Mike Flowers

At The Rascal Co., home of the Rascal scooter, Mike Flowers doesn’t refer to his staff as employees, he calls them contributors.
Flowers, chairman of the company, says he uses that terminology because everyone in the company is contributing to the
increased quality of life that Rascal customers enjoy when they get a Rascal Powerchair or scooter. The family-owned company
provides mobility solutions to help people live more active lives, and in 2006, it posted revenue of $80 million.
Smart Business spoke with Flowers about how to keep the lines of communication open to build trust with employees.

Get input from customers. I like to get
involved — but not in the day-to-day
operations. I like to get involved in
understanding what it is our customers
are experiencing. I like to talk to customers and probe with questions to get
under what it is that they are experiencing with our product.

I’ll ask the tough questions, like, ‘Is
there anything our product isn’t doing
for you that you thought it would? Is
there anything we could have done better? Is there something we could do in
the future that would help to solve
other problems you are having?’

You’ve really got to try to understand
what they like about our products, what
they don’t like about our products, and
what other products we could provide
them that could further help enhance
the quality of their lives.

Get input from employees. I try to do that
with our contributors, too — ask them
if they have any ideas that could
improve our business. We have a ‘bright
idea’ contest we encourage our contributors to participate in. We pay a $50
bonus for any bright idea they come up
with that we approve. Even if we can’t
use it immediately in our business, we
pay the $50 when we’ve approved the
idea, and we put it into a priority schedule to get into our business.

Not all of them get implemented, but
that’s really helped improve our business just by having that bright idea program and getting out and talking to our
contributors about what we can do better that we may not be doing now.

Build trust. They trust us, and it seems to
be more common today than it was
five, 10, 15 years ago. There seems to
be a kind of an increased distrust generally throughout the country with the
employer-employee relationship. We
try to get around that and under that.

We tell them, ‘Look, you’re going to
find problems we’ve created, and management’s created them. Please, don’t think we don’t want to know about
them and that we’re going to hide them
under a rug. Tell us what we’re doing if
we’re doing something wrong, and we
won’t shoot the messenger. Don’t be
afraid to point out mistakes we’ve made
or things we’ve done wrong. Don’t think
by telling us that we’re going to shoot
the messenger. Please trust us that we’ll
do the right thing.’

There’s a lot to that; basic faith in giving people their annual reviews is an
example. Letting people know how
they’re doing, and trying to be timely
with delivering on any promise you’ve
made, and making sure the whole company is working on the same guidelines.
That goes a long way toward building
trust, and not being afraid to tell somebody when they’re not doing that well,
or that they’re making mistakes, or if
something’s not working right for them
as a contributor; not being afraid to
deliver the uncomfortable news, as well
as build that trust with our employees.

Keep communication open. Try to get open
and honest communication with your
team on a regular basis. On a quarterly
basis, share all the good news and the
bad news with your contributors.

Try to let them know what’s happening with the company, so they see the big picture. Share with them the opportunities out there for the company to
pursue, and let them know what we’re
doing to take advantage of them.
Having open communication helps you
avoid pitfalls.

If you don’t have that, people start
making up their own stories about
what’s really happening. That still happens, but you try to get ahead of that by
having a network of people who do
trust you. Inevitably, there’s going to be
rumors circulating in any business. Try
to have people who have the trust and
loyalty to bring those rumors to somebody in management who is going to
say, ‘This is something that’s not true.
This is the reality, and this is how the
company’s dealing with it.’

Show employees their work is important. Even
the person working on our assembly
line, when they’re putting things together, we talk to them on a regular basis.
We get them to think about how this
could be their grandmother’s Rascal
scooter, so they will think about it from
the aspect that this is not just twisting a
bolt or turning a screw.

We think it’s really important because
when you get the whole team working
together in a common mission and that
singular focus, it simplifies a lot of the
day-to-day problems you come across.

That can refer back to our mission on
how to deal with these problems.
Obviously, ‘the customer is always
right’ is one of our key messages. It all
comes back to satisfying their needs.
Not every time when we provide a person a product do we get it right the first

We try to work with customers that, if
we need to exchange a product for their
particular need, then we will do that.
We try to make sure long run we’re satisfying the customer.

HOW TO REACH: The Rascal Co., www.rascalscooters.com or
(856) 468-1000