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Ken Keller: Take time to see if you can create a better work environment

Brain food for Business Owners

Posted: March 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

What if the banner over the door to your place of business read, “Never Settle For Less Than Your Best!”

Wouldn’t it be great if that sign greeted your employees every day? Who doesn’t want to have their employees do their best every day? 

That banner hanging over the door was not at a company. It was strategically placed over the door of a classroom where 32 students spend the school year learning and growing.

One question parents always ask their children is “What did you learn at school today?”

The question being asked of adults is different: “What did you do at work today?”

There is a huge difference in perspective and performance when each of these questions are asked and answered.

There are lessons every business can glean from a classroom, including the physical environment, the structure, the students and the teacher.

The first is that in every classroom at this school there are clear, visible expectations. The short list starts with “work to the best of your ability,” and includes “act in a safe and responsible manner,” “reach beyond your grasp and continue to learn new things” and “Represent the school in an outstanding manner.”

These are clear, concise, simple yet strong words; easy to explain and to be understood.

How many owners have these kinds of expectations for employees? An employee is more likely to have these expectations: “Show up on time; work hard; don’t make mistakes. If you do you will suffer the consequences.”

The issue of expectations, or lack thereof, comes up frequently in business. It’s effortless to take the easy way out and slack off on setting clear expectations and holding people accountable. 

Those long out of school often remember the toughest teachers, those that had high standards and were firm but fair disciplinarians. Why is that? Those teachers held students accountable for behavior, actions and learning; nothing got by those teachers. Those teachers were invested in student growth and learning; sometimes caring more than the students themselves.

The second lesson is that the school is clean, well-lit and conducive to the tasks of learning. The students have the tools they need to achieve their mission. It doesn’t matter if the students are learning math, science, language, art, music or social studies, they have what they need.

How productive can people be when they are not in an environment conducive for getting the job accomplished? Is the facility where employees work conducive to having people get their jobs done?

Third, in a classroom, performance is measured and reviewed every day, with known consequences. In addition to regular progress reports, actions and behaviors are monitored and adjustments made immediately.

It is as if every teacher has memorized the principles of the book “The One Minute Manager.” They praise, they admonish, they correct, and they monitor behavior all day long.

The role of the teacher is not punitive; the teacher has a goal to move every student forward to specific objectives by a specific deadline.

Fourth, student accomplishments are readily visible. Classroom walls are filled with the results of the work of the students. As the school year progresses, the quality of the work improves, as the students build on the base of knowledge and gain skills that they use repeatedly, building confidence in their abilities.

Fifth, students have goals. Each student knows the difference between “A” level work and “C” level work. Students receive feedback on what they turn in almost immediately. Students strive to meet not only their own goals, but the goals that have been set for them by the teacher and their parents.

 In a work environment, employees might not have clear goals, or they might not have any goals, e.g., “Do what you are told and you will do okay around here,” and useful feedback is seldom received, except when something is done that the boss is displeased about.

Take time this week to grade how well your company performs in the key areas of clear and visible expectations; facilities that are conducive to productive work; performance measurement to goals; the visibility of accomplishments by employees; and clarity of goals for every employee.

If you are honest, your evaluation will show some areas in need of improvement. Just like the students in school, who are a work in progress, so will be your effort to improve. The key is to get started and to keep going.

Ken Keller is president of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with coachable growth oriented business owners, addressing challenges, opportunities, problems and situations faced when leading a growing, profitable enterprise. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Mr. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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