Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Finding value: How a strong employee-customer connection will improve productivity

June 27, 2016
By Shawn Casemore Casemore and Co Inc.

Jun. 27, 2016 – In today’s fast-paced, technology-centric workplace, CEOs, executives and managers struggle to find ways to increase and sustain high levels of productivity within their teams. It would seem that despite all of the ways in which technology supports increasing individual and team productivity (big data, real-time information gathering, human error reduction), trends demonstrate productivity is actually declining, not increasing. Sound familiar?

I could, for the sake of argument, suggest that the drivers behind productivity are not as simple as they seem. We can’t blame a lack of work ethic in millennials (although that’s what some executives I meet during talks across North America seem to think), nor can we make a blanket statement that technology has reduced our ability to think creatively (although there have been studies tied to this). The problem is unfortunately more complex and so, a simple straightforward answer would not do our discussion any justice.

Instead, we need to see past the media hype and evangelists shouting their message from the rooftop, and revert back to some well-known, yet often, forgotten facts. People are individuals, and it should therefore go without saying that to capture their attention, interest, and commitment — which are the fundamentals on which individual and team productivity are built — we need to create a strong connection between our employees and the value their work brings. This is what I call the Employee-Customer connection.

Let me give you an example of how this works, and more importantly, how you can apply this concept in your team or across your entire organization. Consider for a moment your finance department — a very vital role to a business of any size, yet what kind of metrics are used to motivate and manage the finance department? My guess is that your finance department today is expected to manage and reduce costs in some way, shape or form. Considering this, would you say that reducing or managing costs is always in the best interest of the customer? If you ask anyone in sales, the answer would be a resounding No! — yet finance works, often tirelessly, to find ways to keep costs in check that can in turn hamper customer value.

Turn the tables for a moment. What if finance connected their work — specifically their actions, response times, oversight activities and the like — with adding value to the customer? Would this drive a more positive and productive approach to their job? The answer is yes. Anytime you can take someone and connect their activities with responding to and supporting a specific customer, their interest, attention and commitment will increase. I’ve studied this employee-customer connection for more than a decade myself, and have found time and time again a direct correlation between productivity and the extent to which an employee connects their activities with a customer’s needs.

You see, productivity is not a measure of output (how many invoices processed in an hour or how many parts produced in a day), but a measure of value (the quality of products produced, the accuracy and timeliness of invoices sent to customers). Value is measured by the customer, so if we desire higher levels of productivity from our employees, we need to give them a reason to produce more value, and the only way to do this is to let them see, connect with, and understand who they serve. More value to the customer is the desired outcome of higher productivity.

So what can you do? To be honest, there are literally dozens of ideas I could share, but here are five that I think are the most crucial.

1. Help employees connect their activities and responsibilities with end-customer needs. How do they contribute and what value does this bring to the customer?

2. Remove silos and allow internal departments to work together, dare I say collaborate, on projects that impacts the customer.

3. Prompt, listen for, and quickly act on barriers that employees identify as impacting their ability to service the customer.

4. Have executives connect directly with front line employees to understand what might add more value to the customer — don’t rely on managers to escalate issues that may not be a priority to them.

5. Make it a priority to break down barriers; treat employee suggestions and concerns as a priority.

It’s time we stop attempting to place blame for diminishing employee productivity, and start looking for ways to add more value to our customers through our employees. If you take this approach, I think you’ll find employee interest, commitment and attention will increase and lead to higher productivity and morale, and stronger customer relationship.

Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Co Inc., a management consultancy helping business owners and executives improve the performance and profitability of their business through their people.

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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