Fast Progress on Several Fronts at Once to Serve Customers
Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. This article looks at how AES and Southwest Airlines have applied this principle.
Most CEOs will tell you that when they can get the right people together and turn them loose on a problem or opportunity, great results will follow. The same CEOs often complain that it's getting tougher and tougher to find and keep such people, and that the markets for the company's products and services are becoming more commodity-like.
Several companies have taken employee recruitment and satisfaction so seriously that they place the need for employees to feel happy about pursuing opportunities with speed and flexibility at the center of their business model. When these companies execute this talent-based approach well, their fleet-footed colleagues quickly outrace the competition.
AES, founded in 1981, is the world's largest global power company. AES provides safe, clean, reliable electricity around the world through its generation and transmission facilities. As of 2000, the company owned or had interests in over 125 generating plants in 16 countries for an asset value of $21 billion.
At the same time, AES had over 100 business development activities going on in over 40 countries to buy or build more facilities. These developments were identified and implemented based on the initiative of employees throughout the company, working in team structures. The corporate headquarters viewed its role as working and facilitating for these teams. Top management's role is to provide the environment in which they will succeed. Dennis K. Bakke, co-founder and CEO says that the key questions he asks about AES people are:
-- "Are they having fun in the work place?
-- Do they feel like they can use all their gifts and skills to serve the world without being squelched?"
The company has no human resource department, and relies on surveys to test the waters for how well it is providing fulfilling work. This management approach is the one that Rogers is considering for its future.
Former Southwest Airlines CEO and co-founder, Herb Kelleher, was also famous for his devotion to creating an innovative, customer-caring environment among the airline's employees. "But I think showing respect for people's ideas is very, very important because as soon as you stop doing that, you stop getting ideas." Listening does indeed pays off. "Reading letters from customers is extremely valuable. Customers have given us some tremendous ideas. Employees have given us tremendous ideas as well."
Responding promptly is even more important. "So the rule at Southwest is, if somebody has an idea, you read it quickly and respond instantaneously."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donald Mitchell is chairman of Mitchell and Company, a strategy and financial consulting firm in Weston, MA. He is coauthor of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. You can find free tips for accomplishing 20 times more by registering at: www.fastforward400.com