The old adage says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In business, an ounce of prevention saves a lot of headaches and lost productivity later on. Especially when it comes to employees.
It’s a concept that Dr. Jim Spahn has taken to heart and tried to live every day at EHOB Inc., a health care products provider that generated $20 million in revenue last year.
Spahn believes that daily engagement of employees, learning their ambitions, likes and dislikes, and what makes them tick, is an effective way to not only build meaningful, productive relationships with his co-workers but also stave off potential problems and conflicts at the pass.
“We show our people respect,” says Spahn, EHOB’s founder and CEO. “We listen to them, we know them, we talk to them. It’s a friendly, nonadversarial environment. We have controversies, but we don’t tolerate the inside fighting and such. It’s the culture that keeps people happy.”
Smart Business spoke with Spahn about how you can stay involved with your employees.
Listen first. The biggest thing is to take time and go listen to your employees. I’m trained as the physician, and it might be kind of the same as bedside manners. Take your time, sit down, listen to them, get to know them, but don’t just become one of them. You’ll have to make tough decisions, but take the time to tell them when things are going good. And when things are going bad, you ask for their help. It’s surprising how everybody pitches in. If a machine goes down, I’ve never had anybody tell me that they have to go home. Everybody is willing to stay around and do whatever is necessary to get stuff done.
It’s kind of like preventative medicine. If you take the time upfront, you save a lot of time at the end. So you make a point of going around, walking the floor, asking everybody how it’s going, asking them if it’s going all right. You can sit down and talk with them, as long as you don’t talk too much. Obviously, you still have to get work done. But you just act like you’re not in a hurry, talk to people and listen to them, smile when you pass them.
To wait until you have chaos on the floor or in the business to try to correct the problem is probably about 20 to 30 times more time-consuming than being preventive, talking with them upfront and catching a problem before it gets too far.
To put it more simply, it’s good time management. You can accomplish a lot if you just spend 5 percent of your time going around talking to people. That can save you a lot of grief down the road.
Focus on what you can do. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. You don’t have to get personal when you have an opinionated discussion. That is to a great degree what our culture is, working together and getting along, even if there are situations where you disagree. You can disagree, but don’t let it get to the point where the interaction becomes adversarial. You do it with respect, and if respect isn’t occurring, maybe you need to ask people to leave, because if people start getting personal, that can be very disruptive in a business.
Stick to the facts of what you are talking about. Stick to what is happening and how you can help the situation. We give people chances to correct themselves, talk it out, give them action plans for correction. From there, a lot of people decide if that is what they want. People do sometimes leave on that basis, but at least they know why they’re leaving. You have your rules to enforce.
You have to know what the issue is. Really, it’s Problem Solving 101. Here is the problem. Let’s understand it first, then make the solution to it. A lot of people will jump from the problem to what their personal solution is. But if you don’t understand the whole thing, that is a very one-sided approach. What we say is that everybody has their opportunity to discuss either the good or bad in a situation as it is occurring. Once it is evaluated, only then do we go toward making a solution. Hopefully that solution will benefit both parties.
Practice problem solving. People understand 95 to 98 percent of the concepts, rules and culture of the company. You don’t have to have a whole lot of people in the room when you’re discussing problem solving, but we’ve discovered that when there is a conflict between two employees, be it high or low on the ladder, you need to have a third party talk to them, and ultimately, you have to get everybody into a room. It doesn’t have to involve a ton of people, but ultimately, you need to have the involvement of a third party that is willing to sit and listen. Then you have to have someone who has the ability to make the decision of what is right and wrong, so that if people can’t comply or won’t comply, you can take corrective action to make sure people on both sides understand that this conflict can’t and won’t continue.
Sometimes, both people in the conflict decide to leave the organization. But at least you know they had a chance to talk about things.
Take early steps. Another thing is you try to recognize problems that could lead to conflict early on. We do a lot of counseling and helping people get stuff done as they might be working through stuff in their personal lives. That is just doing the right thing. Fortunately, we haven’t had a whole bunch of those issues. We don’t have a ton of instances where people are leaving or being asked to leave. So a lot of it gets resolved way before it gets to the level of a serious problem, which is key.
How to reach: EHOB Inc., (317) 972-4600 or www.ehob.com