Employee involvement Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

Leaders don’t always communicate the necessary information to employees, and that can result in a negative work environment, says Greg Humes.

“Some people don’t even share where they are going on an overall basis because they think it’s very confidential,” says the president of NLM Inc., a third-party logistics provider. “You ask organizations to cut costs and to do certain things, but you don’t share where you are at on the profitability side.”

Humes stays in touch and communicates with his approximately 240 employees through meetings and by walking around, but he also has his assistant update the company’s intranet daily.

“(It) might be a simple one-line sentence that says, ‘Had a great meeting with such and such customer, and we’re going to strategically discuss in the next two weeks maybe this additional service.’”

Keeping employees in the loop helps generate and maintain excitement, and as Humes says, “Excited people do great things.”

Smart Business spoke with Humes about how he keeps employees involved and excited at NLM Inc.

Delegate to the right people. It’s going into the organization and putting cross-functional teams — the right team with the right knowledge — together to solve a problem or come up with some new idea or what you are trying to do as far as what the objective is.

We’ll get those people to get engaged, and we’ll ask them to be a part of that, and we come away with some great products and the execution of the products.

I want people to play off their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s a typical cross-functional team. You’ve got to have the representation there if you are solving a problem, from whatever that problem is.

Like in the classroom, there are people that are always raising their hand and answering the questions, but then there are others that know the answer but are a little on the shy side and don’t engage. So, my objective is to keep people motivated and get them engaged.

Some of them work better in small functional areas. They don’t work in big intimidating groups. So we define what is it we are trying to do, and then we also know who we’re trying to develop and where we’re trying to develop them.

Don’t point the finger. You stick with the facts. At the end of the day, you use it and turn it into an educational process. What are the facts, what did we do, what didn’t we do and then ... teaching people and going back through what we want to accomplish and change, and remove that defect and/or failure for a full resolution.

That’s really the measurement. ‘OK, we didn’t do that right. We missed something. The customer took us down a path, and we should have said no, and we said yes, and we learned from that.’

Let’s communicate it. Let’s make sure everybody is aware of it. Let’s not keep that in the box, but don’t personalize it. Don’t say, ‘So and so did this,’ because, at the end of the day, everything is an organizational issue.

You survive as an organization, you thrive as an organization, and the people support the organization. When you try to divide and conquer, there are no heroes. Then, people will definitely put the walls up and become more of their own rather than a piece of the entire.

Let’s put the issues on the table; let’s keep the names and the personalities out of it. I don’t care about titles. I want to know what we did that we can do better. What can we learn from this, and who’s going to take the responsibility to go back and fix it. Then we move down the road. Then we celebrate and we know what we changed either in the process or a tactical move.

If somebody comes in and they think it’s a point-the-finger session like that or a grievance type of thing, then I’ll stop them immediately and say, ‘That’s not what we’re here for.’

Be a team player. When I go to one of my direct report’s staff meetings and sit in ... my position is, ‘I’m here, I’m learning, you guys are the experts. I’m here because I want to deep dive this a little and maybe offer some solutions to it,’ rather than offering that they are doing something wrong.

At the end of the day, there is a high motivation with the way that I do it. It’s inspiring the mission. It shows a sense of urgency and a caring to all because it is a cross-functional type of thing.

It definitely shows that I believe in the teamwork and that goals can be met through the team atmosphere. Then, it broadens the employees’ abilities, and it gives them exposure versus a more of the old-school leadership style with intimidation. I think that’s a demotivator. You have a leader, but it’s like a football game. You’re not going to win the Super Bowl if the coach is one hell of a coach, but none of the players want to play for him.

A lot of the old-school-leadership-style people will go down that path, and (employees) give you a, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ Out of fear, some of them will do it. Most of them will be productive to a certain level and, at some point and time, it becomes frustration and watercooler conversations happen.

They don’t support it, don’t believe in it, and you can see it in your results.

HOW TO REACH: NLM Inc., (313) 736-8000 or www.nlmi.com