There are shelves, upon shelves, of books devoted to how to foster a company’s success. Unfortunately, there isn’t a formula, which can universally be applied to all companies. What makes a car or heavy equipment manufacturer successful differs from what drives the success of a software developer, clothing store, insurance firm, advertising agency… or grocery store.
Nevertheless, I can’t help pondering whether there’s a common thread.
My father, like his father, owned a garment factory, named Dori-Ann, in the Los Angeles garment district. His success depended on the ability to accurately bid on the cost to manufacture hundreds of dresses, primarily for the clothing label, Fred Rothschild. Equally important, he needed to thoughtfully hire, retain, and motivate several dozen seamstresses, pressers, and skilled garment workers.
If the woman, who sewed on buttons, hooks, and eyes, called in sick, the manufacturing line could come to a halt. I doubt it ever did, not because my father required his employees to come into work when they were sick, but because he was willing to step in when necessary to ensure the line never stopped. He was the type of manager who not only kept his business running, bidding on clothing lines and doing the paperwork, but when necessary, he repaired a sewing machine, pressed a garment, or inspected a rack of dresses, clipping loose threads, and then slipping a plastic bag over each dress.
Nearly every Saturday, my family got up early and drove from the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles. My brother was paid a quarter to sweep the factory. I was responsible for cleaning the lunch room and making sure everything was tidy in the dressing rooms. Often, I helping my parents sort, tie, and label the bundles of cut fabric that the operators (seamstresses) sewed.
I remember helping my father carefully remove the stitching from garments that were poorly sewn and needed to be redone. No job was beneath my father. He did everything, including mediating when disagreements broke out among employees, and evenly distributing work so no one became overwhelmed.My father had a heart attack at age 50, and died a few months late. His factory was subsequently sold. I’m reminded of his work ethic and willingness to step in, doing whatever is necessary, when I ponder “what contributes to a company’s success.”
I think it comes down to management. Managers who genuinely care about their employees, and have an understanding of their challenges, aspirations, and skill-levels are more adept at achieving long-term results, and also retaining employees who are jazzed about contributing to their companies’ and their personal successes.
Case in point is the Safeway in Mount Vernon, Washington. We occasionally stop in the store on Friday evenings on our way to our Mount Vernon home. The manager is often working one of the cash registers or at the special services desk, where you can purchase cigarettes, lottery tickets, rent a movie, cash checks, and more.
I won’t be surprised if he also stocked shelves when short-staffed or helps in the back with deliveries. In short, he’s not only willing to help where necessary, but sets a good example to his employees. His willingness to roll up his sleeves shows employees the importance of helping out, not only supporting their fellow employees, but ensuring the smooth operation of the store, and continued customer satisfaction.
Amazon subscribes to the same philosophy, expecting individual contributors and managers to step up where necessary. One of their leadership principles is “ownership.” According to Amazon, “leaders are owners. They think long-term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, “That’s not my job.”
Too often manager think they’re above helping out. In truth, by not, they may be jeopardizing both their ability to achieve their goals and the long-term success of their employer.