BY ROB SMENTEK
Your company culture speaks volumes about you and your business. It provides a valuable first impression for potential clients and it lets your employees know exactly where they stand. But, if asked, would you be able to identify your own company’s culture?
Jon Epstein, president and CEO of Royal Coachman Worldwide in Denville, N.J., and Tony Simon, COO of Reston Limousine in Dulles, Va., believe that recognizing and maintaining your company culture is a necessity for success. The pair presented a seminar on this very topic at the Chauffeur Driven Show this past October, discussing and expanding upon many of the points presented below.
“Culture is a personality,” Simon said. “Your company is an extension of you and all your employees, but it’s also its own being. How do we define it? Trying to determine the personality of your company is not such an easy thing.”
There is no one-size-fits-all model for the “perfect” company culture, and what works for one might not work for another. This can be frustrating if you are trying to determine or change your own culture. It depends on the size of your business, the employees you hire, and what kind of operation you have. A family-run business with five cars is going to have a much different culture than a company with a 100-car fleet. Each have their own environments, values, and goals; however, both need to create a personalized culture that will allow them to maintain conditions suitable for growth.
At our core, consider that we’re a service industry, and happy employees tend to be more productive and deliver better service to satisfied customers—which means profitability. Culture can be changed because it starts with the owner. Utilize these general building blocks to help you establish yours and maintain a successful, positive workplace.
Building Block 1: Have an Open Door
Having an open door policy is critical for a company. It is important that your employees feel that they have a resource with whom to share problems or concerns; that open door will also reassure them that they have a voice within the operation. No one in the office should feel excluded—let alone intimidated—by owners or upper management because it’s generally a recipe for high turnover and lower productivity. However, it is integral that a certain hierarchal structure be in place. While you may have open door policy with the employees, it doesn’t mean they should come to the owner first with a problem; they need to go to their departmental manager or supervisor. Also, set boundaries so that “open door” isn’t being taken literally. Employees should be made aware that they need to schedule a meeting in advance.
Building Block 2: Be Receptive
Keeping an open mind and being receptive gives your team the impression and reassurance that their voice is being heard; however, it can also benefit you and the company. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are better than you in some areas. Dispatchers and CSRs are on the frontlines, and their firsthand experience and insight based on everyday client interactions may be of value in creating effective new policy or instituting a change.
Epstein has an innovative but personal daily routine that keeps the lines of communication open with his employees: “One of the things I do when I get to work is go to every person in my organization, sit in their office, and I talk to them,” he said. “I find that people are always more comfortable in their environment, as opposed to being whisked to the boss’ office.”
Building Block 3: Reward and Recognize
Everyone wants amazing employees on staff. One of the easiest ways to foster a happy workplace is to reward and recognize employees who do great work. All too often we focus on correcting something done wrong, and while that’s important, a job well done should be given the same consideration. Recognition can be as simple as setting up an employee of the month program or awarding a gift card or small cash bonus for exemplary performance. Doing this regularly can go a long way in maintaining a positive company culture.
“We survey our clients extensively. Any time we get good feedback about a trip, we give that chauffeur a $25 gift card to a local establishment,” Epstein explained. “We do the same thing for our CSRs. It’s very important to recognize and reward your employees for going above and beyond.”
While a gift card can go a long way in improving employee morale, paying fair value for the critical roles within the company is essential. Underpaying your staff can breed a sense of negativity that will creep into all aspects of the business. If salaries are lower than those of your competitors of comparable size in your market, it will be difficult to keep good people on staff, and even harder to find qualified replacements when they inevitably leave for greener pastures. Conversely, you must consider that there is a monetary ceiling for every position, and it will become increasingly difficult to retain a skilled employee once they’ve reached that peak.
Building Block 4: Be Proactive
They say that the best defense is a good offense. This is certainly true when running a company. Simon advises owners to be ahead of the game and stay proactive. “If there’s a problem, be ahead of the problem,” he said. “Have your finger on the pulse, and be receptive and aware.”
By being on top of all aspects of the company, you’ll be able to recognize the potential issues before they occur. If an employee is unhappy—which is going to happen in all companies—make them happy. Not every problem can be solved, but an attempt to listen to and work with all employees is imperative to maintaining that healthy culture. Epstein believes that this is significant to the organization: “Every employee deserves attention...it’s very important to keep employees upbeat.”
Building Block 5: Empower
There are times when your chauffeurs or CSRs will have to think on their feet and make a decision to quickly please a client. You should encourage employees to problem-solve and give them the power to make decisions. It not only gives the employee purpose, but also is great for client satisfaction. “The staff should know they represent the company and can make decisions on behalf of the company,” said Epstein.
A chauffeur shouldn’t have to go back to management to get approval for every accommodation. Provide your staff with guidelines—and limits—in order to make things right with a customer. Then trust your employees to make the right decisions based on those guidelines.
Building Block 6: Be Understanding and Flexible
Successful business management certainly relies on a level of consistency, but there are times when flexibility is necessary. Epstein suggests that company policy should allow for creativity. “It’s important that your people have the freedom to improve your organization,” he offered. “Give those them the opportunity to improve things and have meetings with employees looking for better systems or processes.”
However, Simon cautions that it is often difficult to be flexible while enforcing policy. “This is something we struggle with constantly,” he admitted. “If we define policy, and someone who’s been with the company for decades makes a serious mistake–how do we handle this?” In this case, flexibility can cause problems, if you don’t treat each employee the same. “This is a hard thing to balance, but when we take a step back, we have to be consistent with everyone,” said Simon.
Building Block 7: Be Inclusive
In order for your staff to understand your company’s vision, values, goals, and objectives, they need to be communicated to employees first. This can be achieved through posting a mission statement in the hallway or breakroom, or by outlining procedures and defining each role and position in an employee manual. Simon and Epstein also recognize the importance of scheduling frequent meetings with each department.
“I think it’s critical to have regular meetings with your staff,” said Epstein. “You need to include your chauffeurs too and make them feel like they are part of the company. We will approach our people at meetings, and ask them to write down ideas that will impact the company. Be creative, get people to think outside the box.”
Weekly meetings—or even conference calls—with managers will help shape and adjust changes within the company in a timely way. Engaging and connecting with your in-house staff is also essential. Epstein has a daily ritual to keep develop a one-on-one relationship with his staff. “On my desk, I have the pictures and names of every chauffeur who works for us. I memorize them,” he said. “I think it’s important to have that connection with your employees.”
Building Block 8: Be Socially Responsible and Giving
“Giving back,” said Epstein, “shows people what you and your culture are made of.” While companies are often inundated with requests from local and national charities, not to mention employees, it is important that your staff and the public see you being charitable. While you have to pick and choose your way through charity requests, it sends a positive message that you care about the community around you. Buying a box of cookies or a raffle ticket from an employee is a small gesture that is appreciated, and often not forgotten.
Also, consider researching charities with your employees to find one that your company can sponsor year-round. Not only is this an excellent way to raise money for a good cause, but fundraising events also can be a great team-building exercise. Plus, helping a local charity lets people know that you are part of the greater community. As a side benefit, it’s not a bad marketing tool either.
Remember, company culture is entirely in your hands. Once you identify the personality that you want your business to convey to employees and clients, it’s just a matter of positioning it clearly and being consistent in the way it’s maintained.[CD0216]