Creating a Partnership Ethos

During a recent radio interview, I emphasized that retailers and service providers need to build a stronger sense of partnership among frontline coworkers. In these tough times, would you rather be surrounded by partners or by adversaries? The host asked what the average restaurant or shop manager could do to build a sense of ownership among his or her coworkers.

I replied that a manager must NOT hide in an office, but should roll up his or her sleeves and work alongside the coworkers serving the customers. I’m a stalwart proponent of profit sharing, but I believe coworkers develop an even stronger feeling of ownership when they know they have a voice in the organization. For the coworkers to have a voice, the manager’s ears must be available. For the coworkers to feel respected, the manager’s eyes must be there to see how hard they are working.

David Packard’s famous “management by walking around” concept addresses this. During Packard’s tenure at Hewlett-Packard, everyone in the company could see that the boss knew each coworker’s job and how it contributed to the success of the organization. Packard’s constant presence on the shop floor was not a sign of distrustful oversight, but a sign of interest and respect.

In E Pluribus Kinko’s, I describe the company’s Partnership Ethos as a combination of literal partnerships (sub-s corporations), broad profit sharing, and frequent opportunities for participation. By spreading ownership and the feeling of ownership as far as possible, we tried to ensure that at any given moment, in any of a thousand locations, customers were face to face with an owner of the business.

Retailers have known for years that the most frequent cause of customer defection is a feeling of indifference on the part of employees. Surely, we’ve all experienced a sales clerk who obviously didn’t care whether we were there. When introducing the concept of organizational democracy to entrepreneurs, I always ask, “What if every coworker and customer shared your commitment to the company’s success?” That’s a partnership ethos, and it begins by treating customers and coworkers as partners in the business.

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