Kelly E. Middleton
Treat Your Employees Like They're Your Customers
One of my customer service principles is that you must give great service to your employees if you expect them to give great service to the customers. If not, you are like a parent who says to their child “do as I say not as I do.” This does not work in parenting or business leadership.
I recently read an article about a Burger King franchise whose employees walked out because upper management was working them in "near sweatshop conditions" with out breaks and understaffing by nearly 100%. Finally, fed up with leadership not caring about them, the staff decided to quit, leaving the marquee above to let everyone know about it.
I don't blame them! With those conditions, management is lucky they didn't have a full-on revolt. From Burger King's perspective, this is a PR nightmare. How do you come back from such damning evidence from your whole staff? I imagine the business at this franchise will suffer from this fallout. So what could BK have done differently? Short answer: a lot. As you can guess, I'm going to put this all on leadership and it starts well before workers get to the point of quitting en masse.
If you are trying to keep your employees, why not hire an outside expert to sit down with your employees and make them part of the solution to finding and keeping workers? So many leaders hate this idea because they do not want to hear negative feedback. However, I think that if the comments are being said anyway, why not bring them out in the open? Leadership does not have to take all the suggestions and can give the "why" behind certain decisions in order to reach a workable compromise.
The person interviewing the employees should not always be inside the organization if you really want honest, unfiltered feedback. Since employees will believe negative comments they share about their organization might be held against them, the outside expert must build trust and promise to preserve anonymity. For the record it is much cheaper and better to keep current employees than trying to go out and recruit then train new ones.
Some possible questions in these tough times might include:
If you were in management right now, what would it take to keep current employees?
What type of work schedule might attract new employees and keep current employees?
What are certain characteristics you like in a boss and do not like in a boss?
Feedback from questions like these can go a long way to solving problems. Having employees help solve issues will improve the entire culture of the workplace. People support what they help create.
When I read more about the Burger King fiasco, one employee stated that the air conditioning in the kitchen was broken. Had there been regular communication with leadership through an intermediary, like myself, the problem or problems could have been identified. Had I been leading the information gathering, I could have not only reported the air conditioning problem, I could hopefully deduce that this is a serious problem that could have been fixed. The problem is that top leadership is so far removed from the people. Being a school leader, I've seen it firsthand over the years.
As superintendent, I met with representatives from each department (custodial, administrative, food service, etc.) monthly. I would listen to issues from the various groups. It took time for me to build trust, especially in ensuring that no names would be used. I also made it clear to everyone that I was in a position to make sure no one was punished if something did leak out. I would usually purchase breakfast for the group. Did my other leaders like receiving this feedback from my group each month? Probably not.
However, I know this lead to a much tighter, more positive school culture, especially with our classified staff. We were able to answer questions about our district, enlist their help on initiatives and take care of issues that our board and I couldn't observe ourselves.
So many leaders do not want this honest feedback as they cannot stand to hear any criticism. If you are truly committed to improving your work culture and service to employees, you should not worry about a little criticism. Since I conducted our meetings, I would not allow them to become gripe sessions. I would also commonly ask the group to talk about what was working or for lists about what we were thankful for before we adjourned each meeting.
Had this type of communication been happening at this Burger King, I would like to believe it would have never reached this boiling point.