“You have no idea how much I appreciate being heard.”
Robert Habeeb read this line from a note he received from an employee in Ohio, and it touched him. As president and chief operating officer of the $165 million hotel management company First Hospitality Group Inc., he could easily spend all of his time in fancy boardrooms in important meetings, but instead, he relishes being out among his 3,000 employees, all of whom he says have stories worth listening to.
He recognizes that when leaders take the time to learn where people are from, ask about their families and find out what their aspirations are, it creates loyalty and trust. And relationships that are built on these casual interactions create stock no leader can buy.
Smart Business spoke with Habeeb about how focusing on employees strengthens your company.
Talk to people. The closer you stay to the front lines, the better informed you’ll be as to what’s really go on in your business. If you get out on the front line where the interaction between the company and the customer takes place and you listen to those folks, you’ll get a great picture of what’s happening in your business.
If you stay in the office and go from meeting to meeting, dealing with executives and expect you’re going to get the full picture of what’s happening in your company, you’re probably mistaken.
If you don’t discipline yourself to put a big black line on the calendar and say, ‘I’m not in the office on this day or during these hours,’ and get out, it’ll never happen because your time will always be hijacked by some other priority.
You get to chat with people and learn a lot about your product and customer. The more that you’re close to your product and the people on the front line, the more that the keeping it real comes naturally rather than it’s a mission.
Find a way to help your employees.We started an employee Web site. When we first rolled it out, we had an all-staff meeting and talked about the site.
At the end of the meeting, the first question was, ‘I don’t have a computer do you know where I could get one?’ A lot of the people that work for us at entry level didn’t have the resources to buy a computer, so we came back and found a company that would co-op with us on helping people buy their first computer.
Anything we can do to help them navigate, people cheer for. It creates loyalty. We want people to be cheerful and friendly, and it certainly contributes to them going to work and making it easy to be cheerful and friendly.
It’s probably the difference in where you have your heart in what you do versus just going through the functions.
Think big. We’d rather get out of bed every day and try something different and have it flop and then pick ourselves up and try something else, as opposed to being an organization where ideas end up on the bulletin board, and the bulletin board committee gathers them and puts them in the log book, and that’s where they die.
We do a car giveaway every year. There came a time when we realized that management by whip and chair was extinct, and to retain people and inspire them to do good things, you have to develop a system that rewards.
Every time you have perfect attendance for a quarter, you get into the lottery. At the end of the year, we draw from the names of all the people who have perfect attendance, and that person has their choice of, this year, a Cadillac Escalade for a year, a Harley Davidson motorcycle to keep, or we paid your living expenses for the year.
That spurned from a lunch conversation we had one day. What’s the cost, and what’s the potential if it improves people’s performance just 10 percent?
Incentive programs should always drive you to some result. The reward should be exciting, and you should have a celebration of the accomplishment. The bigger deal you make of any incentive, the more effective it will be.
Call-offs reduced by 75 percent over the first four quarters where we had it introduced. It’s a long shot that you’re going to win the car, but it’s creating a positive when you get up in the morning and you’re not really sick but you’re making that decision of whether to call off sick or not. It really does change people’s behavior for the better.
Prioritize people. It’s all about where your head is at. What happened at Enron is that management stopped going to work every day thinking about their customers and employees and starting going to work thinking about ‘me’ it’s all about ‘me’ this is what ‘me’ has to do.
Many leaders can accomplish great things while being full of themselves self-confidence and a little bit of arrogance are positive traits but when you break that connection and you’re not genuine anymore, then you’re in the soup.
There’s a barrier that goes up when someone is seen as unapproachable as opposed to someone who walks around chatting with everyone they see. It keeps it real. It keeps you in tune with what’s happening in your company and what’s happening with your customers.
HOW TO REACH: First Hospitality Group Inc., (847) 299-9040 or www.fhginc.com