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Decentralize your business while reducing stress and get rewards Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2011
Decentralize your business while reducing stress and get rewards

David Harding knew there had to be a better way to reduce the stress at work. So he read an article about executive coaches, hired one, and set out to change the company culture with his newly minted purpose statement.

It was his “aha” moment. The revelation?  Hiring the best people, trusting them and letting everyone share in the duties ? and share in the rewards.

“We dreamt that people would want to work here and would be lining up at our door to join the team,” says Harding, president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, whose annual sales are about $30 million.

Once that vision is solidified, you develop the purpose. Harding finds this one fits the bill: “To make a meaningful difference in the lives of our employees.”

Finally, ask, “How can we deliver on that purpose?”

Then comes the action. Take away the autocratic management style. Put in a democratic style, where managers are allowed to run their departments. Take away the plant manager.

“We chose not to have one because everyone tends to go to him/her for answers,” Harding says. “Pretty soon you have a stressed-out person because the staff puts monkeys on his/her back.”

The culture revolution won’t be easy. It took Harding about two years to get his 154-employee graphic arts company turned around. Autonomy was especially problematic at first.

“It wasn’t a habit for them to make decisions, and so they would come to us and say, ‘What do I do here?’ and we would say, ‘You’re running the show; what do you think you do?’ and eventually, after you do that a few times, they understand: ‘OK, I need to be making my own decisions.’

“Instead of answering the question for them, you ask them to come up with the answer themselves. And nine times out of 10, it’s the same answer you give them, especially if they understand the vision of the company.”

Management, in a twist of the usual case scenario, should be accountable to employees, and not the other way around. This is the optimum way to benefit the customer.

“Think about it,” Harding says. “The people that can really provide value to a customer are the people that are closest to that process. In other words, the people that are closer to producing a product can probably provide more value quicker to a customer than managers. The reason is they work with that product every day and they know what improvements can be made. So it’s faster. They don’t have to go upstairs and say, ‘Is it OK if I do this?’ Of course they can do it. You should really turn the pyramid upside down and let them provide the value.

“In fact, there is a good book written on the subject called, ‘Employees First, Customers Second,’ and by making employees first they should know what the customer is wanting, too, and what the customer’s vision is, as well. So you have to connect them with the customer.”

If you hire the right people, it makes your job so much easier. Harding points out that his company’s turnover rate for 2010 was 9.1 percent. Statistics show that manufacturing companies average about 16 percent a year.

“There are a million things you can do to make sure a hire is a correct hire,” he says. “Pre-employment testing is one. Multiple interviews. Actually have the employee go through vocational-type tests.

“One time I even drove by an employee’s house, because it was a very important position I was hiring for,” he explains. “I actually could tell by the shape of his house and the garage whether he was an organized person or not.”

Did he get the job? Yes, and he’s now a partner.

How to reach: HardingPoorman Group, (888) 809-7741 or www.hardingpoorman.com

Bring on the feedback

Employee feedback through staff surveys will bring meaningful results in building a great company, says David Harding, president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group.

Each year, the 154-employee graphic arts company conducts a staff survey to evaluate where the company is headed and where it has been.

An outside firm conducts the process and answers are anonymous.

Some of the 35 questions include, “My supervisor is willing to listen to ideas I have about improving my job,” and, “I understand the values of this company and what is important to it.” Respondents agree or disagree on a scale of 1 to 10. Comparisons are made to previous year’s scores to see where improvement is needed.

“We take the average of all 12 questions about the manager and put it on their review,” Harding says. “That way we are telling the managers what’s important.

“The manager can see what his department’s low areas were. Then he can set a plan, or we can set a plan with him, for how he is going to increase those scores this year. You’re benchmarking the company. You can benchmark the manager.

“I’m proud to say that every year our numbers have improved,” Harding says. “I would hope that if you asked our staff if they ‘bought in to’ our culture, they would overwhelmingly say, ‘Yes.’”

How to reach: HardingPoorman Group, (888) 809-7741 or www.hardingpoorman.com