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There is one Operational Improvement factor that you can control – and it’s FREE

September 12, 2007

There is one Operational Improvement factor that you can control and that will either make or break your company.

Groups, from families to companies large and small, all develop a series of behaviors and permissions that allows for trust and predictability, called a Social Contract. Every Management decision, no matter how small, is viewed by your employees through this lens. How will you know when you’ve breached this agreement? You’ll know virtually immediately and all the team building sessions in the world will not overcome it – only consistent tangible actions can – hopefully. Or, look at it this way –if your employees are so gullible or stupid that you can pull the wool over their eyes, would you want them involved with your customers?

Those departments most affected will simply vote with their feet. Cut the sales plan and watch your best producers ‘check-out’ and then leave (and take their best producing buddies). Say you can’t pay a bonus one year and then drive up in a new company car and you can see the snickers. Treat staff like they are beasts of burden while proclaiming they are your best assets and feel the smirks. Have a strategy du jour and watch people nod in seeming agreement.

Costs to you? Think of it this way – if you have 25 employees in an affected department or division and it takes 60 days for a new employee to settle in, then in a 33% employee turnover scenario, you’ll waste over 2 years worth of productive time (and dollars) PER YEAR.

Lost business? I was shadowing a sales call for a client where their customer (a senior manager in a Global Investment Bank) said to my client’s sales rep, “if you stay for 6 months, then I’ll learn your name”. Ouch.

What are the earliest leading indicators that your workforce feels the Social Contract was broken? There are 3:

Excessive discounts.
A company was acquired by a larger competitor and the employees all expected to be fired or at least have to share their accounts with the new parent’s reps. The company sale had been performed in total secrecy and the Social Contract was obviously broken the moment the announcement hit the Wall Street Journal (which is how the employees found out they were being sold). The result – the acquiring company inherited a series of last-minute large orders averaging 92% discounts off list.

Growing Days Sales Outstanding
Happy customers pay their bills. Are your support and A/R personnel being rude or curt with your customers? Are your sales reps getting ready to bolt and stuffing the channel with merchandise to pump up sales and their commissions while offering bizarre credit terms? Do you have a quality problem and the customer feels they have to manage your repairing it at their site?

Employee Turnover
Every company has some turnover. Actually, you can say that a company without some turnover is stagnant and subject to groupthink. If you have turnover approaching 33% in any job area, it should be easy to see if new employees go through the following 6 steps if the Social Contract is broken:

  • Initial Laughing (they think it’s just some jerky fellow employees)
  • Denial (there must be more to it I don’t get)
  • Anger (how did that headhunter do this to me?)
  • Internal Negotiating (how can I make this work?)
  • Checking Out (‘whatever’)
  • Flight

Rich Eichen is the Founder and a Managing Principal of Return on Efficiency, LLC, who’s website is http://www.growroe.com and is one of their senior turnaround leaders/CROs, Program and Interim Executives with over 25 years’ experience reshaping companies, Operations, IT and key initiatives. He can be reached atrichard.eichen@growroe.com

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