Turning Employees Into Businesspeople

March 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

By Bill Fotsch


How many people in your organization “get” the economics of the business? I can’t imagine any question that is so important to your company’s future prospects.


I once worked with a trucking company that was known for its combative relationships with drivers. For example, a manager happened to notice one of “his” 18-wheelers stopped at a truckstop. The engine was idling, which was against regulations. The manager waited until the driver came out with his coffee, then read him the riot act. That kind of behavior was pretty much par for the course. You can bet it did wonders for employer-employee relations.

At some point company executives realized that style of management wasn’t going to help the business survive in this tough, competitive industry. So they took a different tack. Part of the new approach involved helping front-line employees understand the business. Here’s how we make money. Here’s how what you do every day makes a difference. It took some time, but before long the drivers came to see that their job security depended on a healthy bottom line. And management came to understand that the health of that bottom line depended on what the drivers did day in and day out.

Soon the yelling pretty much vanished. Now drivers were on the phone with customers, negotiating the next load. Not many were idling their engines, because they could see the impact of diesel costs on profits.

Of course, a lot of people tell me that business is too complex for hourly employees to understand. I don’t buy it. Those drivers didn’t have much trouble. And I remember talking with some of the employees at Hillenmeyer Landscape Services, in Lexington, Kentucky. Many are recent immigrants who are only now learning English.

Like employees everywhere, some of the landscapers used to grumble when a winter storm brought snowplowing jobs. Snow meant they had to go in to work—and this was supposed to be the off-season. But Hillenmeyer, like the trucking company, helped them understand the business. It also set up an incentive plan tied to the company’s performance. The transformation didn’t take long. Now when it snows, the same employees that were grumbling are out patrolling the streets for new customers.

There’s no reason the people in your organization should be any different. When they do understand how the business makes money, they’ll help it make more—particularly if they get to share in the proceeds. That’s what collaboration is all about.

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