Unlikely Approaches That Increased Success Dramatically
The very big new contract
A significant new contract had just been awarded to the company which specialized in design and manufacture of complex electronic measuring devices for use in harsh environments. Challenging. The new work represented about a 30% increase in contract revenue for the year. Staff utilization was on the low end and the President could see that there was sufficient talent and availability to take on this new job, even though so large, without hiring more people. How to align the team to take on this monster job was a dilemma. There were ten or twelve contracts at various stages of completion and everyone was doing what they thought was already a full time job.
Here is what he did. All technical staff were invited to a meeting in the main boardroom. The President had put everyone’s name across the top of the whiteboard and the names of all the jobs down the left side. He drew a grid in the empty space so one could follow up and down for any person and left/right for any job. He gave a very short speech explaining the dilemma and then said, “so, you are all fired”. Allowing a moment for dramatic pause he then said, “and we have all this work to do, who wants to now take the lead on these projects?” They were told they could pass along any work they were in the midst of but all of it had to have an owner at the end of the discussion. There was a delicious silence as the technologists, engineers and programmers absorbed the idea and then one person strode up to the whiteboard and claimed the big new job (the biggest yet for the company). He then turned to a programmer and said he wanted that person to do the software and to a particular mechanical engineer to work on the hardware. A moment later they were all in the fray. Within 20 minutes the entire set of jobs were allotted and the staff were re-aligned to do the work and not one word about needing to hire. The compliment paid to the employees by this scenario spoke volumes. Everyone left happy, proud and a little nervous because now they had to deliver and they were energized to do just that. People talk of empowerment. This was empowerment on steroids.
You like Dave better
The President was in the routine of going to lunch on Tuesdays and taking one of the senior managers so they could have one with one time to catch up and brief each other, solve issues and so on. Two engineers complained that the President was too close to the managers, had lunch with them all the time, didn’t listen to these engineers and took sides when there was a disagreement with one of the managers.
The President promptly invited the two engineers to lunch for the next four Tuesdays and did a lot of listening, some explaining and made some small changes too. The engineers came to understand the one decision that started this scenario and felt more ready to believe that the President’s open door policy was actually real. They became evangelists for the approach and were seen, on occasion, going to lunch together with colleagues as an extension of project progress reviews, on the company credit card btw.
It was common in our technical community that many companies would, once or twice a year, hold a barbeque for clients of that company. These were a little bit upscale and closed, by invitation only and there was never a competitor among the guests.
The format that blew the doors off was opening the guest list to include all staff family members, all client colleagues (empty your office if you like), other suppliers to the community of buyers/clients, suppliers to the company and, this is the greatest part, doing this barbeque every Thursday, weather permitting. So the entire staff had lunch provided, they could invite their family, meet our clients and suppliers and even competitors. The Thursday barbeque became known around the community. It was come on over, no RSVP needed, bring a friend if you like and try not to talk too much business. Just enjoy. The President manned one of the barbeques.
These kind of opening approaches helped our business greatly. Yes, the President referred to is me.