Fred Gratto is assistant director of physical plant at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When it comes to building a successful service organization, the challenge is finding and keeping great people because they are the brainpower who generate good ideas and the firepower who make customer satisfaction a reality. Great people are great contributors because they like to go to work, make things happen when they get there, and can be counted on to do their best. Every organization is only as good as the people in it. One key to success is getting plenty of great people by making it a high priority to find them. Another key to success is helping people feel satisfied with their work and happy on the job. This isn't as difficult as it seems and campus leaders can make this happen by considering nine principles that work well for us at the University of Florida physical plant.
1. Create a Supportive Environment on the Job
"I love to work here!" I've heard this often because the University of Florida is a wonderful place to work. One of the reasons people are happy here is because we understand that they have lives in progress. Work is important, but it's just one of many things people do. Sometimes I get the impression from reading about the private sector or from talking to my friends employed in it, that work is most important, maybe even more important than family. I was impressed, therefore, to learn about the culture at Kinko's.
Paul Orfalea, founder and chairman of this copying company, believes there are three ingredients to a happy life. They are play, work, and love. Employees are introduced to this tripod concept during orientation and it's reinforced throughout training with the company. In the Kinko's organization, the philosophy is, "We trust and care for each other."1 Because of this healthy perspective, employees are encouraged to develop and maintain all three aspects of their lives and are cautioned not to let work overwhelm them.
Loyalty to an organization and commitment to the job are wonderful, but there are other things just as important, probably more important. At the University of Florida, we understand the Kinko's philosophy and understand the value of family. Because of this, we try to be as user friendly as possible. Sure, we have rules and regulations about leave time and attendance, but we realize that people have lives beyond campus. There are many other things they are interested in, competing needs that require their attention, and personal goals they want to achieve. "In today's marketplace, people don't want to be treated like a commodity. They want to know that someone cares about their dreams."2
People have goals and dreams for themselves, of course, but they are not always realized. An old song by the Moody Blues reminds us that yesterday's dreams are tomorrow's sighs and a golden oldie by Pink Floyd says that hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. John Mellencamp asserts that life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone. Applied to the workplace, these scenarios probably mean that somebody is not too happy on the job. Our organization works hard to minimize situations like these by nurturing a culture in which people know they are appreciated and that we want them to reach their full potential. Our policies are probably not much different than those at other institutions, but our collective mindset about helping people might be. Our notion is that we ought to help people enjoy time on the job by being as accommodating as possible.
Betty Ford, wife of the former president, probably said it best and nicely sums up our approach to dealing with people: "I don't think there's anything as wonderful in life as being able to help someone else."3 On any college campus, a clear mission statement and a track record that backs it up are very important because a positive and supportive environment at work makes it likely that people will enjoy being there.
2. Rock & Roll Up Your Sleeves
People like to work on our campus and I think one of the reasons is because they have fun doing it. Our work matters and is very conspicuous so people notice it and appreciate the difference it makes. Another reason people like working here is because of the good teamwork between supervisors and workers. There are 144 supervisors in the physical plant and 34 of them are working supervisors. This is an important distinction because effective leaders know that best results come from working with people and by showing them how to be more productive. The supervisors in our organization know how to get the job going and roll up their sleeves to get involved in the task at hand.
Beckley4 provides an interesting story about the importance of leaders pitching in to help when they can. "Bundled up beyond recognition one bitter winter day, George Washington proceeded down a country road where a corporal and a group of men were building a breastwork of logs. Two tries had failed to roll the last log into place as the corporal stood by, important and smug, goading the men into action. Another attempt, and the log was about to roll back for the third time. Suddenly, Washington sprang forward and with all his might helped push the log into place. He then turned to the man and asked: 'Why don't you help your men with this heavy lifting when they need an extra hand?' The reply: 'Don't you see I'm a corporal?' Throwing open his great coat and showing his uniform, Washington proclaimed: 'I am only the Commander-In-Chief. Next time you have a log too heavy for your men to lift, send for me!'"
Don Shula, former coach of the Miami Dolphins, insisted on being close to the action. He stated, "You can't coach from the press box. You've got to be down on the field with the team. Coaching is an intensely personal business. You can't coach people from a distance, with aloofness. People need to see that you're at least as interested as they are in what's going on."5 Likewise, we have found that teamwork, especially when it directly involves supervisors, is one key to our success. People appreciate knowing they have our support and that they can count on extra help when it's needed. And, when supervisors and workers take on a challenge together, camaraderie is enhanced, productivity goes up, and organizational willpower makes anything possible. Ken Blanchard probably said it best: "Leadership is not something you do to people. It's something you do with people."6
3. Help People Smile On the Inside
It's a pretty simple idea: people ought to enjoy what they do at work and the people they do it with. There has to be more to life than just paying bills and enjoying the weekend. Therefore, we try to provide jobs that challenge people, utilize skills, and encourage input. We believe that people appreciate demanding work that stretches them a little bit and we certainly know that many good ideas for worthy projects come from those who turn wrenches, fix roofs, and clean carpet. We make every effort to let people know that feedback is important and that their jobs are essential to what we do. For example, few of us need to understand radiology but all of us need to understand that whatever we do to support it fortifies the mission of this research university.
