A little over a year ago, one of our key guys (we’ll call him Chuck) threw his tools against the wall, packed up his truck, and drove off into the sunset. Out of nowhere, he’d had enough, reached his breaking point and decided to quit. Livewire was shell-shocked. We’d given so much responsibility to him that we were paralyzed the next day when the installers came to work. No one knew where to go or what to do. Panic set in.
As a business owner, the scenario I just described chills me for a number of reasons. First, the last thing anyone wants to do is burn out a great employee. Second, having such critical operations rest in the hands of one person is strategically inept. After the dust settled, we set out to fix both errors quickly.
After convincing our key employee to return to work, we scheduled a group of thought leaders within Livewire to embark on a journey bent on finding out where we went wrong and how we could get back on the path to growing and improving. Our initial meeting efforts proved well meaning but fruitless. Like anything else designed by committee, each stakeholder had the best of intentions, but we struggled to find direction. This went on for several months and Chuck’s words echoed in my mind with each passing day. “Nothing will change,” he said to me. If you ever want to kick an entrepreneur where it counts, say that to them. I felt deflated and sad. Those two emotional states were for victims and whiners and here I was, wallowing in self-doubt and sorrow. How lame!
In case you hadn’t caught on through my other blog posts, I like change. Maybe I like it too much. Change, however, drove our path out of the bowels of despair. I changed the format of the meeting, changed the players at the meeting, and then someone came up with an earth-shattering idea: maybe we should survey our employees and ask them what they think? Holy mother of pearl! What a concept! Over the years, I’ve fallen in love with the concept of Occam’s Razor (the simplest solution is the best solution). Of course, winning over the employees wasn’t so easy. I’ve been guilty of laying out grand plans before them only to fall short or let things peter out. “Trust me,” I said (worst possible thing to say), this time it will be different.
We sent out the employee survey last July, after 10 months of design-by-committee failed meetings (the buck stops here). The funny thing about asking for feedback is that you get exactly what you asked for. Much of it was tough to hear. Most of it we needed to hear. The survey followed a basic format. There are a ton of resources out there (just Google “employee satisfaction survey”) and you’ll find plenty of options. Ours focused around six main groups: Your Job, Your Peers, Your Development, Your Compensation, Company Strategy/Leaders, and Longevity.
The results showed we had a big problem with overall morale, communications, and satisfaction. One of the benefits associated with quantitative feedback is that it helped us pick our Top 3 easily. We decided then and there to focus on our Top 3 main initiatives at all times and only introduce a new challenge when we’d crossed something off the list.
We communicated our plans to all the employees in early August in an email with the subject line “We Heard You” and then described our plans for the next few months and what we planned to do (in detail).
We’ve been meeting steadily since August, and I’m happy to share that we’ve taken a 15-item list and managed to whittle it down to only three remaining (by working on challenges three at a time). After more than a year, the best feeling was handing the eraser to Chuck (remember him?) and asking him to cross off the words “Nothing will change” on the whiteboard to thunderous applause from the group.
We’ve come a long way and still have much to do to improve our employee’s lives, but sharing what we’ve done and celebrating small victories is one of our new goals, so I did my bit this week.
Stay frosty and see you in the field.