I know many companies feel that if you don’t take care of your customer, somebody else will. At Micrel, the semiconductor company that I ran for 37 years, I told my employees that they were number one. One of my strongest beliefs is that if you don’t take care of your employees, they are not going to take care of your customers. Authentic service is a cascading concept.
Positive impacts of employee focus
With our focus on the employees, we were able to reduce turnover to less than half of what it was in other similar companies. In addition, we had a large percentage of our employees that returned to the company after they left – we classified these as boomerang employees. We were able to have such a low turnover and high return rate, because we had a culture of honesty, integrity and dignity of every individual.
We had regular communication meetings with our employees. We were upfront and honest about progress, challenges and ways that we sought to outperform our competition. We shared in collective successes; we were honest when inside or outside factors were prohibiting progress we otherwise sought to make. Time and time again, our employees told us that the culture of honesty, integrity and clarity resonated in not only their professional, but also had a profound impact on their personal lives.
Every Friday we had a 2-hour communication meeting with representatives from each of the departments. At the end of these “Operation Meetings”, we had a talk given by one of the members of the Operation Staff, usually my staff. These talks were generally motivational talks. For example, we used the Friday Talks to inspire, reinforce our values, guide our management in leading the rank and file, and groom up-and-coming leaders.
Promoting decency in the workplace
We forbid the use of vulgarity and other condescending language with our employees. We wanted our employees to feel at home. We wanted them to feel safe and valued as individuals. By maintaining a high quality of interpersonal communications, we fostered greater willingness to collaborate even among job functions that are not traditionally in positions to naturally collaborate together.
We also encouraged the concept of when we met with each other to say, “How can I help?” I often speak of the concept of servant leadership as the very powerful means for developing the discipline needed to function at any level within an organization – with a healthy balance of humility. To lead requires knowing why people follow. Individuals simply can’t learn this if they don’t have the practice of following in their own respective lives. Always think of ways to serve employees – make it a clear demonstration of actions. I’ve personally adjusted poorly hung pictures, served up pancakes at company functions and taken the time to sit down for a few minutes with a team member who had recently lost a family member. While seemingly small tasks, I’ve been told by long term employees, even our boomerang employees, that these efforts remain in their memories and experiences at Micrel.
The importance of the line supervisor
Most employees who left the company said that their reason for leaving was that they didn’t like their immediate supervisor, which is the case in nearly every enterprise. Here again, to reduce turnover, we spent a lot of time with department heads and line managers to help them improve their skills working with people. We provided regular leader training sessions, I had an open door policy for employees at all levels to raise issues or ask for leadership direction. Keys to success in creating a culture of building strong new leadership – at least in my experience – were collaboration, diplomacy and honesty.
Humility is an essential human trait. Business leaders who put their egos aside and consistently demonstrate the best interest in the company are more likely to inspire and engender the same emotion from their employees.
One example of behavior conditioning and role modeling – As CEO, I tried to know everyone’s name. I was frustrated with myself when I did not know an employee’s name and said, “I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.” It was remarkable to note, that with this simple technique, as years went by, I don’t recall missing another person’s name. I found that in leadership, the more I reviewed a particular principle, the more frequently I acted in accordance with that principle.
If you want a company that has a focus on your customers, you need to have the employees who are happy, dedicated, and loyal to your company. In other words, make your employees number one and they will be naturally conditioned to then make customers number one.
This article originally appear at CEO Magazine