John Rost realizes that employees show up to work each day for a paycheck. But he also knows that most employees — and the managers who listen to them — will tell you they seek something more from their place of employment.
They want a sense that their work contributes to a greater goal, a sense that they are valued by the company, a sense that their input on the company’s policies and directions has meaning and will be seriously considered by management.
But in order to have that, the tone has to be set at the top level. That’s why Rost — the founder, president and CEO of Fiesta Insurance Franchise Corp. — strives to get out among his employees at his company, which generated $36 million in 2010 sales under its brand name, Fiesta Auto Insurance.
Smart Business spoke with Rost about how a good set of ears and good set of walking shoes paves the way for an engaged, loyal work force.
How do you involve employees and franchisees in shaping the company’s future?
We are always chatting with our franchise owners to see if they have a different perspective, if they know of things that are working or not working. They might have some particular challenges or successes out there. We recently had three of our superstar franchise owners who were down here from northern California visiting with us. It was an opportunity to spend some time talking about their operations.
I can also think of some accounting challenges recently that came from our front-line clerical staff. With that, and discussing some of the potential solutions, we were able to create some software programming where the programming can be done more efficiently.
To implement something like this, having other people involved is key to a good working environment, whether it’s staff members or franchise members. If they feel there is not an opportunity to be heard in the organization, that is not going to help the success of the organization itself. In the leadership position, as the CEO or top manager, you have to spend a certain amount of time out in the field, making sure that you’re available to shake hands, chat with people and ask them for their input.
When you’re talking with your employees and franchisees, what do you want them to tell you?
Sometimes you’ll find in those situations, people will tell you about the good things, but you’ll need to ask them about the challenges they’re facing. You can talk about two things that are good things, but let’s also discuss the five things that are challenges. Without those discussions, you might not find out about that operational crisis that you’re not yet aware of or whatever it might be that they’re facing in their various capacities.
From there, the next step is to ask them about potential solutions for each one of those challenges. Most of the time, people that are dealing with whatever challenge exists have it in their mind how they would have dealt with the issue in the first place. That is how you begin to generate great ideas from the people on your staff who are dealing with those challenges on a daily basis.
What qualities does a truly engaged employee possess?
From a personality standpoint, it’s going to be someone who is very persistent, somebody who is not going to give up easily in the face of some challenging times. Nothing is perfect out there, so in order to be successful, you have to have that attitude of never giving up. So our franchise owners, if they come in, grab a hold of the concept in training, and go out and execute the plan we’ve laid out, they have an opportunity to be very successful. Every once in a while, we’ll have someone who goes out and tries to buy an orange and turn it into a banana, and it doesn’t work too well.
Ultimately, what do you see as the leader’s role in engaging employees?
As the leader, you have to have that vision to get people involved. You have to make sure everybody understands what the vision is and hold everybody accountable to stick with it. It’s something that is changing. It’s always zigzagging across as you’re headed in a certain direction. But you have to make sure everybody is staying on that path by motivating and inspiring people to achieve the goals of the organization.
How to reach: Fiesta Insurance Franchise Corp., (877) 905-3437 or www.fiestafranchise.com