ISO 9000:2K



This equation can work for your company,
but it's not as simple as it appears.
by Dick Moore

There should be a strong correlation between happy employees and satisfied customers. It would seem that if people feel good about their jobs, their happiness would be reflected in the quality of their work and in positive feedback from their customers. Unfortunately, this equation doesn't always balance.

 We tend to feel a little uncomfortable when we're asked to reexamine our long-held beliefs and assumptions. H. James Harrington's article, "Happy Employees Don't Equal Happy Customers" (Quality Digest, June 1998), which explored the relationship between employee happiness, customer satisfaction and organizational performance, might have made a few readers uncomfortable. According to Harrington, only a slight correlation was found between these topics.

 Harrington predicted that the same companies would appear frequently among the top 100 organizations in various lists that have appeared in Fortune magazine: the "Fortune 500," "America's Most Admired Companies," "American Customer Satisfaction Index" and "100 Best Companies to Work For in America." Instead, he discovered that of the 100 best companies to work for, only 12 percent were among the first 100 of the Fortune 500 companies, only 26 percent were among the first 100 most admired companies, and only 5 percent were among the first 100 for customer satisfaction. In addition, only five companies appeared on both the "The 100 Best Companies to Work For" and "Best Managed Companies" lists, and 62 percent of the best companies to work for didn't appear on any other list.

 When considering each end of this satisfaction correlation scale, it's difficult to imagine that employees with consistently low morale would produce exceptional products or deliver great service. On the other hand, it's equally hard to believe that happy employees whose activities weren't directed toward achieving the goals of satisfying customers would result in high customer approval ratings.

 Do motivators (achievement, work itself, responsibility, recognition, etc.) represent both necessary and sufficient conditions to bring about customer satisfaction? The absence of certain other factors reduces the likelihood of optimal performance. Managers can take specific actions to improve employee happiness, performance and customer satisfaction, and organizational objectives designed to satisfy customers can be consistent with behaviors that contribute to employee happiness. Work practices can be adopted and reinforced such that they would better ensure both positive feelings about the employer and repeat sales from the customer.

 It's no wonder that managers and supervisors, who are faced with the daily challenges of ensuring quality, maintaining productivity and meeting delivery commitments, hope for a number of "silver bullets" that they could use to solve problems. But unique breakthroughs are few and far between, and opportunities abound to refine and reinforce ideas that have been available for some time. Consider the following observations when you're faced with the challenges of promoting the satisfaction of both your employees and your customers.

Hiring the right people

 Hiring people who are capable of doing the job, want to do the job and would be manageable if hired should result in happy employees whose work contributes to customer satisfaction.

 Why should the hiring process be painful? Why are better matches not found between job applicants and company needs? Many people who conduct interviews aren't able to determine if the candidates actually have the skills they've indicated on their resumes or how well the applicants' interpersonal skills would fit into the hiring organization. After having carefully prepared for the interview by reading books and memorizing answers to typical questions, the interviewee is often better prepared than the interviewer and has learned how to effectively write both cover letters and resumes.

 Managers must ready themselves to talk with job candidates on a level playing field by doing some important homework to ensure that they have more than a general idea about the employee for whom they're looking. To screen resumes effectively and conduct meaningful job interviews, it's first necessary to identify the "required" and "preferred" employee functions. Having a current, accurate job description is essential. To help control their own nervous feelings, most inexperienced interviewers tell the applicant all about the company, the job and themselves, and then ask leading questions based only on the resume. These interviewers essentially telegraph their punches by volunteering enough infor- mation to enable applicants to formulate the answers they know the interviewer would like to hear.

 It's preferable to ask questions in sufficient detail about significant areas on the resume; ask additional open-ended questions to make judgments in areas including attitudes, motivation and other perspectives that provide information about job compatibility; and, finally, tell the applicant about the company, the job and yourself or the intended supervisor.

Removing obstacles that prevent the application of knowledge

 Effectively ensuring that business-related knowledge and information is actually used should result in happy employees whose work contributes to customer satisfaction.

 Another challenge facing managers is maximizing the application of knowledge in their organizations. The underlying assumption here is that productive work has motivating properties of its own. Obstacles come in different forms, but a useful diagnostic question asks, "Is it a training problem, a systems problem or an attitude/motivational problem that's interfering with available knowledge? It could be a little of each.

 Although a lack of training might be the only obstacle, the medical model can be used to rule out or confirm other possible barriers. If the person could do the job when his or her life depended on it, a training problem could be ruled out. Further questions might point to systems or situations beyond the person's control that prevent or impede the desired performance. If the person knows how to do the job and knows your expectations, and there is nothing to block his or her actions, this suggests that an attitude or motivational obstacle should be addressed.

 Finally, how well change is managed in any organization should be emphasized as a critical factor related to the application of knowledge. Often new information and policies are not reinforced or supported by other attitudes or procedures. When conflicts occur between a company's cultural components, including its customs, norms, recognition systems and training, the likelihood of implementing change is slim.

Ensuring that supervisors demonstrate people skills

 When supervisors practice essential interpersonal skills, their behavior should result in happy employees whose work contributes to customer satisfaction.

 Numerous books, articles, workshops and seminars are available to help improve basic communication skills. Everyone agrees that "people skills" often make the difference between successful and in- effective supervisors, and that these skills largely contribute to the likelihood of employees doing their best work. How people are treated obviously affects their job performance.

 To help confirm this common-sense observation, conduct an informal survey. Ask supervisors about positive and negative characteristics of the people who have supervised them (i.e., their managers): "What did a good supervisor do that you liked, and what did a bad supervisor do that you didn't like?" Ask the same question of your employees.

