Bank of America’s 2014 Small Business Owner Report found that finding and retaining good staff was the most often reported hurdle for small business owners, a success factor they dubbed “challenging, but critical.”
Pack & Stack Storage Solutions owner Matt Rojas stumbled upon his solution to the too-common problem of employee motivation while working for somebody else. He found when he worked in jobs where he was given responsibility and appreciation, he was motivated to perform better. In the sort of “show up and shut up” jobs we all work early in our lives, he found he cared very little about the success of the company he worked for. This led him to identify a simple success formula: Productivity = Appreciation + Treatment.
Although this isn’t exactly a ground-breaking theory, Matt’s experience applying it in his own company has yielded impressive and enlightening results in two of the most impactful aspects of employee relations: fostering engagement in your team and retaining the employees who excel at their jobs.
The Secret to Employee Engagement
Gallup’s 2012 State of the American Workplace report found that 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged while at work, and that organizations containing primarily engaged employees (9.3 or more per disengaged employee) experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than companies without that engagement.
Rojas keeps his employees engaged with a trust-and-correct cycle. Instead of forcing employees to earn ownership of their positions, Rojas starts each employee in a position of trust. He trains them on his exacting standards, then lets them decide how to meet the mark. He only steps in and corrects once a mistake has been made.
As a result of this trust, Rojas says he rarely has to call an employee out on a mistake or omission, because they bring the mistake to his attention without being asked, almost always accompanied by a plan for making things right.
“They constantly strive to think of ways to improve and generate more business for us,” Rojas says. “They take it personally when there’s a mistake on their end and take true ownership for their jobs and the success of the business.”
Reducing Employee Turnover
Before becoming a complete moving solution, Pack & Stack offered its services primarily to college students who needed moving trucks at the beginning and end of the school year and a place to store their things over the summer breaks. Turnover is an issue in most industries, but especially problematic in a seasonal business like storage in a university town. After investing so much in creating an excellent workforce, Matt was loathe to see them go as business slowed. His first solution was to simply pay them better than all of his competitors: a living wage by the standards of the expensive Massachusetts community where Pack & Stack is based, as opposed to the near-minimum-wage rates common to such labor jobs. This kept some employees coming back, but still left him with vacancies each season as favorite staff members elected to stay at non-seasonal jobs they’d gotten during the off-season.
His solution: “We made business less seasonal by expanding into business storage and house moving. Most of our work still happens at the beginning of summer, and with students going on exchange, but the sidelines let me keep my people working all year long.” This decision also grew the company’s bottom line and position it as a leader in the community. Ten years later, Pack and Stack is expanding into two nearby states — in part because of the culture of growth, challenge, and appreciation Rojas has fostered.
“My rewards are the smiles on my employee’s faces,” Rojas says. Though the rewards go well beyond that, Rojas’ comment illustrates the core of his policy and message. If you are motivated by a personal connection with your staff and an honest desire to do right by them, they can tell and will return the sentiment by taking ownership of your business’ success.