want most from a job.

Basically, people want to be treated as human beings--cared about, listened to, treated fairly, respected for their individual contributions as well as their role in the overall process. While this may sound like a no-brainer in a corporate climate that spouts allegiance to "team-building," "empowerment" and "synergy," some managers still just don't get it.

"The principle of The Golden Rule--treat others as you would be treated--is just as valid today as ever," assures Bill Marzano, vice president of educational services at Solar Communications, a large employee-owned direct mail printer in Naperville, IL. "There really is nothing new. You can't trick people for too long with short-term techniques aimed at getting them all charged up. It comes down to following basic principles and living by them every day. Treat people right. As you sow, so shall you reap. Quick little tricks wont work."

Creating a culture in which people can't wait to come to work each morning and feel good when they leave at night begins with always assuming each and every person wants to do a better job and grow. Under this approach, fair wages, like acceptable working conditions, remain the basic need people require from a job before expending even a minimal effort. But money is not a long-term motivator for them to work harder.

While managing people effectively requires significantly more time and effort, the payback in productivity and, thus, profitability, is invaluable. In the interest of helping managers lead themselves and their employees to higher levels of excellence, we offer the following tips gathered from printers large and small, all of whom agree a company's greatest asset is its work force:

1/ Give recognition

Human beings crave praise and recognition to boost their confidence and make them feel good about their work. That doesn't mean anyone should dole out kudos indiscriminately, but there should always be room for acknowledgement of special accomplishments. At Wicklander Printing Corp. (Chicago), not only is there an "Employee of the Month," but that person is rewarded with a $50 check, a dinner gift certificate, his or her framed picture on the office wall, a plaque, a write-up in the employee newsletter and, last but not least, a reserved parking spot in front of the door for a month.

Other awards given on a regular basis include ones for teamwork, coming up with a good idea, and finding and correcting errors in the production cycle. These coupon-sized certificates can be redeemed for movie tickets, gift certificates or Wicklander jackets and hats. President James Wicklander explains the company's generosity this way: "Our theme is, 'Closer to the business, closer to the client,' and performance incentives should be tied into that. Of course, a good pat on the back doesn't hurt either."

Intelligencer Printing (Lancaster, PA) sponsors a variety of activities to show its appreciation. For example, each department is rewarded for reductions in spoilage and waste with pizza parties, banquet dinners, etc. At Christmas, buses are hired to take employees to New York City for shopping. This is in addition to a guaranteed Christmas bonus. "As a 200-year-old company, the owners have established a kind of paternalistic atmosphere in which employees are made to feel they are part of a big family and, naturally, they should share in the family's success," explains Stephen Brody, president and CEO of Intelligencer.

As another example of recognizing employees, the printing division of Branch-Smith Inc. (Ft. Worth, TX) initiated a "Caught in the Act Program," which encourages each of the firm's 60 employees to write up any co-worker who has done an outstanding job in some area. Recognitions are posted on the bulletin board and published in the company newsletter.

2/ Solicit feedback and encourage suggestions

Remember the most damaging phrase in the language is "It's always been done that way." Have monthly employee communication sessions or roundtable discussions among top managers and various employees from different departments. Consider setting out a "screw-up" box for employees to inform management of things they're doing wrong or things they could be doing better. At Wicklander, $50 is given each month to the best suggestion taken from its suggestion box.

Solar has organized several successful employee outings aimed at gaining feedback. For instance, a brainstorming retreat was held in which the company closed its printing operations for the day and sent its 320 full-time workers to a local community college. After informal addresses by top management, the group broke into smaller intra-departmental groups to discuss production bottlenecks and other issues. The result was a list of 50 key problems areas to be addressed by a designated employee task force. On another occasion, Solar discussed long-range plans at a retreat dubbed "Brain Day." Employees, some of whom were included in the planning process of the day, listened to presentations on the company's sales projections, production goals, new products and more.

3/ See it, do it, own it

Encourage employees to show personal initiative and solve problems themselves. The result is a sense of ownership of a solution and the feeling they are working together as a team. At Interweb Ontario, Inc. (Mississauga, Ontario), a division of Transcontinental Printing, belief in this system of motivation is so strong that management has abolished even labeling itself as such. Instead, managers act as "coaches" to their fellow associates, numbering 65.

"Rather than someone being told what to do, they are 'coached' on what to do," explains Interweb coach Tom Hogan, whose title in traditonal organizations would be general manager. "By having the responsibility of answering to themselves, they learn no one is going to intervene when things start to go wrong, so they are accountable for their actions. This ultimately reflects on their pride, and employees respond with continuous improvement."

On a smaller scale, Stu Marty, president of Wright Printing Co., achieves the same results using the team mentality at his eight-person commercial printing firm in Normal, IL.

"We compete with some large commercial printers in town, so we try to instill a strong sense of team pride--together we can accomplish so much even with our limited equipment and resources," says Marty. "Our CSR will hand-collate, bindery people will watch a press during lunchtime and typesetters will even paint rooms. Even our bookkeeper is sometimes asked to keyboard large amounts of text. No one is too proud to shy away from work that doesn't fit into their job description. Together, we love to take a bone away from the big dogs."

