Thursday, June 15, 2006

If You Want to Know How to Build a Stronger Business, Ask Your Staff and Don’t Take Yes for an Answer

When Ken Thiry, chief executive of a dialysis business, DaVita, gave all of his employees the opportunity to offer feedback for the business, he was initially surprised by what he heard; passive acceptance.

Surely, with all the changes he made since taking over at the company, there would be more mixed reviews. Frankly he just didn’t buy that all the staff could be pleased with everything he did. He demanded the staff’s frank responses to specific questions addressed in an initiative designed to return the company to profitability and improve the company’s steep staff turnover.

A recent company takeover had managers of the newly acquired business furious with new guidelines such as having greeters at dialysis centers and having them wait with clients until they received their treatment. With the freedom of frank feedback, the management was able to bluntly explain that such behavior would be rejected by patients.

He included “frontline” employees in the decision-making process, from equipment maintenance to inventory management. Management was made to work in the dialysis centers for one week so they could fully appreciate the demands of the employees who staff them.

Executives revise programs staff say aren’t working and collect data to highlight problems. Additional training and a more simplified approval process number among the improvements.

When Thiry took over the business, staff turnover was 45%, and it had defaulted on bank loans. But by encouraging his staff to tell him the truth about the realities on the ground of his business, he was able to turn around the 27,000 staff, 1200 dialysis center business into a firm. Six years after he arrived, DaVita has $5bn in sales and staff turnover has been cut by 50%.

If you want to get frank staff feedback it’s not enough to simply ask for it; you need to ensure the right systems are in place so they can comment freely and honestly. By getting feedback from staff and using it to solve problems you can improve the confidence of your staff as well as efficiencies in the company and you will build a stronger business.

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