Thankfully, the thermometer was above 0°F. and the winds were light when I met Juan at 1 a.m. for a January ridealong into the center of Chicago. But had the weather been colder or windier, I'm confident Juan would have still been at work. A work ethic like Juan's is pure gold to distribution operators, and I applaud all the men and women who work diligently despite the time or the weather to keep our industry moving forward. But managing teams that work around the clock, away from the office and out of sync with other departments, can be difficult.
Rarely can distribution companies gather every employee at the same time to disseminate goals, messages and initiatives. Team leaders or supervisors are charged with keeping company messages in the minds of their groups, but these people are usually overtasked with daily operational problems and can find it difficult to prioritize long-term objectives over immediate concerns.
Convenience and amusement operators also have to rely on independent thinkers in order to remain profitable. Most employees are working autonomously and therefore must be trusted to make prudent decisions in changing situations, which are often customer-focused.
Fortunately, there are four basic principles that can be easily incorporated into any workplace that will help far-flung individuals stay on course with company objectives. Regular application of the mantras "be productive, be polite, think profitably and find pleasure in the task at hand" will help individuals at an organization enjoy their livelihoods and, in turn, contribute to their company's profitability.
Productivity is at the core of every job. Productive employees generate income by providing goods or services at a value above their pay. Some might say this isn't fair, or that it's exploitation. But unlike the government, private enterprise only receives voluntary income. Customers must willingly pay for the goods or services they receive. Unlike governments, private enterprise cannot demand money. Therefore, every employee must "produce," or be productive, in order for an organization to exist in the long term.
There is a distinct difference between being busy and being productive. We can all fill our days with activity (my daughter once texted over 400 times in a single day), but activity does not always equal productivity. Employees and managers should establish productivity measurements for every job at the company, no matter what the position. Everyone, including senior management or ownership, should shoulder responsibility for producing something profitable every day.
Productivity metrics not only hold individuals accountable, but also allow employees to strive for accomplishment. Studies show that individuals who go home at the end of a shift with a sense of accomplishment are far more likely to enjoy their jobs, boost the morale of others and stay with a company.
Accomplishment (as opposed to activity) fills an individual with satisfaction. Psychology Today investigated the link between accomplishment and self-esteem. Its conclusion? "If you want self-esteem, then do estimable things." In other words, genuine accomplishment promotes self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment brings energy, enthusiasm, and profitability to the workplace, which in turn benefits the entire organization.
When I managed a large vending operation, we employed people from 13 different countries who spoke a total of six languages. Cultural diversity was common in just about every business we serviced.
We live in sensitive times with sensitive people, but the way to overcome all cultural, linguistic and political barriers is to be polite. Being polite does not mean that we have to be everyone's best friend. It does not mean that we have to be "super bubbly" all the time, or pretend to be someone we're not. Politeness is simply putting other people first in a pleasant way. Using terms like "please" and "thank you" habitually will do wonders for any relationship.
Being polite to everyone (coworkers, supervisors, customers and subordinates) will not only reduce tension and stress during the day, but also can be an excellent means of persuasion. Politeness forces the other party to take us seriously and causes defenses to drop or dissipate. The 19th century American writer Josh Billings said, "Politeness is better than logic. You can often persuade when you cannot convince." Politeness can be encapsulated into three rules:
» Give respect (whether they deserve it or not);
» Offer options (i.e., "We can do this or that, it's your choice."); and
» Don't impose (stay out of someone's personal space and avoid giving commands). Keep in mind that a command starting with "please" is no longer a command, but a request. If we get in the habit of being polite, most people will follow our requests without hesitation.
Profitability is everyone's business. It should be part of every employee's thought process when making decisions. Is it worth giving away a Snickers bar to a guard in order to gain quicker access to a secure facility? How many box cutters should be purchased each month and where do they all keep going, anyway? Are routes being run in minimal travel time, or are drivers eating up a majority of each day crisscrossing through town?
These and many other questions make up thousands of dollars' worth of spending decisions daily by each and every employee. Making employees aware of their spending decisions (and everyone at a business spends money) can go a long way to reigning in costs. Waste happens person by person, little by little and day by day. Managers need to constantly beat the drum of profitability to help people make more intelligent decisions during the hectic activity of each day. Who's responsible for profitability? -- you are -- whoever you are.
Take Pleasure In The Task
Moving heavy, cumbersome equipment in and out of locations is a stressful job. It's a hot, sometimes dirty task that often draws onlookers who can be very touchy about their walls, floors and doorways, among other incidentals. When I first got into the vending business I frequently dreaded having to work on the moving crew -- until I learned the secret of moving (thank you, John Raml).
This "secret" has permeated every aspect of my work life and brought me more day-to-day satisfaction than money or notoriety ever could. What's the secret? Finding pleasure in the task at hand! As Mary Poppins said, "In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. Find the fun and, snap! The job's a game!" Whether it's cleaning a bathroom, filling a vending machine, making customer follow-up calls or learning how to use a new piece of technology -- all tasks contain an element of fun. The trick is relaxing and being open to finding the joy in the job. In my case of equipment moving, I learned to view the job as a workout (which I enjoy), as well as a performance (because people were always watching).
I'm only 5'5" and would probably never be mistaken for athletic, but I discovered that it was a thrill to surprise customers with my machine moving abilities. "How can someone so small move something that big?" was an expression I'd often see on customers' faces. I reveled in watching them gasp as I tipped a machine over onto a dolly. The job became a pleasure instead of a chore. Finding the fun in every task makes the task bearable. Fun tasks are easy and finish faster than those that are dreaded. Taking pleasure in a task always lifts the spirits of the others involved, so taking pleasure in a task automatically turns every job into a leadership role.
Leaders having fun will always attract followers, and followers are usually willing to help. As the old adage goes, "Many hands make small work of any task." I believe taking pleasure in the task at hand will always foster positive results, so remember to find the fun in the job each and every day.
In our world of crazy schedules, far-flung job sites and specialized routes, keeping a company moving forward toward large goals can be a challenge. Putting the four "Ps" to work (be productive, be polite, think profitably, take pleasure in the task at hand) will help bring focus to your teams and give everyone an opportunity to measure their performance on a day-to-day basis. It's a beautiful day out there today (no matter what the weather) so go get something done, make money and have fun -- and remember to say "please" and "thank you."
» Ben White is president of Vending Insights Inc. (Sykesville, MD), which provides data analysis for the automated retailing industry. He was director of operations for 18 years at Monumental Markets (Beltsville, MD), running the vending firm's new micromarket division during his last year there in 2012. He began his vending career in the early 1990s as a cold drink rep at Coca-Cola Enterprises. White also is an adjunct professor and trainer at Carroll Community College (Westminster, MD).