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Ask your staff: they’ll know the answers

Your staff can help you to solve business and performance issues you might not have even thought about. They’ll be also more engaged as a result. Graham Jarvis explains. 

Human capital is the most important asset of any business, but it is also undervalued. That’s because most firms’ managers still take a traditional authoritarian view of their employees, which can demotivate staff, create an atmosphere of resentment, lead to higher churn rate, as well as reduced individual, team and corporate performance. It’s time for change because progressive organisations have realised the value of talking to their staff and investing in their human capital.

The issue is particularly important in an organisation where a high level of customer-employee engagement is required. The Gallup Organization studied ten US companies in 2003, each of which, understood the value of their human capital and how customer-facing staff can either create a poor or rich customer experience. The outcome depends on how and whether staff are given ownership over their roles and empowered to make decisions that fulfil customer needs.

These companies, by applying Gallup’s Human Sigma customer-engagement methodology, achieved amazing results: sales grew by 85 per cent and gross profit margins by 26 per cent. This is as much due to the increased confidence that staff feel when they are trusted to do their jobs well, as it is about managers offering them a more collaborative approach to the way they think and work with their staff. Part of this equation should involve managers asking staff the right questions, treating them as adults rather than as children; enabling them to discuss issues and deliver feedback about their jobs, their customers and about how organisational processes might impact on their ability to perform.

“Invest in your employees and show them respect, and they will be a powerful tool for you,” said Mark Stuart. head of research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He added that training is one way to “prove to your staff that you value them, as well as giving them knowledge to increase their productivity, broaden their career prospects and help them on their way to better job satisfaction.”

Nurturing and recognising the value of their human capital will help to prevent employees – particularly your best ones – from jumping ship to a competitor. The consequences of this are lost intellectual capital, skills and experience – invaluable assets that are both costly and hard to replace.

“Managers must take the perspective that organisations succeed because of their people,” said Ashley Semmens, director of change management consultancy, WCL. “They should be doing everything they can to understand what improves their performance and working on those aspects to improve value.”

His colleague Cindy Bush added: “Organisations are made up of people who make the work happen. The remaining assets are enablers.” But some managers fear adopting new approaches to managing their employees, and that includes opening up dialogue with them.

“There is a belief that managers should have all of the answers, and so they fail to facilitate good communication with their staff, which would enable them to provide solutions to problems and raise issues,” said John Curtis, managing director of people management and leadership consultancy MC2.Yet, by opening a channel of communication without causing employees to fear that they might be reprimanded for their comments, managers will enhance their reputations and deliver improved team and business performance.

Good managers understand the importance of asking their staff for feedback. In customer-facing environments they can provide invaluable customerinsights, which can be used to improve the quality standards of the organisation, enable them to develop better organisational processes, staff training and customer strategies. They know that the key to success partly lies in the working environment that they create and in their ability to motivate their ‘human capital’ – their staff. This includes understanding what WCL calls the emotional quotient factor (EQ), which can be a barrier to ongoing organisational, team and individual improvement. Those who forget that they are only human beings and think they have all of the answers, could find themselves becoming a bottleneck rather than the enabler of ongoing performance improvement.

Gary Schwartz, vice president of product marketing at Confirmit, an online survey and reporting tool that can deliver employee and customer feedback, said: “Managers who think they know all of the answers need to ask more questions.”That means that managers also require training to ensure that they can constantly maintain or deliver improved performance, to get more out of their people. They need as much support as their own staff if their own individual human capital is to bear fruit. So, while they should be accountable for the decisions they make, they, too, will require the support of their own superiors and organisation.

It’s not all about going for a stick when something has gone wrong. Both managers and their team members might have unresolved issues that affect their performance. That’s why an environment of open communication is so important. It enables an organisation to realise where its strengths and weaknesses lie and to fix any issues. Without dialogue, they could remain buried – diminishing overall performance.

Dialogue should be rewarded and encouraged, as indeed should the ability of staff to have more control over their jobs and decision-making. Most people want to do their jobs well, although Gallup has found that 71 per cent of employees are often disengaged and a further 20 per cent are actively disengaged from their roles. The latter are the ones who will dismantle the work your best employees do. So managers need to ensure that their staff are fully engaged with their organisations, with their roles and customers. This requires managers to trust staff more by giving them more ownership of their jobs, asking them the right questions, showing that they are valued and mentoring them to achieve more in their jobs. In comparison, the traditional authoritarian, know-it-all management approach will fail to deliver.

By Graham Jarvis

First Publishing by Human Capital Management magazine

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