Empowered Employees Part 4

October 17, 2005

By: John Zink

One company owner in the construction industry recognized the importance of employee feedback and struggled to find the best method for collecting this information. This member began to recognize the problems with office suggestion boxes and open door policies and decided to take a more active approach.

The owner decided to use a different tactic. He asked the bookkeeper’s part-time assistant to make a visit to each of the job sites over the next couple weeks. This person was not in a supervisory role and though she was from the office, she wasn’t someone that the employees would feel threatened by.

At each location, she handed out forms to a crew and then engaged them in some conversation about the work they were doing. She asked questions about their tools, if they had what they needed to work, what was slowing them down, what they wished was different. She encouraged them to write down any suggestions they offered and then collected the forms.

After each visit with a crew, the assistant recorded notes on what had been said, omitting any names or details that could identify who had said what. Moving from crew to crew, she collected notes and suggestion forms from every field employee.

Using her notes and the employees’ suggestions, she compiled the information into a one sheet summary. She then went back to the jobsites to clarify any questions she had about the suggestions and to hand out the summary sheets to the employees so they could see what everyone’s suggestions were.

The feedback summary sheet was finally given to the owner and his management team to examine. From what was listed, the owner felt that the suggestions and feedback on the sheet was finally reflecting what the employees were actually feeling.

This is the point where many companies fail their employees. If the employee’s suggestions are dismissed without discussion, ignored or put off until “there’s time to do some of these nice things,” all trust will be lost with the employees.

Our contractor owner took the time to address each and every issue on the list and made sure that the field crews knew it.

Sometimes a simple change could be made to eliminate a problem, but some issues required larger changes to the company. The owner worked with his team to identify and tackle the larger changes would have the best return on investment through worker satisfaction, improved productivity or cost savings.

The owner and his team put together a progress report on the changes and suggestions they had received. If a change was not possible, the owner made sure to explain the reasons why in the report and to ask for alternative methods of making the change that could work. The assistant was asked to visit the job sites on a regular basis (beginning monthly then moving to quarterly later) to make sure the reports got into employees’ hands and to ask for more suggestions.

Special care was taken to avoid creating an “us vs. them” attitude by keeping the workers involved in implementing the changes they suggested. In many cases, workers were told that a change could be made if they implemented the idea themselves and stuck to it.

By empowering the employees to make changes and then holding them responsible for implementing the changes, the management removed the potential for a confrontational relationship between employees and management over implementing the changes.

The employees saw that their suggestions were being taken seriously and became more open about sharing their ideas and suggestions when it came time to talk with the assistant. The company continues to refine their feedback process to make sure it doesn’t become a routine and keeps producing valuable feedback—not just a gripe list.

Can you adapt this strategy to your company? Perhaps not exactly as described, but learn from the lessons. Think all the way through the method you will use to collect employee feedback and how you will handle the feedback you get. Look for the points in the process where honest opinions might be lost—because of who is collecting the info or how it is being collected. Make sure you follow-up and demonstrate that the suggestions are being used.

You may be surprised by just how many excellent ideas can come from your employees. Give them the power to make suggestions, hold them responsible for implementing the changes and benefit from the positive results.


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