Employees: The Best Companies Know They’re the Foundation of Success

By Kevin Cope

Google has what is possibly the most rigorous hiring system of any company in the history of business. Most people go through more 10 interviews before they are hired. Applicants also undergo rigorous testing.

While the business world is torn about Google’s practices — some saying they’re eliminating the most qualified applicants, some saying they are brilliant — people line up in droves to apply. Why? Because of the way Google treats its employees.

Google expects great things. It wants brilliant people who can come up with innovative ideas that anticipate trends in the market and the future desires of Google customers.

How Google treats its employees

To make those goals possible, Google encourages employees, specifically its engineers, to spend 20 percent of their time dreaming up new ideas, not working on current projects. The Google “campus” is a massive complex that offers employees free gourmet meals, a 24-hour fitness center, a nutritionist, an in-house doctor, a personal trainer, a swimming pool, a spa, a dry cleaner, massage therapists, and a Wi-Fi-equipped biodiesel shuttle for people who have longer commutes.

Why does Google offer these things?

Two reasons: They want to attract the very best people with the best ideas. And if they offer all of these services, employees don’t have to leave the campus to access them. So, more convenience for employees and more work performed for Google.

Google isn’t the only company to recognize that having great employees who contribute to a company’s success has to begin with hiring the right employees. I recently heard the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, describe how his organization’s hiring process is focused heavily on how well a person will fit into the company culture and support its vision of “delivering happiness.”

Once a person makes it through the hiring process, he or she begins training, including being on the phones for two weeks — no matter the role. But here is what I thought was most interesting. After this initial on-boarding process, Zappos actually makes an offer to the new employee of $3,000 — to leave!

This offer forces employees to really reflect on the question of whether this is the company they want to be a part of. In a sense, it requires them to recommit to the company. Tony explained that those employees who reject this offer and stay come back the next day with a renewed sense of commitment and ownership.

You know the old saying, “A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.” The best companies have a way of attracting the best people, and the best people help create even better companies.

The No. 1 reason good employees leave

In his book First, Break All The Rules — written with coauthor Curt Coffman — Marcus Buckingham of the Gallup Organization described the results of surveys of tens of thousands of people. Those surveys revealed that the No. 1 reason employees leave their jobs is their relationship with their manager.

While perks are great, how people feel about their managers is much more important to employee satisfaction. If they feel valued, receive regular praise, are rewarded for their efforts, are included in decision making, and feel that they are contributing to a clear vision, they are far more likely to stay. Employees who feel that leadership doesn’t know where it’s headed and who feel they aren’t valued always have one foot out the door.

A May 2011 USA Today article (Employee Loyalty Is at a Three- Year Low”) stated, “Fed up, workers are seeking greener professional pastures: Slightly more than one in three hope to find a new job in the next 12 months.”

This attitude is surprising in a down economy. But what most leaders should be concerned about is another point the article makes: Employers are generally unaware of these high dissatisfaction levels. The best thing managers can do is take a personal interest in the career aspirations of their employees.

With the recent recession-induced focus on cost cutting, which often impacts employee pay, benefits, job security, and morale, companies need to reconsider how they will keep their good employees; if they don’t, they could face an exodus.

The value of a good culture

In many companies, a strong, positive, employee-focused culture helps ensure that employees get the relationships they want with management and other perks that might outweigh, say, the importance of salary. Of course, few companies are big enough or profitable enough to offer the types of perks Google offers to its employees. But every company can use its resources wisely to create a culture and offer benefits that attract top talent. A small company that can’t afford to offer extensive benefits might offer a fun work environment, flexible hours, the option to bring kids to work, or a variety of other features.

In tough economic conditions, “doing more with less” is a popular catch phrase. But if you try to do too much more with much less, you risk burnout in your people.

Will better equipment and tools improve their productivity without causing a stressful work environment? What about more education? It’s hard to consider investments like these when you’re facing financial uncertainty, but many productive and profitable companies attribute their success in part to their commitment to ongoing employee training and education — in good times and bad.

For the Ritz-Carlton (a division of Marriott International since 1997), employee education and training is key to the company’s fabled success in guest satisfaction, which I’ll discuss in a few pages. The company conducts continuing detailed analysis of all aspects of its operations, involving employees at every level.

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Ritz-Carlton has identified 970 potential problems that may arise with overnight guests. First-year managers and employees receive 250 to 300 hours or more of training on how to handle these issues. Ritz-Carlton enjoys the lowest turnover rate of any luxury hotel chain in the industry.

General Electric is another great example of a company with a strong focus on employee development, spending more than $1 billion a year developing its people, even in a “recession” economy. Business Week recently rated GE as the best at developing leaders, a reflection of its investment and efforts.

While culture and work environment are important factors of employee satisfaction, management can only set an example and establish goals. It’s up to every employee to work to sustain a positive workplace culture.

Internal customers

The idea of employees as “internal customers” — both of the company and of each other — has gained popularity in the past few decades. It reflects the realization that the most successful companies have the best employees and the longest tenures within their workforces.

Recent studies on the cost of turnover — from $5,000 for a minimum wage position to 200 percent of annual salary for a leadership position — helped emphasize the importance of keeping valuable employees happy. And as Stephen R. Covey said, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customer.”

Just as many business leaders now think of employees as customers, many employees recognize that their colleagues are also their customers. Your internal customers are the people you work with or serve within your organization; you are the internal customer to others who serve and work with you.

Who are your internal customers? Are you meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations? What are you doing to anticipate their future needs? Are you prepared to meet those needs? Have you performed surveys or analysis of how well you’re doing and where you are headed in serving your internal customers? Do you hold periodic meetings to discuss process improvement, including how to enhance communication and cooperation between yourself and your internal customers?

My firm, Acumen Learning, has surveyed thousands of people and asked about their internal customers (their colleagues). The results consistently show that departments or individual employees say they provide service to their internal customers at a superior level than those internal customers say they receive.

We tend to judge others by their actions, while we judge ourselves by our intentions. However, as with external customers, perception is reality — and the only reality that counts is the perception of our customers concerning the level of product or service they receive. They will make future purchase or employment decisions based on those perceptions. When is the last time you asked an internal department or a colleague you serve about their level of satisfaction with your work and what their needs are? If you aren’t asking this question several times a year, you may be missing an opportunity.

It is often a primary role of human resource departments to ensure employee satisfaction and internal customer efficiency by implementing effective training programs, feedback mechanisms, and facilitating interdepartmental dialogue. But all business people need to focus on how to develop and keep valuable employees and how to offer great internal service to one another.

While revenue comes from customers, customers come from employees. And both are expensive to replace.

Excerpted from SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company by Kevin Cope (Greenleaf Book Group Press; 2012). For more information visit www.seeingthebigpicture.com.

Kevin Cope is President & CEO of Acumen Learning . For over 25 years, Kevin has promoted the idea that the brightest minds in business understand the essence of how a company makes money, and they use this knowledge to drive their decisions. In 2002, Kevin founded Acumen Learning, a training company that teaches his five key drivers model to some of the world’s most respected and successful organizations. info@acumenlearning.com