Guest Editorial

Empowering employees

Establishing a corporate culture of service brings benefits

By Dan Kendall, President, ABC Metals Inc.

August 2013 - For the past 18 months, ABC Metals has been working to develop a culture of service within our company. We’ve established an internal education program that teaches servant-leader skills to the next generation of top management. It’s called the Doule Academy because Doule means a servant by choice. Our candidates proceed through a two-year program with monthly assignments, coaching sessions and goals that involve not only servant leadership within the corporation but also within the community and their family lives. 

In addition, we’ve made the investment to have all our employees attend classes, referred to as Work and Beyond, for an hour and a half each month. This past month, the class focused on strategies for getting along with others and learning who you are as a person. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses helps our employees refine their interactions with others. 

Through this relational intelligence, I found out one of the biggest reasons employees leave companies is they don’t like their boss. Shortly thereafter, I found out I made a mistake in how I shared some information, and it created problems for my employees. So I stood in front of the group and apologized to them for that. 

My goal is to empower my employees to be able to admit error and create a culture beyond service where we are our brother’s keeper. The service culture has to lead from the top down, and sometimes that means I need to stand in front of my employees and apologize to them. I know that isn’t as glitzy as a new piece of equipment, but it doesn’t matter how much equipment we have if we can’t get our team to serve the needs of the customers. 

As this culture becomes more integrated into the fabric of ABC Metals—from the sales department to the people on the shop floor and in the front office—our customer service improves. It’s interesting that we live in a world where we refer to corporations and companies as service organizations, yet we get just the opposite from them. Our suppliers are coming to us asking us to help them, and right now, we are doing more outside service for our vendor base than we ever have in the history of the company. 

We’ve gone from 3 percent 10 years ago to 26 percent today. In the meantime, we also have been increasing our volume, which is up 45 percent. Now we’re starting to ask questions of our vendors each time they come in: “What can we do for you to make it easier for you to deal with us?” “What are you struggling with, and how can we help?” It’s been amazing some of the things we’ve come up with. We are now focused on seeking supply chain partners where delivered value is the focus.

Talking with customers and vendors allows us to hear both good feedback, as well as comments that aren’t so flattering, and we have to be prepared for that. There’s a perception of what we see when we look in the mirror and what others see. We find out what our customers see in us, and if it’s something negative, at least we know. It’s worse when a customer goes away quietly. The silent treatment is worse than someone yelling at you. If they’re yelling, at least I know what they’re thinking and I can fix the problem. 

When we receive complaints, we meet with the employees. We share the information with them and discuss how we need to address the concerns. Recently, we had a problem where we sent product out and the sample wasn’t right. Instead of the group saying, “Well, we did our best,” they were saying, “We screwed that up. How are we going to fix it?” They’re now having discussions among themselves rather than waiting for a manager to provide them with solutions.

Implementing these types of broad changes is difficult, but it’s a lot easier when we’re focused on service—both how we’re going to help each other internally and how we’re going to help our customers externally. Driving people out of fear isn’t the way we want to go. We want people to be accountable because when they take ownership, it’s really powerful. MM

ABC Metals Inc., Logansport, Ind., is a service center with three locations specializing in precision slit metal products. The company stocks copper, beryllium copper, brass, phosphor bronze, nickel silver, cupro nickel, high performance alloys, stainless, low- and high-carbon steels, and aluminum.


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