Thursday, September 10, 2009

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Thirty-Four

34. Share the profits with employees, directly and frequently.

Let me give you two historical examples before I explain directly:

I used to be a much-worse employee than I am now, even, back when I worked at a Subway restaurant to get through college. The owner of the Subway was pretty nice; he said that when things were slow, as long as our work was done, he didn't mind if we did our homework or read the paper or hung out.

Which meant that every single employee wanted to work when it was slow, and hated when customers came in. Seriously hated them, to the point where we tried, actively, to discourage customers from ever coming in. We weren't polite to them, we hurried them out, we closed 15 minutes early.

Yes, doing that threatened our jobs in the long run, because ultimately if we were successful the store would hire fewer people and maybe close. But we didn't intend to work there our whole lives, and, also, we were stupid.

And, also-er, we didn't make anything extra when it was busier, so why would we want to work harder? If I could get paid $3.35 an hour for doing my homework or listening to the radio, why would I want to get paid $3.35 an hour to make you a "BMT?"

Later on, when I was a marginally better employee, Sweetie worked at a law firm that practiced bankruptcy. You may recall (or may not) that the bankruptcy laws changed a while back, and everyone knew the change was coming, so everyone tried to get in and file bankruptcy, lining up to do so like bankruptcy was the Rock Band Beatles of 2005, which it kind of was.

Sweetie was a legal secretary, paid on salary. Her bosses -- there were two employees, total -- were the bankruptcy lawyers. Her firm did a ton of business that year, more business in that year, I bet, than they did in the 5 years prior to it. They were busier than ever, and made more money than ever. Tons and tons of money. (One of the ironies of law is that it's possibly to make money representing people who are bankrupt. That's lawyers for you.)

Sweetie worked harder than ever at that job, and stayed late, worked through lunches sometimes, slaved away. And when it was all done and the dust cleared and the law changed and everyone was bankrupt, her bosses...

... gave her nothing from the extra money they'd earned. Not a dang thing. She had worked harder, too, as they had, and she worked for a company that had just had a huge windfall drop into its lap, and she got nothing extra out of it.

There are those who will say: well, she got her pay, which is what she agreed to, but you're only half right if you said that. Her pay was worked out well before things changed got busier, for one thing, so her pay wasn't factoring in the extra work.

But more important is the point those two stories bring up, which is this: If employees are not connected to how the business is doing, they're less motivated to work hard for the company. I'm all for people giving their all and being loyal and all that junk, but I'm all-the-more for recognizing human nature, and human nature is this: people work harder when there's something in it for them, and work even harder when there's something extra in it for them.

Which is where profit sharing comes in. Every employee, from the CEO down to the guy who comes in once a week to dust off the bubbler (does that job really exist?) should share in profits, and they should do it frequently and without a lot of rigamarole. I suggest that of every dollar that comes into the business, 1 cent be set aside to dole out bonuses at the end of the week. 1 percent, right off the top, so that at the end of the week, every single person shares in that profit.

It doesn't have to be equal, although that'd be nice (since salaries are likely unequal already, it might help create a sense of camaraderie among everyone), but it should be shared.

Doing that gives an incentive for employees -- every employee-- to boost the bottom line. If McDonald's workers know that at the end of the week they're getting a bonus based on sales, they'll be more likely to try to talk me into an apple pie. If receptionists know that the payment dropped off will go in part to them, they'll not mind asking the client to leave the payment. Employees should be looking at the bottom line, but there's a lot of things people should be doing, and they don't.

Doing that, also, makes employees feel more connected with the business and its customers and its health. They see an immediate impact: busier equals more pay. More collections equal more pay.

Plus, it's just more fair. Most of the time, as business increases, the bosses don't get more busy, the front-line people do. But the bosses reap most, if not all, of the extra money. Life isn't fair, I know -- but we shouldn't just accept that and move on.

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

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