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Churn & Earn

March 1, 2003
Regardless of whether a business is large or small, rich or poor, growing or headed for bankruptcy, there is one factor that has been significantly overlooked

Regardless of whether a business is large or small, rich or poor, growing or headed for bankruptcy, there is one factor that has been significantly overlooked and underrated when it comes to the longevity and success of the organization. Consciously or unconsciously, electrical wholesalers are pursuing the wrong philosophy in hiring and retaining personnel. Your overall goal must be to strive for greater labor turnover!

This sounds totally irrational if you are thinking of turnover in terms of people leaving the company. What you really want is warehouse turnover that goes up, not out. The best people in your organization are those who understand the products and procedures that your company uses, and your customers' needs. The best place to learn this is the warehouse. Examining inventory levels on a print out does not carry the weight of picking up the items. This was probably your entree to the industry, but what are you doing to provide this opportunity to the newly hired, potential superstars of the future?

Looking in all the wrong places. When placing a "Help Wanted" ad, most wholesalers end up sampling the bad apples in all the wrong barrels. The worst way to look for new employees is through newspaper classifieds; it violates every principle of targeted marketing. Anybody and everybody is going to apply, wasting your time and resources, if not worse. One distributor in Oregon put an ad in the local paper that was answered by over two hundred applicants. The object is not to generate the maximum number of applicants, but a minimal number of qualified individuals.

A good way to accomplish this is to pre-screen the ad and put it only where it will be seen by the right people. Or, let someone else do the screening process for you. For example, with the closure of many military bases, many servicemen and their families need jobs. They are motivated, dedicated and have discipline in their lives. The base chaplain or commanding officer may be able to identify these individuals for you and arrange for interviews. Similarly, local junior colleges, churches or organizations may be able to identify people who have the need, desire and intelligence to work for you, regardless of their previous job history. Ads in the Sunday paper may attract more people, but an ad in your local ethnic press may attract a higher caliber of individual who had responsible jobs in their countries of origin and are willing to work their way up through your organization.

Unless you are running a social agency, your business can't afford to hire misfits, dropouts or substance abusers. Starting with a low-motivation individual makes the educational process more difficult and the need for inspiration more acute. For every superstar that you can turn around, there may be a hundred lead sinkers holding down your organization and preventing you from achieving excellence. Find ways to weed out the uninspired before they're hired. Although polygraphs and specifically directed questions may be illegal,there are a number of published testing programs available that can be used--if you feel you need it.

Simple tests can weed out the obviously ineligible employee. A distributor in Minneapolis administers the following test to potential new hires.

Question 1. How much is 2 + 2? Question 2. There are 12 items in a dozen. How many are in 2 dozen? Question 3. There are 10 pieces in a box. The customer wants 20. How many boxes will be required? Question 4. There are 12 pieces in a box. The customer wants 4. How many will be left?

Certainly this sounds simplistic, but there has been a 50% failure rate in the two years the test has been used. Another 40% disappear when informed there "may be a drug test."

Psychological testing programs have been around for many years, but these are dependent upon the people being able to read, understand and then act on what they are reading. If it's not expressed in their native tongue, there could be problems. A better indicator is to let them do the talking. Ninety-five percent of what occurs at an interview should be the individual selling you on hiring them, not you selling the company to the prospective employee. Asking them questions that provoke long responses will give you much more insight than allowing them to reply in one word or by nodding their head. One supply house has had excellent luck in eliminating dishonest potential employees simply by asking them outright, ten or more times, whether or not they steal. The question is rephrased each time, but the message is clear.

Another important criteria is to ask yourself, "Do I like them?" If you don't like them, no one else may like them and, if they are unwanted and disliked, they're not going to perform. If you're uncertain about your own judgement in this area, ask somebody in your organization you can trust to sit in on the initial interview. Their "gut reaction" may help you make up your own mind. You cannot discriminate on the basis of stereotypes, whether they are ethnic, racial, religious, political or any other sort, but you want to hire someone who can be a friend. You don't have to marry your employees, but you will be spending more of your waking hours with them than you do with your spouse. Assuming applicants make it this far, the next step is to send them out for a physical examination. Even if you cannot drug test, make sure that you tell the people that they may be subject to one. In this way, someone who is a substance abuser or believes that he can't pass the test will not show up for the doctor's appointment. Drug testing should be handled by someone who knows what to look for and how to test because there are many ways of avoiding or faking a drug test. An industrial medical clinic should know what to watch for; an individual doctor may not.

