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The Importance of Empowering Frontline Staff - How Many $100 Bananas Does Your Organization Have?

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By June Fabre

Sales, marketing,  IT, customer service and other departments in furniture stores face issues similar to those in the healthcare industry.

Suppose that the sales and customer service staff undermine each other.Resulting delays may reduce client satisfaction; if severe, the conflict could derail an entire contract. Employees need quick and accurate action instead of obstacles and delays.

For example, a hospital patient asks for a banana. The nurse calls the dietary manager, who replies, "not without a doctor's order." After talking to two nearby managers who commiserate with her, the nurse mentions it to a Senior VP, who was passing through the unit. The senior VPintervenes and the patient, unhappy about the long wait, finally receives the banana. The time taken by each person to solve his problem makes the cost of the bananaexceed $100. This wasted money, due to miscommunication and failure to integrate department systems, is an example of why medical care costs have escalated.

In a furniture store, your"$100 banana" might be a customer asking that the store deliver a missing piece of furniture hardware or requesting a service call to check on a flaw in a newly delivered mattress. By the time the request goes from the person who answers the phone to the store manager or owner, time and capital have been wasted.

Frontline employees with decision-making authorization save management time and increase client satisfaction. Organizations providing work environments where staff can perform at their best attract and retain the best people. Positive employee relationships generate energy and raise productivity.

Save money, improve client satisfaction, and reduce expensive errors with the following seven tips:

1. Empower your frontline staff to solve client problems on the spot. Then support them. When frontline employees hesitate to make the independent decisions related to critical thinking, it's because they have been reprimanded for doing so in the past. They have learned to wait for specific directions from their managers rather than functioning as autonomous professionals. This ingrained habit is difficult to break. The best way to change this habit is to build trust by giving your staff consistent support.

Don't let your chain of command become a ball and chain. When you empower frontline employees, you save money, clients are more satisfied, and productivity increases.

2. Building trust enables you to use your intellectual capital. When your staff trusts each other, they save time and money, because people who trust others can act quickly and decisively. How do you build trust? By respecting yourself and others, by being a role model, by courteous communication, and by sensitivity to the needs of others.

3. Build a positive work environment. Organizations that provide environments where staff can perform at their best attract and retain the best people. Long-term strategies such as effective communication and staff-friendly cultures enable organizations to achieve the best results. Building a positive culture takes multiple elements: respect, consistency, and integrity. A positive culture is worth the effort because it promotes employee understanding of organizational values enabling them to make smart decisions for clients.

4. Insist that staff collaborate instead of compete. For instance, ask yourself the question, "Is everyone aligned behind our sales strategy?" Everyone can accomplish more when departments work together. Good communication and collaboration save time and money, and increase productivity. For instance, a salesperson may sell a product or service, but if he expects to make repeat sales, the customer service person and the delivery person must also interact effectively with clients. No matter how good the sales person is, future sales will be lost if the customer service person is insensitive to the client's needs or if the delivery person is
rude. This kind of alignment is essential for any company because the faces of all of these people are the faces that reflect the whole company from a client perspective.

5. Brainstorm about the opportunities that lie beyond the challenges. Dedicate a portion of your staff meetings to list current challenges. Then talk about ways to transform these challenges into opportunities. Perhaps you will be able to redefine your selling proposition to increase sales. For instance, look at both sides of client complaints. Ask yourself if the complaint reflects a client's need for a new product or service that your company could offer.

6. Communicate respectfully. Poor communication wastes time, delays decisions, and damages morale. As the $100 banana illustrates, poor communication is also expensive. Even proven communication strategies are rendered ineffective when staff manage to find new ways to sabotage one another in negative cultures.

7. Solve the root causes of problem. If frontline employees have no power to solve the root causes of their problems, they end up creating temporary fixes day after day. This wastes huge amounts of time, costing their companies significant amounts of money and reducing quality for clients. Solving the root causes of problems may enable you to move from a product focus to a client focus, building your business in new strategic ways.

Core values such as respectful communication and integrity cost nothing. Smarter managers empower their staff to assist people in working together with conceptual communication and leadership approaches that enable them to leverage scarce resources and to do more with less. More than helping to maximize client satisfaction, using these tips will address the bottom line for managers: the dollar difference between the present level of staff productivity and full professional capacity are the number of $100 bananas you can save.

About the Author: June Fabre, MBA, RN-BC, is author of "Smart Nursing: Nurse Retention and Patient Safety Improvement Strategies," and owner of Smart Healthcare LLC. June is a speaker, trainer, consultant, coach and author, and has worked as an educator and sales manager. Through Smart Healthcare LLC, June develops and presents education programs that improve communication, raise productivity without burnout, and promote team performance. She assists frontline staff and managers in how to work together, using conceptual, communication, and leadership approaches. The seven core values of Smart Nursing are caring, respect, simplicity, flexibility, integrity, professional culture, and communication. These core values are universally applicable in any business. She can be contacted at (603) 320-3469, info@junefabre.com, or at www.junefabre.com.

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