Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'Thriving' Employees Make the Organization Better, Too

If you could change one aspect of your company's culture that would result in employees who were:

  • 32 percent more committed to the organization
  • 46 percent more satisfied with their jobs
  • 125 percent less burned out
... would you do it?

Of course you would. And the way to achieve such gains is to turn your enterprise into one that fosters the propensity for employees to thrive.

"Thriving," a set of academic researchers are suggesting, is the "joint experience of two things: vitality and learning." And in the current issue of Rotman Magazine, put out by the business school at the University of Toronto, they suggest steps that organizations can take to create and encourage the conditions for employee thriving.

This notion of helping employees thrive isn't exactly the same as the idea of worker engagement that is so central to the philosophy of Inward Strategic Consulting. But there's a lot of overlap, and we share a commitment to strategic creation of a culture in which employees feel enlisted and fulfilled -- which, in turn, creates loyalty to your company and a sense of mission to your customers.

"Vitality" refers to being energized and feeling "alive" at work, the researchers say in their article, "Thriving at Work: Why It's Important and How to Enable More Of It." Thriving people "feel passionate about what they are doing and produce their own energy through excitement for the work."

"Learning" refers to growing through new knowledge and skills. Thriving people "believe they are getting better at what they do," the article says. "They are self-learners who actively seek out opportunities to learn and develop."

They measured the performance and opinions of workers at more than a dozen organizations where they concluded people thrive compared with less-fortunate places to work.

Want to achieve such gains, including employees who miss 74 percent fewer days of work, and thriving leaders who are rated 17 percent higher ratings by their subordinates than leaders who reported lower levels of thriving?

The authors suggested three strategies for companies to "move ahead on the road to thriving":

Healthy habits: Eating right, exercising and taking breaks at work and at home. Companies can make these things much easier for employees to do.

Craft more meaningful and impactful work. Maybe look for opportuntiies to help someone or turn attention to tasks that evoke interest or passion, the article suggests.

Increase opportunities to innovate. That enables employees to learn something new or grow a new capability, which boosts thriving.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ron Johnson Lost Penney Employees As Well As Customers

Among the many mistakes made by former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson as he tried to transform the venerable retailer was one that deserves to be highlighted: He lost the company's employees.

And when you're attempting to pull off a change in target market and corporate culture as huge as he was, this was simply one thing Johnson couldn't afford to do.

That Johnson lost Penney's employees was true both literally and figuratively. Employment at Penney had been at least 150,000 people for the decade before the former head of Apple's retailing operations was handed the top job, with high expectations, at the Texas-based retailer early last year.

But by this February, that figure had fallen to just 116,000, as Penney slashed its payroll in a futile attempt to catch up with the brand's 25-percent swoon in sales during 2012. Alone, such a precipitous decline would test the engagement levels and morale of the hardiest staff.

At the same time, Johnson's entire management style seemed designed to disengage Penney's loyal employees just as his philosophy of retailing was meant to shed the brand's traditional, sale-conscious customers in favor of a younger, hipper, more upscale -- and presumably discount-disdaining -- clientele.

For one thing, the team of executives that Johnson brought in openly disparaged the house brands that accounted for about half of the chain's sales and moved to reduce Penney's reliance on them, according to the Wall Street Journal. Among other things, that attempt involved the layoff of many of the merchants and designers who had invested blood and sweat and pride in the company's own brands in order to make them compete credibly with designer brands.

Among other mistakes, Johnson also essentially shot, then aimed, with Penney's new strategy. Presumably beguiled by hubris fed by his success at Apple, Johnson simply arrived and then quickly applied most of his vast, extremely disruptive strategic brush strokes without testing them out first.

Undoubtedly, Penney's staffers saw and didn't appreciate such recklessness. And soon, as Johnson's presumably brilliant higher knowledge resulted only in the utter crumbling of Penney sales, without offering the prospect for a turnaround, the new CEO "lost" the ones who were left.

Perhaps the worst single move made by Johnson was that he disdained moving himself -- as well as some of his new top lieutenants -- to Plano, Texas, in Flyover Country, where the chain has been headquartered since its move from Chicago many years ago. Johnson stubbornly decided to try to run the retailer from the northern California base that he established while working for Apple.

But not only did this mistake send the wrong signal to Penney employees about his low opinion of them -- Johnson also hurt his own cause because he didn't allow himself to thoroughly understand the corporate culture he wanted to overhaul so radically, what had made it what it was, and what the "old" Penney might still have to offer to the "new" Penney he was trying to build.

To be sure, when you're trying to turn a company upside-down, there are going to be casualties in the ranks. And sometimes -- as in the case of Steve Jobs' Apple, whence Johnson came -- you can argue that the ultimate success of the "new way" made the necessary sacrifices acceptable, or the company might not longer exist at all.

But clearly, Penney wasn't Apple. And Johnson's blind spot for the company's culture, and for the engagement and contributions of the retailer's loyal employees, surely will be a major object lesson as corporate historians pick apart the carcass of his misguided leadership of one of the biggest names in American retailing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

'Bleeding Green' Will Be Key To Bennigan's Turnaround

There may be no more difficult task in business than bringing a company back from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Liquidation usually relegates not only an enterprise, but also its brands, to the dustbin of corporate history because consumers, as well as executives and employees, simply move on.

But those who counted out the Bennigan's restaurant chain once it failed in 2011 didn't reckon with the skills of an accomplished and motivated executive who wanted to resuscitate the brand, and -- perhaps most important -- they underestimated the potential of employee engagement.

"There are no boundaries that can be set on a team that is so passionate and committed to a brand that nothing becomes an obstacle," Paul Mangiamele told us.

These days, he's out justifiably touting the story of the iconic restaurant brand that was given up for dead but since reinvented, reopened with 85 restaurants and aiming for a total of 200 outlets of the new Bennigan's within five years. Mangiamele also just wrote a book about the experience so far, Bennigan's Return to Relevance ... Bleeding Green 25/8.

Mangiamele said the previous owners were "poor custodians of the brand" because they didn't continually reinvent Bennigan's, which actually was one of America's first casual-dining chains when Norm Brinker launched it in 1976. He has led a process of refreshment, renewal and reinvention of Bennigan's over the last two years.

And while important components of the rebirth have included a new, simple, one-page menu; competitive pricing; completely new restaurant design; and pioneering initiatives such as small Bennigan's On the Fly locations in non-traditional locations such as cruise ships, Mangiamele insisted that a commitment to engage employees in the new Bennigan's has been "the most important thing."

That's what he means by "bleeding green," which Mangiamele has fostered as part of a new culture at Bennigan's. He defines it as the passion, work ethic and commitment to deliver unparalleled service not just 24/7 but "25/8."

"The most important thing we've done is galvanize the franchisee and their teams and even our supplier partners," Mangiamele told us. "We need to have a mission and a purpose and have it be succinctly stated. It's not only our formula but that which we live by: Our mission is the creation of a legendary brand experience, not just some of the time, and not just by one shift or manager or franchisee, but for every guest and every meal."

That's a great goal, and one which will engender the enthusiasm of Bennigan's new employees and managers quite easily at the beginning. But the key to creating the brand anew will be if Mangiamele and his cohorts and franchisees can continue to harness the enthusiasm of their staffs over the long term.

In other words, it might be easy to "bleed green" for a while. But you've got to keep the flow going indefinitely, and that requires a fundamental devotion to harnessing employee engagement.

We'll see if Bennigan's can do it.