To ensure that the potential new employee is properly protected and that the company is diligent in the hiring process,make the examining doctor aware of what tasks the individual will be performing. Very few doctors have ever worked in an electrical supply house and they do not know what the job entails. Take into consideration the jobs that individuals will eventually reach, and design the medical examination accordingly. For example, a person hired as an order picker might be driving the forklift truck within two years. Therefore, not only must he be able to read an eye chart, he also should be tested for depth perception so that he will drive safely.

All of these steps will guarantee that you get a better class of individuals at your doorstep from which to choose. But remember: Good employees are not found, they are built. If you want them to share in your goals and the mission of your company, you must educate them and enhance their self image so they will perform to your, and their, expectations.

The mission, should you accept it. A current jargon phrase is "mission statement." Some of these are simple, i.e., "to make money." Others become much more complex, stating specific business and societal goals. Very few mission statements include expectations that are both long and short term, but your mission in hiring and in training should take both into account.

Before someone can be trained, you must define what you want them to do and develop reasonable standards and measures for their performance. Deep in the heart of your worst employee there glows a spark of goodness. Find it and use it to your advantage. Your mission is not to point out errors but to enhance self image by emphasizing the positive aspects of behavior. The stumbling block is that few people know what constitutes positive behavior.

In a recent on-site training session, 16 people went into a warehouse to straighten up the shelves, and they emerged with 16 different ways of stocking the goods. Everyone ended up with shelves that were better than when they started. But should you teach employees 16 different ways of stocking? To eliminate confusion, there must be agreement by management on what is expected, plus methods and techniques for teaching the right way to perform each job. Even before the training process begins, the trainers themselves must agree on what they are trying to teach, and how they expect the job to be accomplished.

Don't assume. There is a major difference between an employee who has had 20 years of experience and one who has had one week of experience, one thousand times. With new employees, the most basic skills could be missing. You cannot assume they know how to get up for work, dress, maintain personal hygiene and a host of other things that you take for granted. An initial orientation is, therefore, important because it sets the tone for what they will be expected to do and how they will be expected to do it. Basic instruction in lifting, opening a carton, reading, writing, paperwork and so forth should be provided immediately after the new hire has an opportunity to go through the facility. There is no such thing as "too much training."

Give the trainer a stake in the final product. This can take the form of a monetary bonus (if a new hire sticks with the company beyond a certain period), or it could be a title such as "trainer" or "instructor." Training might also include a "badge of office," such as a specially colored shirt, a badge or hat. You don't want the new people wandering aimlessly trying to learn their jobs. They need a mentor who can show them what needs to be done and how to do it. Before that mentor can perform the training, he too must be thoroughly versed in the right methods for doing the job and achieving the right results. Becoming a trainer implies a much higher level of responsibility, and it should be viewed as a positive experience for both the trainer and the trainee. The goal is not to merely explain how to do the operation, the trainer must also impart the "why" of what must be done and the importance of doing it properly.

The more training the better, provided it is effectively assimilated by new hires. You cannot just sit them down in a class and pound on them until they know everything by rote. You will be doomed to failure if this is your "normal" method of training. A good trainer doesn't do all the talking. He or she encourages the individuals to participate and provides maximum hands-on experience. Training is a two-way process. The trainee's questions should trigger ideas that lead to new techniques for making major improvements in the operation.

Clothes make the superhero. As anyone over the age of five knows, Superman just isn't Superman unless he has the tights and the cape. At the very least, make sure that you provide and enforce a dress code for what is acceptable apparel at work. Torn and dirty clothes, cutoffs and general sloppiness of attire spills over into the thought processes. If you can't afford uniforms, there is no reason to provide them, but there is every reason to expect workers to have a clean, neat appearance at all times. If they look sloppy, chances are very good that their work habits are going to be sloppy. With a bit of judicious work, management can create subtle peer pressure to encourage the individual to dress properly, have the right attitude, and carry a fair share of the work load. If the new person is to become a member of the team, he should be wearing the team colors.

It is also management's responsibility to provide the right tools to do the job. Training and uniforms are typical tools, but you must also employ feedback to let people know how they are succeeding, enabling the individuals to view themselves as successful. They can then determine when they are ready to move up, not out.

In the best operations, management invests in employees as individuals, adds to their skills, enhances their self-image, likes them as people and provides a feedback process to encourage them to use what they have learned to help the company achieve excellence, grow and prosper. In a service-driven industry, it will be the dedication of individuals you are hiring today that will guarantee the success and longevity of your company tomorrow.

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