Work that is thoroughly fulfilling and rewarding is desirable but probably quite rare. Even my job, the best one on campus, leaves me ready to go home sometimes. Most of the time, however, this is the place to be. The leaders and supervisors in our organization encourage everyone to have this perspective. One of the things we do is survey our team in writing to see how well needs are being met and to learn what people really think. We're a better organization than we used to be because this effort has spread goodwill and helped us make better, informed decisions.
Money pays for the house and the groceries. It is also an indication of whether or not people are appreciated for their unique talents and contributions. Therefore, providing fair compensation commensurate with impact is another way to make people smile on the inside. People are not usually impressed by our credentials or swayed by our intentions. What really matters to them are implementing creative ways to get pay raises even in a rigid state system.
4. Be Enthusiastic
A complacent leader drains an organization because others take on the same behavior and this saps energy, dulls attitudes, lowers productivity, and causes a drain on the brain. In contrast, the ripple effect of enthusiasm and a positive outlook is incredible because it energizes people and encourages them to lean forward beyond the boundaries of a job description. More gets done when people think of a job description as a starting point rather than a list of the only things they're allowed to do.
A leader ought to be a yardstick of quality and one measure of quality is the extent to which others are inspired by the tasks at hand. Lee Iacocca said: "Leadership means setting an example. When you find yourself in a position of leadership, people will follow your every move."7 Enthusiasm is an engine of success because it rubs off on people and is exactly what's needed to make a vision a reality. "The cold logic is unassailable: If you do not love what you're doing, if you do not go totally bonkers for your project, your team, your customers, and your company, then why in the world are you doing what you're doing? And why in the world would you expect anybody to follow you?"8
5. Develop and Train Everybody
At the University of Florida world class athletes compete in a variety of sports. Their excellent teams and high caliber competition result in special entertainment, which the public is happy to pay for. However, when our teams do not perform well, the stadium might not be full if fans are no longer willing to pay to see what they consider less than excellent effort. This concept has application for us in the facilities business as we strive to provide consistently good customer service.
In the world of intercollegiate athletics, one of the reasons teams on both sides of the field are so good is because they practice, practice, practice. Everybody practices, trains, and gets better at what they do. When the fans in the stadium see a kicker attempt a field goal, it certainly isn't the first time he's tried one. Quite likely, he's done it hundreds of times before, in and out of football season. For college athletes to compete at a high level, development and training is a serious business that they stay involved in throughout the entire year. Development and training needs to be an on-going effort for facilities organizations as well. "To perform at their best, a company's employees must be thoroughly trained, and they need the help of more experienced staff members. Moreover, to maintain their competencies, training can't be a one-shot thing; it must be ongoing."9
Training employees costs money and takes time-two resources that are often in short supply on a typical college campus. For these reasons and because I saw a lot of people that were trained leave our organization, I wasn't always as interested in employee development as I should have been. My boss apparently noticed this and told me that one thing worse than training people and watching them leave is keeping people and not training them. Since then, I've understood that the goal of learning is to develop habits and skills that benefit organizations and individuals. Many of our best people do move on to new opportunities. Nonetheless, training has met their need to learn new things, head-on, and has probably encouraged many of them to stay and make a difference. "The number one reason people leave their jobs is to pursue personal development-the chance to learn something new. If you want to hold on to your best people, you've got to make sure that they're learning, growing, and changing."10 Training is worth the resources it consumes because it helps people get out of their comfort zones so that they can learn and contribute more and this enriches lives at work every day.
6. Keep Learning
During the period of the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar and others would scour the countryside far and wide seeking to extend the influence of this great dynasty. Wreaking havoc, conquering societies, and taming the wilderness was hard work. It was also highly regarded work and much appreciated by the masses when victorious troops returned to Rome. Wild celebration occurred in the streets as the heroes passed by in wooden chariots. There was one small problem though. Cobblestone streets and hard seats meant the champions had a rough ride. As cushion, laurel leaves were placed on the wooden seats. The thrill of victory didn't last very long after the acclaim died down, however, because the generals soon had to leave to extend the empire once again. They had to do more and get better at their jobs. They couldn't rest on their laurels because performance and results counted more than anything.
Leaders today also need to keep learning and enhance their own performance. Just as the pizza guy does, they need to deliver over and over again. New skills and abilities help leaders get better results, perform at a higher level, and do what they ought to be doing for themselves and their organizations. Training might be considered a journey without a finish line. Ken Blanchard said it best: "The sign on your bathroom mirror should say, Getting better all the time."11
Another reason leaders should take their own need for training very seriously is because of the positive impact it has on an organization. The process of continual learning is referred to as personal mastery by Peter Senge and the importance of it is clear in this statement: "The core leadership strategy is simple: be a model. Commit yourself to your own personal mastery. Talking about personal mastery may open people's minds somewhat, but actions always speak louder than words. There's nothing more powerful you can do to encourage others in their quest for personal mastery than to be serious in your own quest."12
7. Listen Carefully
Listening is sometimes hard to do. It seems easy to listen so we probably don't think we need to pay much attention to this skill. Perhaps we don't consider it a skill and haven't even thought about it much. There is a little snag, however, that makes listening harder than it ought to be. Brains enable us to comprehend much faster than people can talk. Surplus time is available for thinking and this is where the problem starts. Daydreaming, considering the weekend, or concentrating on a response means that leftover time is focused on something other than what people are saying. We can probably hear alright but maybe we just don't listen attentively.