 The answers from both the supervisors and hourly employees will show that each group appreciates and dislikes essentially the same things. Good supervisors are tactful and give directives that don't sound like orders, treat people fairly and don't show favoritism, listen to the employee's point of view, are available for questions and open to suggestions but don't breathe down subordinates' necks, have sufficient job knowledge, provide both positive and negative feedback, and treat people with respect. Bad supervisors, on the other hand, treat subordinates like children without letting them think or make decisions independently, are inconsistent in their directions and requests, don't lead by example, talk to employees as if they're subhuman, communicate using sarcasm, don't control their anger, and don't answer questions.

Supporting company needs with personal goals

 Establishing personal improvement goals that are consistent with company needs should result in happy employees whose work contributes to customer satisfaction.

 Many people find that working toward, and achieving, challenging goals is often personally satisfying. The topic of personal goal setting can easily be linked to the general subject of employee evaluations. Unfortunately, the typical evaluation experience and format is unpopular and ineffective from both sides of the desk. It's human nature not to enjoy being evaluated, and most managers don't see this task as the high point of their responsibilities. Most managers and supervisors would probably admit that employee performance reviews simply don't work as intended, and that traditional ways of evaluating job performance miss the mark.

 The typical performance evaluation process is often noteworthy from a negative perspective: Supervisors might not be sure how to conduct accurate evaluations and may feel that the process is a waste of their valuable time. Subordinates don't enjoy being "constructively" criticized and may find it necessary to challenge some of their boss's assessments. A confrontation gives the manager further evidence of an "attitude" problem.

 Performance evaluations that haven't been customized for the specific duties of a particular position present a number of difficulties. Especially troublesome are evaluations that rely on generic and often poorly defined traits (such as attitude, job knowledge or work quality) that are measured on a scale of 1 to 10 and then averaged. Although fairly quick and convenient, this method is essentially meaningless because one cannot use rank-ordered data to determine a mathematical mean. Such vague evaluations also fail to provide employees with the concrete information they require if they are to improve their performance.

  A better approach is to ask upper-level managers to plan for their company's needs by documenting overall goals and objectives. This planning process is then extended to department heads, who translate company goals into more specific objectives for their areas. The next logical extension is for both managers and employees to set goals that, when achieved, would be consistent with overall corporate goals. It's not necessary to make a long list of objectives for each employee, but the selected objectives should be specific, stated in terms of measurable or observable results and linked to overall organizational goals. The process should involve recommendations from both the employees and managers, including mutual discussions leading up to the final decision. When this method is used, the outcome shouldn't be surprising to employees because they know in advance how they will be evaluated and should already be aware of how close they are to achieving their goals. This technique is usually more satisfying than other methods, and should help achieve objectives that are linked to customer-driven organizational goals.

Forming teams first requires homework

 The effective use of teams should result in happy employees whose combined decision making solves more problems than individual decision making, contributing to customer satisfaction.

 Teamwork involves a good example of participative management, a very important concept that is probably much overused -- it has become a politically correct phrase, as in the expression "People are our most important assets."

 Before managers or supervisors embrace participative management, they need to understand how this term would be defined in their organizations so they can avoid potential misunderstandings. For most, it's satisfying to be able to give opinions or recommendations about how to solve a problem -- and this is participative management. Being asked to actually solve a problem is also participative management. Both managers and their staffs typically prefer Theory Y management style to Theory X, but it's important to establish how much decision-making authority your company is willing to delegate. You must discuss and agree upon organizational boundaries for decision making so that everyone understands the extent of his or her role in the problem-solving process.

 Self-directed work teams have become popular for illustrating the natural progression of the participative management concept. Nobody could seriously argue that a team of knowledgeable and motivated people (either cross-functional or homogeneous, depending on the opportunity for improvement) wouldn't be best-suited to fix the problem. Unfortunately, most companies aren't ready for self-directed teams. Although they can be advantageous, self-directed teams require even more preparation than traditional teams, including readiness surveys and additional training for everyone affected. Both employees and their supervisors have to learn and practice new skills and attitudes and develop new roles and ways of working with each other. The organization should employ an experienced facilitator to better ensure a successful result.

 When implemented effectively, a problem-solving team at any level can realize a number of benefits. Employees feel good when they can use their knowledge and concern to help solve problems, which in turn should provide higher quality solutions. The company benefits when more of the solutions are actually implemented and sustained and eventually benefit the external customer. If personal goals are to support company needs, the problems targeted should be those whose resolution satisfies the employees while benefiting the organization. The manner in which your company grants employees the authority to identify and correct problems reveals its level of commitment to participative management.

Mutual satisfaction

 Job satisfaction in any organization happens when specific actions are taken and others are avoided. This article's selected examples of management skills contribute to an employee's motivation to do his or her best, which, in turn, should result in customer satisfaction.

 Employee happiness can, and should, occur when managers take action consistent with meeting organizational goals and objectives. An emphasis on training, written procedures, job instructions and continuous improvement is vital to achieving your customers' expectations. In itself, employee happiness isn't a condition both necessary and sufficient to ensure customer satisfaction. However, the extent to which your employees are happy and have aligned their motivation with company goals has a lot to do with your customers' satisfaction.

About the author

 Dick Moore is manager of training and safety at Plastomer Corp., a manufacturing company in Livonia, Michigan. He co-chaired Plastomer's Employee Involvement Steering Committee and was a member of the company's QS-9000 Steering Committee.

 Moore is a member of the American Society for Training & Development and the American Society for Quality. Contact him by phone at (734) 464-0700 or by e-mail at .

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