Empowering employees Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

When Bob Dillon bought Unique Home Solutions in 1993, it wasn’t because he had a great desire to own a business. Instead, he just wanted to be part of a company that cared for its employees.

Since then, Dillon has evolved that philosophy into a process of empowering employees to reach their full potential. And that starts with realizing you have to delegate responsibility, teaching employees, talking them through problems and rewarding them for a job well done, says the president of Unique Home Solutions, who, along with his 125 employees, has grown the home improvement company to 2008 revenue of $15 million.

Smart Business spoke with Dillon about how to empower your employees.

Q. What are the keys to empowering employees?

First of all, be willing to do it. That can be the hardest part, being willing to delegate it.

Look at the benefits. A lot of small business owners I see, they are underpaid and overworked. They work 100 hours a week for less of a paycheck than some of their employees get. The reasons they do that is that they don’t want to empower or delegate.

So first of all recognize, if you have any sized company at all, you cannot do everything. Second of all, identify your key employees, then start showing some trust in them. Ask them questions. ‘What do you feel you can do just as well without me being involved?’ Then build on that. Have constant education and training.

I think a lot of businesses do a highly inadequate job of education and training. That’s where they fall short.

Q. How do you educate employees?

We have initial written training and certification in all of our departments. We have monthly and quarterly re-evaluations that are in writing or, in the case of installation, not only written but field, hands-on.

(Evaluate) attitude, although that’s subjective — more of a willingness to go the extra mile to get the job done. Performance — if you do a sales call, do you do it the way we want you to do it 70 percent of the time, 80 percent, 90 percent?

First, you have to analyze the job. You’ve got to know what the job is that you’re asking them to do. You’ve got to know how you expect them to do it and why you expect those things.

When you have that written out, then you can come up with questions that will evaluate their knowledge of each part of it.

The first person that needs to know it is you because you can’t evaluate anybody else if you don’t know what your expectations of them are.

We go to a lot of seminars to look at industry standards — we expect to exceed industry standards — and then we look at past performance. Then, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve past performance.

Q. How do you work with employees on their performance?

Understand and recognize that once you give somebody the power to make a decision on their own, it’s not necessarily going to be what you would have done in that same circumstance.

If they do something different than you ... you have to step back and say, ‘OK, did they do it better than I would have done?’ If they do, then you have to recognize that: ‘You know, you actually did this better than I would have handled it.’

Was their situation, was their response, just different but adequate or as good as yours? Then, you say, ‘Well, here’s another way that you might have done it. I don’t know if the results would have been any different, but it gives you some flexibility the next time you look at it.’

Then, they might have screwed it up. You have to say, ‘OK, I understand you had good intentions. Here’s what the consequences of your actions were, and here are the actions that I would have wanted.’ Not making them feel bad that they made a decision, but try to teach them the processes of making a decision.

Q. How do you reward employee performance?

When I’m trying to get people to perform to the best of their ability, I have to communicate to them in short-term benefits to them.

We have bonus plans, so that it translates into money in their pocket for the better service that they do. We have a monthly bonus breakfast meeting where we pass out awards and give recognition.

But you also have to feel in control of your destiny.

If a service guy goes out and he does a little extra work, which costs us a little extra money on the service because he deems that it’s right, he doesn’t have to worry that he’s going to come back in and get yelled at for doing that. He feels in control of the service. We do surveys to make sure the customer is happy. They get bonuses on successful completion of services and good comments, so they get short-term monetary benefits.

Every system we have in place in that department is designed to support that.

How to reach: Unique Home Solutions, (317) 337-9300 or www.uniquewindowanddoor.com