Questions 4 and 5 focus directly on issues related to your performance and possible succession plans. If your business is organized as a cooperative or as an investor-oriented corporation, you may be dealing with a board of directors. Research confirms that incentives work. If your firm does not have a suitable incentive compensation plan in place, it is appropriate to discuss and perhaps implement one. A reasonable treatment of the broad range of incentive pay plans can be found from the Economic Research Institute at www.eridlc.com/index.cfm/fuseaction=textbook.chpt18
Management succession is also a subject that often receives short shrift in many businesses. Good planning can be extremely useful in both corporations and family owned and run businesses. Harvey Meier, a Spokane, WA-based agribusiness consultant who specializes in family owned business management (www.harveymeier.com), states that the book Strategic Planning for Dummies includes an excellent, hands-on, practical discussion of “Ensuring Your Business Continues After You” (pp. 298-302).
How was your grade on the “staff morale” question? In our opinion, having an enthusiastic, helpful and friendly staff can help you accomplish your firm’s goals almost better than anything else. Perhaps this question can best be covered when we get to some of the issues related to personnel in the next section.
We have covered human resource issues several times in this column in recent years. See the following “Manager’s Notebook” columns (column title, followed by the issue): “Warning! Employee Evaluations Approaching,” April/May, 2006; “Using the Team Approach—or What Does Football Have to Do with the Feed and Grain Business?” February/March, 2006; “Dealing with Problem Employees” - June/July 2005; (All previous columns are available online at: http://www.feedandgrain.com/publication/archives.jsp?pubId=1 ). The following columns (pre-2005) are available from the authors (just e-mail John Foltz at email@example.com if you would like a copy): “Taking Customer Service to Another Level (or not)” - October/November 2004; “Invest in Your Company’s Human Capital” - February/March 2004.
Some of the key points covered in these columns include empower your employees, ask for suggestions and use them; find opportunities to thank and praise your employees; and utilize appropriate socialization scenarios. Company picnics, monthly birthday coffee breaks/mini-parties, and perhaps a firm softball or bowling team can help your employees gel into a productive team.
Now, turning to evaluating personnel areas, let’s determine whether you offer sufficient training opportunities for your employees. Possibilities here include sending key people to participate in seminars or asking your suppliers to provide product training. It might take additional work, but there is no reason why you can’t look at your own staff for expertise and host your own training sessions. (See Figure 2)
Incentive programs for employees highlighted in Question 2, can be varied. Typically, we think of incentive programs as being geared towards salespeople. While this is true, they can also be implemented (with some thought) in other areas of your business. We are thinking here of rewards for levels of “accident free” miles for your truck drivers (levels as appropriate, but maybe 50,000, 100,000, 250,000 etc. — whatever works for your market); or highest number of tons of feed produced in a single day during the year (to encourage employees to work longer hours during particularly busy times). Think of things that matter to your business and how they are done and where there might be opportunity for mistakes, and craft an incentive program around these areas.
Good customer service is the focus of the next question. Improving customer service always pays off, and while many businesses think they do a good job of this, it can always be improved. Simple customer service improvements are things like encouraging employees to smile more (we know it sounds stupid, but it works); offering to help (think the Boy Scout motto – “Do a Good Turn Daily”); promising to fulfill a customer’s need and doing it; and finally, helping employees to better anticipate customer needs. More complicated customer service improvement might be improving your website’s usability and functionality to meet new customer demands for account or product information.