The main thing people need from leaders is attention. A sincere concern for people and a real interest in what interests them shows a genuine desire to understand the unique needs and feelings of others. Influence with people results from a willingness to be influenced by them. Therefore, people are less resistant to change and more likely to be interested in what's happening at work if they believe that leadership really listens and cares about feedback. This is significant because it helps build teamwork. "Intent, tuned-in listening engenders empathy, creates connectedness, and, ultimately, builds cohesiveness."13
8. Feedback and Coaching Enhance Performance
Many years ago when we moved to Florida, our family received a visit from the Welcome Wagon lady. She told us a little bit about the community and let us know what we might expect regarding life in Gainesville. A similar approach works well in a facilities organization. Since leaders want everyone to be successful on the job, one approach is to make sure that people know what the expectations are. Orientation training helps accomplish this but there is much more that can be done.
It's always nice to meet new people and it is especially important if they are going to be part of the team. One of the things I like to do is stop by to chat with each new employee within the first week of employment. It's good to be able to put a name with a face and our short visits help us know each other a little bit. During our conversations, we discuss what people expect and what the organization wants. New teammates appreciate knowing where they stand and where they're headed. So do employees who have been on the job for years. That's why nurturing relationships and coaching are so important. Lack of information is an obstacle. Since one job of management is to remove obstacles, letting people know how well they're doing and what's expected of them is essential.
When employees understand what they need to do and are coached occasionally as they do it, there are smaller gaps between what's expected and what's delivered. Feedback helps people do well on the job. It also helps them feel good to get a straight story. This is certainly important because people will probably forget what you said and they may forget what you did. But, they won't forget how you made them feel.
Effective leaders know they need to help people succeed at work. Their own success depends on the success of others. In fact, it's an obligation because nothing happens without those willing to do the work of an organization. "In the world of great managers, the employee is the star. The manager is the agent."14
9. Act Like Jim Rockford
About 25 years ago James Garner starred in The Rockford Files, a television detective show. The main character, Jim Rockford, was a pretty cool dude, drove a nice Pontiac Firebird, and was obviously the good guy. I liked the show and learned three lessons from it. One thing I noticed was that even though Rockford was a very capable leader, he didn't win every battle. Jim lost plenty of fistfights, arguments, and car chases. He always came to the rescue, though, sooner or later. Often, his first few attempts at solving a case accomplished little. Nonetheless, he kept trying. He also helped himself by sharing information as soon as he got it so that others were equipped to solve problems. Whether he knew it or not, Rockford taught viewers about tenacity and the importance of keeping people informed.
Another leadership tool the show revealed through Jim Rockford is collaboration. He had a network of contacts to help solve problems. Because he nurtured relationships and realized that he couldn't do everything by himself, Rockford accomplished whatever he determined to do. He was successful because he worked well with others and counted on them to help make decisions.
The characteristic most noticeable about Jim Rockford was humility. He didn't draw a lot of attention to himself and despite the fact that he was the boss, he often deferred to the judgement of others. Rockford knew he wasn't always right. He was successful because he was polite, modest, and humble.
Incredible technology has created a global economy that has made the business world and even college campuses very competitive. Sometimes, there's a perception that the only way an organization can survive and be successful is to shave costs and do whatever is needed to squeeze every penny out of every dollar. In the world of educational facilities, this might mean cutting back on training, an inability or unwillingness to buy necessary equipment, or taking a Scrooge-like attitude toward salaries. Despite the fact there is never enough money to do everything we want to do, there are always ways to create a nourishing environment in which people feel good about their contributions, keep learning on the job, and are happy while at work. We don't have unlimited resources at the University of Florida but we have found that there is higher goal than the bottom line.
In college many years ago my finance professor said: "Money may not be the most important thing, but it sure is way ahead of whatever is second!" I didn't believe this statement then and I still don't. On our campus, people are the most important asset. We have found that treating people with respect, dealing with them honestly and fairly, and giving them opportunities to grow have affected many lives in positive ways. This has enabled all of us to accomplish more than would have been possible otherwise.
Leaders at the University of Florida physical plant allow employees to do their best and be their best. As a consequence, people actually care about what they do at work each day. What a concept! Perhaps they appreciate their jobs because we do just about everything we can to help them be happy at work. If a job as Vice President for Happiness ever becomes available, I might be qualified for it since I'm part of a team that understands that we can get so much from our employees because we do so much for our employees.