Companies win when they get power into the hands of their people, but watch out for the traps.
Is your company doing all it can to meet the challenges of the marketplace with a truly empowered work force? Probably not, according to Alan Weiss, the author of "Our Emperors Have No Clothes," who spoke at the annual Transzact conference last year. (Transzact is one of the country's largest independent freight bill processors.) When people don't have real power in an organization, they create artificial power. "It's called bureaucracy," he says, and it impedes the innovative thinking and the passionate commitment critical for delighting the customer. Healthy organizations, he says, find ways to create a sense of purpose and unleash the power of their work force.
Weiss defines empowerment as the ability and the authority to make decisions that influence the outcome of an employee's work. He points to the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain, which empowers every staff member to authorize up to $2,500 to help satisfy a customer. We must look for similar ways to enhance customer service in trucking.
The road to empowering the organization is littered with potholes, says Weiss. An abridged version of these include:
1. The customer is always right. Not all customers are created equal. Some are abusive, unwilling to honor commitments, and slow to pay. When it comes to dealing with bad customers, we must tell them about the negative impact their actions have on us at the risk of losing their business. A case in point is the nagging problem of the seeming inability of shippers and receivers to load and unload promptly.
2. You must be great at problem solving. Don't spend time looking back and fixing problems. Rather, focus on improving service levels and raising the performance bar. Look for the incremental improvements. A 1% gain every other week will translate into more than 26% improvement by the end of the year.
How important is this? Take a look at the reasons why customers leave: 3% move; 5% develop other friendships; 9% leave for competitive reasons; 14% are dissatisfied with the product; 68% perceive an attitude of indifference.
3. We are the world. No company can be all things to all people. You have to understand your limitations and focus on doing well what you do well.
4. I don't have the time. We all have 24 hours in every day. It's how we choose to spend it that determines our priorities.
5. "They" won't let us. Often people don't unleash the full power of their creative juices for fear that some poorly defined "they" won't like it. "They" is upper management, the system, their peers. In reality, "we" are "they," and we must move beyond such victimization.
6. Everyone can be saved. In today's business world, it takes a combination of ability, accessibility, and affability to survive. Those who don't get it should leave, because they hold back the entire system. "Today we can downsize 40,000 people, but can't fire three people for incompetence," he says. "If we were firing more two's and three's, maybe we wouldn't have to talk about downsizing."
7. Always promote the best performer. Make sure promotions are in sync with skills and abilities. The same set of aptitudes that makes somebody good at sales runs directly counter to what it would take to be a sales manager. The same goes for a driver and a driver trainer.
8. No joy in Mudville. As a society, we take ourselves entirely too seriously. We don't have fun. Instead of kicking each other when we're down, we should reward successes -- however small -- that are aligned with the corporate mission.
9. Cut training. It's too easy after a tough quarter or a tough year to cut training. There's a big difference in those companies that invest in their people. You invest in training to help raise that bar.
10. Money motivates. If you have an unhappy performer and you give him or her a raise, then you have a better paid unhappy performer. Look for ways to improve the job.
11. Walk the talk. Talk is cheap. People recognize the company not for what is said, but for what they see. Get out on the front lines and listen.