Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Seeing Yourself As Employees See You

I was reading an article about Walmart's new "Walmart Express" concept stores that they are developing to compete against Dollar General and the article ended with, "We have to look through the consumers' eyes…”

I couldn't but think, I wonder what employees see when they look at the company they work for?

Over the course of 20 years with a company that grew from 150 to well over 900 from both growth of the core business and through acquisitions I have had to wonder numerous times about how to deal with a company of employees who were now being "integrated" into a totally new system.

We would spend quite a bit of time reviewing their pay structure and benefits, we would also begin reorganizing and restructuring, and of course we were also moving them to our computer system and our vendors/suppliers.  All of this would be done with little or no input from the employees of the acquired company.

Its kind of like Zynga, which is relocating its headquarters and building a dog run on the roof of its new headquarters.  As a company that employs mostly young people, or "Millennials," as they are referred to I am sure that the idea is not all that novel.  But, the reality is the company is named after the founders dog and the dog is part of the logo.

From the outside looking in, one can find this an interesting 'benefit' provided to employess, but there is a possibility that the employees see it as nothing more than the heavy handed attempt by the founder to make everyone love dogs the way that he does.

The headquarters is 270,000 square feet so there has to be quite a few employees and imagine if all of them have dogs?  What happens if someone's Great Dane decides that my Pekingese annoyed it?  Would the company be liable for damages?

I remember when we were constructing a new manufacturing facility in 1990; we set aside space for expansion and the first "expansion" that management thought of was a gym for management!  As our work force was 85% female and our management was 100% male, a gym for management would have sent all the wrong signals!  The reality was if we were going to "expand" then we needed to do so in a way that provided a value to our operations; we needed something that would attract employees and keep employees once they were hired.  

Thus, our options were basically either a daycare or a auto repair facility because the two major reasons employees could not come to work was either that they could not locate a babysitter and or they did not have reliable transportation.

That was how Stepping Stones Learning Center, Inc., was formed, a not for profit daycare facility that was open to the public.  A daycare that actually lost the vote against the gym for managers!  

We opened the daycare to the public for two reasons; one, was because we knew that the employers would always suspect the quality of service if it was just opened to our employees and two, even though a not for profit we still wanted it to run as a business, separate from our business.

We eventually had two daycares, which served a total of 300 children most of the time!  These daycares allowed us to compete for employees and to remain a domestic manufacturer long after all of our competitors had flocked overseas with the passage of NAFTA in 1994.

The daycares paid rent and were profitable; today, one of them is still in operation long after we ceased operations because the local chamber used the daycare to attract businesses to their community!

I am not real sure how employees see a dog run on the roof of corporate headquarters?  I am not real sure how that attracts and retains employees; but do hope that they have carpeted their offices with carpet squares!   

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