As a show of appreciation for their above-and-beyond efforts, Marty is known to spring for an impromptu pizza party or sometimes even open up his wallet on a whim: "I might hand out $50 bills and say, 'Thanks for your extra effort on the Acme job last week. We really needed to make a nice profit on it and we did.' "

4/ Don't keep secrets

Open-book management is the way to go today. Employees want to feel they are trusted and valued members of the organization. This means nothing is held back, including information about sales, profits, return on investments, spoilage figures, etc.

The Printing Co. in Indianapolis evens sends its financial information home to spouses in a monthly newsletter. Other ideas include letting employees log on to the company's sales tracking system to see how well the sales force is doing. Up-to-date reports on company profits, expenditures and investments also can be made available over the computer network.

As part of its open-book policy, Intelligencer Press holds a "town meeting" twice a year to keep all employees informed about the company's health.

5/ Conduct frequent performance reviews

"As a rule, managers hate to do performance reviews, but employees cry for them," insists Dave Harding, owner of The Printing Co. "People want to know how the boss feels about the job they're doing and how they can improve. They absolutely want to know how they're doing. But as managers we fear what employees are going to say to us or how they're going to feel if we have to be the bearer of bad news. The truth, though, is all fears we have are false. The definition of fear is false expectations that appear real."

At Fulton Press (Little Rock, AR), each of its 33 employees are reviewed every six months. "It's a good chance not only for us to talk to them, but for them to talk to us in a comfortable setting," explains Claude Fulton, president and CEO of the commercial printing firm. "There are a lot of people who are too shy or just plain hesitant to come out and say what's on their mind otherwise. This way they don't have to sit out there on the shop floor and wonder, 'How am I doing in my job?' They also don't have to worry, 'I guess I'll never get a raise if I don't go in and demand it.' "

6/ Provide positive reinforcement

It has been said good management is the art of showing average people how to do the work of superior people. People who hear nothing but criticism inevitably feel inadequate and resentful. When Fulton started his company in 1987, he set out to create an atmosphere in which employees never worried about getting reprimanded or fired for making a mistake. "I want all of our employees to feel comfortable and not afraid to ask questions," he says. "Our employees know that if something is wrong and a mistake has been made, it is in management's interest to get it corrected and work with them on determining what procedures need to be changed to prevent such a mistake in the future."

In general, Fulton reinforces the idea that "none of our procedures are etched in stone because our business is so dynamic and each job is custom job. We expect things to happen that we haven't thought of. The person doing the job knows best how that job should be done smoothly."

7/ Present opportunities for growth and encourage skills development

Employees often become more complacent as their jobs become more predictable, so it is important to offer the thrill of new opportunities. Employees want the chance to grow inside the company, becoming more valuable to the organization. Not only does CL Graphics (Crystal Lake, IL) have a training budget to reimburse people for taking classes that apply to their jobs, but it has brought in local junior college instructors to work on-site, going over color management and tying it in from prepress to proofing. Fulton Press is big on promoting from within, enabling employees to expand their skills as the company acquires more technology.

8/ Learn to trust

When managers at Quad/Graphics (Pewaukee, WI) gather for an annual two-day conference, they leave non-management personnel in charge of operations. The message is they trust their workers to get the job done without having their hands held.

Marty of Wright Printing is also a big believer in organizational flexibility as a way of showing respect. He lumps vacation time, holidays and sick days into a single account. Not only does he let employees create their own schedule, he lets them take time off for any reason at all--"Go to the beach and sunbathe if you want"--as long as they give him fair warning.

"From a production standpoint, having a few days notice is far more important than why they are gone," Marty reasons. And his employees find it "a great perk" to be given authority to manage their time away from work without ever having to concoct an "acceptable" excuse at the last-minute.

9/ Be visible & accessible

Show an interest in others, their pursuits, their work, their homes and families. Make sure everyone in the plant senses you regard them as a person worth knowing personally. Rick Schildgen, president and owner of CL Graphics, makes a point of walking the plant floor and talking one-on-one with employees, meeting with everyone bi-monthly and with many different departments monthly to discuss how they're doing and whether they met projections for the month. This gets employees to buy into the strategic planning.

Wicklander is also known to keep connected with employees by walking through the building in different directions each day, passing through different departments. He sends a card to each employee on his or her anniversary date. Recently, he invited several estimators out to dinner when they met a departmental goal.

10/Have fun and keep a sense of humor

"Humor helps create a pleasant surrounding that people want to come back to the next day," figures Marty. "We don't allow practical jokes that could endanger anyone but, outside of that, nothing's off limits. I'm probably as big of an instigator as anyone around here. I figure if everybody gets joked with, they all know they're liked. My people even say to me, 'This is what I like about working here--everything's funny'."

An important thing to remember is that attitudes are infectious and contagious. Both positive and negative moods spread quickly through the troops.

From the perspective that employees follow the lead of their manager, Harding stresses, "If you are dead serious about everything every day, you're no fun to work with and employees won't sense that they work in a fun place. Whenever I'm worrying about the business, my sales staff, for example, knows it immediately because they can see it on my face and it affects their attitude. I can go into a sales meeting with them and say, 'C'mon, gang, we've got to get orders up--let's get motivated,' and things get worse. But if I come into the next sales meeting and joke with them, the orders go up right away--just by me exhibiting a different attitude!"

In the long run, a firm puts more of an investment in a person than it does any of its equipment. If management doesn't make a corresponding effort to ensure employees are satisfied and motivated, nothing will work as well as it should or could.