Bringing Employees Into the Conversation (Victoria Swaney)

By ADRIANA GARDELLA

During the most recent meeting of our business group, we discussed the power of huddles — short, daily meetings that help keep everyone in the loop. Most of that conversation focused on preventing and resolving problems. But one group member, Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau, pointed out that regular communication among employees can also yield unexpected benefits.

The outcome can be amazing when you bring people together and give them the space and time to be creative, said Ms. Johnson, who is preparing for her company’s 50th anniversary celebration, which begins in April. The company challenged its six office employees to come up with at least seven ideas for expanding the business and its profits in its 50th year.

“My coach would be so proud of you for saying, ‘Come up with seven ideas,’” said Susan Parker, a business group member who owns Bari Jay, a dressmaker. She said he constantly reminded Ms. Parker and her sister that they need not supply all the answers. He tells them, “If people are part of the process, they’re more invested in it,” she said.

At Johnson Security, employee ideas proliferated in response to the challenge. Ms. Johnson was particularly impressed to see the company’s office assistant, a recent college graduate with no security industry experience, jump in with an idea even though she had been with the company for only a week.

During a meeting, the employees discussed the possibility of using cheaper uniforms. The new hire, who has a background in fashion and merchandising, suggested that the company hold a fashion show to showcase different uniform styles. Ms. Johnson said the new hire thought this could be a great way to promote the company. While the young people who might be interested in attending are not Johnson Security’s target clients, Ms. Johnson speculated that they might be prospective employees.

Will Johnson Security execute the idea? Maybe, maybe not, Ms. Johnson said. That’s not the point. Ms. Johnson was more impressed with the thought the employee put into her idea, and her willingness to share it. “There were some tough questions,” Ms. Johnson said. Other employees asked how much money a fashion show could really make, and how much it would cost the company. The young employee, who had run similar events in the past, had answers. Ultimately, people said, “That sounds kind of crazy, but it might work,” Ms. Johnson said.

The next day, Ms. Johnson asked the office assistant for an idea about something else. But, the assistant responded, you had so many questions about my other idea.

Ms. Johnson said she explained, “We always have to answer questions from our clients and from the guards, so you have to be accountable and responsible for your ideas.” That does not make them bad ideas.

“And she was like, O.K., then here’s my next idea,” Ms. Johnson said.

Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Tutoring, said she planned to connect her employees better with daily huddles. She said that seeking ideas from all employees “probably helps you think about things you normally wouldn’t.”

We’re still waiting to see if the process works for Ms. Mayzler and will check back with her in a future post.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

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About internalmarket

This blog and its accompanying Twitter account have been established as social media learning tools for the Internal Communications and Employee Engagement class at Columbia College Chicago. Through this blog, we will share our observations about current events, change management and employee communications theory, and the application of social media in shaping employee engagement.
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