Charlotte A. Martin hates excuses. The president and chief operating officer of Gateway EDI Inc. says there is no reason that your employees shouldn’t have the tools they need to do their jobs, and to make sure they do, she scours the results of the annual employee survey.
“When I see silly foolishness in there like, ‘We don’t have enough printers,’ it just upsets me, and we buy printers,” she says.
If you give your employees the resources they need, they’ll pay you back by going above and beyond with customers which is easily worth the cost of a few printers.
Gateway EDI, which does electronic claims processing for the health care industry, is in demand: The company posted $28.7 million in revenue last year and is on track for $38 million in 2008.
Smart Business spoke with Martin about how to let your employees take on more responsibility but why you shouldn’t rush them either.
Q. How do you motivate employees to go above and beyond?
We’re growing so fast; we need people to step up. So we encourage people.
We have a process improvement team that’s called the PIT crew. We encourage people by giving them financial rewards and recognition for coming up with ideas that help our process be more efficient.
During that process, people will come up with neat ideas and neat projects if you just give them a little encouragement and support and I’m talking support. I’m not talking, ‘That’s a good idea; that’s a bad idea.’ I’m not talking about the idea judges.
This group’s whole deal is to scour and beat the bushes for people who have great ideas but are too afraid to speak up.
Once we get them to speak up, we can encourage them and show them how to bring a project forward. And you should see how they blossom when we do that. They feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, we can do something.’
Q. How do you develop employees into leaders?
Every time somebody comes up with a neat idea and helps put it into play and watches it be successful, it’s just more and more reinforcement on developing their abilities.
When a person does that repeatedly and becomes sort of a natural leader, we give them a title called team leader. It lets them practice it.
They don’t really write reviews or do all the things the supervisor does yet. But it gives them a chance to practice it in a totally risk-free way. So they can say, ‘You know, I like this,’ or they can stay as a team leader and just be a go-to person who knows the answers.
Everybody has those people in their companies. If they decide, ‘I want to do more, I want to learn more about managing, I want to take on that responsibility,’ we move them up to group leader, and we give them that training. It’s a supervisory certificate program, and they go to it eight to 12 hours every week. It’s on our dime. We want them to learn the skills that they need.
Q. How do you handle employees who aren’t ready for leadership?
They don’t have to go forward; they can stay there. Sometimes people’s lives are not ready. They want to be the go-to person, but they’ve got things at home. They’ve got a new baby. They’re still going to school. Something’s happening in their lives that they can’t take that on, but they still want some responsibility.
That really helps us because times change. In a year, they may be ready. Then they can move up to supervisor.
Sometimes as you grow, people aren’t able to grow to the position that maybe you hope they would. In that situation, we try to be sensitive and move them into a position that may serve them better.
Those are tough, and we’ve had to do three or four of them. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and people choose to leave. There are no bad people; there’s just bad fits in my world.
Q. What is the benefit of the team leader system?
It’s risk-free lots of people want to try something but they’re scared to death of what happens if they fail. But here if you fail, so what? I don’t care. We’re never going to move forward if we don’t try things.
Failure is not a big deal. What I don’t like is dishonesty. So if we make a mistake, we just say. ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake,’ and we make it right.
We do the same thing with our customers. We tell them right upfront, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Every one of our employees has the authority to give an adjustment. Just say you’re sorry that’s what most people want when they call.
When you’re mad about your bill or your service, you just want some human to say, ‘I’m sorry. We should have done that better. I’ll make it right.’ So we have that philosophy with our customers and our employees.
HOW TO REACH: Gateway EDI Inc., (314) 802-6700 or www.gatewayedi.com