Starbucks is in the news again. It is already known for many of its great employee benefits, but this one struck a chord with the media—Starbucks is paying the tuition for its employees’ college educations. This program is wonderful, and it benefits the company at multiple levels. First, it keeps employees with the company for the time they are finishing their degrees. Second, it creates stronger employee loyalty and pride for the company, which increases retention and attracts new talent. Third, education prepares Starbucks employees to take on new roles and increases their potential to do more. Fourth, and perhaps most important, it improves customer service. Starbucks is in the hospitality business. It relies on its employees to deliver its services and the repeat business Starbucks enjoys hinges on the quality of service its employees deliver. This program is an excellent stride to ensuring that Starbucks employees are engaged and deliver excellent service. If you are in a service industry, you should also consider a similar program. BUT…what if you don’t have money to fund college education for your employees?
Not every company is fortunate to have the amount of capital required to fund such employee development programs. If you are such a company, please don’t be discouraged. The most profound discovery I made in the past decades is that you don’t need money to motivate your workforce. At the core of it, motivation is about appreciating your employees and making their work feel meaningful. Several ways exist to make employees feel valued. I will share one technique you can use without breaking the bank.
Did you know that Toyota almost went bankrupt? Today, Toyota is the most profitable automaker in the world. So how did Toyota turn itself around from near bankruptcy to becoming one of the most admired companies in the world?
In the 1940s, World War II devastated Japan’s infrastructure and economy. During this time, a car was considered a luxury when people were struggling to put food on the table. Toyota was ready to close its doors for good. Luckily, some brilliant people in Toyota’s management and labor union came up with a new kind of solution. To survive in the turbulent economy, Toyota looked to its employees for help. Toyota asked its employees to suggest ideas to help it reduce waste, increase quality, and improve other business operations. Everyone, from the top brass to lowly plant workers, was empowered to take action. This gesture gave such a strong sense of self-worth and loyalty to the employees that they transformed Toyota from a struggling small town company to a household brand across the globe. Sure, Toyota is not perfect and had its own share of problems, but think of the journey and transformation. Imagine if you had such a turn around.
Not convinced? It’s okay. Let me give you another example. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company, more commonly known as 3M, was another company that transformed itself from near bankruptcy to becoming a Fortune 100 company. What turned the company around? Employee Ideas. Got Masking Tape? Google is another example of a company whose success is founded on this principle. All of these companies succeeded to reach new heights because they created a culture where employees submit ideas that benefit the business. Starbucks today has the capacity to offer college education benefits, but it wasn’t always the case. Starbucks’ success is also deeply rooted in empowerment and employee ideas.
Ask your employees to help you improve your business. When you ask employees for ideas, they feel valued, and when you implement their ideas, they feel like an integral part of the company’s success. Asking employees for ideas is perhaps the best kept secret of the world’s most innovative companies. Fostering a culture where employees submit ideas to grow the company will significantly boost employee engagement, customer satisfaction, productivity, and top line growth. This is a simple concept, but it works. I know it because I used the same technique to turn things around after the 2008 financial crisis at my work.
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