I’m writing this on Wednesday morning. Up to this point my work this week hasn’t really resembled what a “normal” workweek looks like for me. At all. I’ve spent the majority of my time in the warehouse helping the guys pack orders (we had a really successful early early holiday sale), answering customer service questions (which spike during big sales like this), and interacting with job candidates for our customer service position. Kind of a far cry from the usual web development and web marketing stuff.
Why? Because while I was away Greg closed on a new house. Mike and I both told him that we’d cover as much of his work as we could for the rest of the month while he got settled and took care of the plethora of projects that any new home owner is faced with. Just as Greg has covered for us when we have traveled in the past. In my case, Greg covered as much as he could for me while I was in Virginia even though he was finalizing things with the house closing. He and Mike also covered for me during the hurricane disaster.
The most important function of our business (or any business for that matter) is ensuring that our customers have a great experience with us. Sure it would be nice to get some development work done or work on some marketing projects, but those pale in comparison to making sure that every order gets shipped out quickly and accurately, and that those customers who have questions about their order get taken care of quickly. Any time one of those areas weakens, we immediately shift our resources in that direction. Could Greg have answered all of the customer service questions? Probably. But it certainly would have been stressful for him, and the customers probably would have had to wait longer to have their inquiry resolved. It makes total sense for me to shift off of development and over to customer service. This just seems completely logical to us.
There’s a nice side benefit to this: I get to see the business from a completely different perspective. As an owner, that’s hugely valuable to me. In this case, I’m answering a lot of customer service questions as we’re in the process of hiring someone to do just that. Think that will help in the interviewing and training process?
I think this is somewhat to be expected of owners of a small business. The good owners at least anyway. It becomes more difficult when you expect this level of teamwork from your employees. Everything we do has a purpose, so the last thing I ever want to hear from an employee is “I’m not doing that because it’s not my job”. That’s the antithesis of teamwork. As I look around at the people I’ve worked with over the years, it seems like this is a personality trait you either have or don’t have. If someone is out for themselves without regard for their peers or the company’s customers, no amount of structure is going to help them become a good teammate.
However, I think a company can make it easier or more difficult for someone to be a team player. If someone’s raise is rigidly tied to specific projects getting done, it’s hard to fault them for doing anything other than those projects. If, as managers, you don’t do a good job of explaining “why” you need someone to shift gears and help somewhere else, it’s hard to expect someone to be enthusiastic about it. Conversely if you tell your employees that you value and reward teamwork from the beginning, and you fully explain how that teamwork helps everyone, then I think it falls back on the person’s personality.
We’re lucky right now. Our warehouse manager Charlie is absolutely great at doing what’s best for the team. I think it’s one of his very best traits. This has never even come close to being an issue for us. However, as we keep adding people to our team, it might be more tricky. Alongside a strong work ethic, it’s arguably the most important trait you want in an employee. Depending on how good we do at the interviewing process, we may or may not end up being good at detecting it. We will however quickly get rid of anyone who isn’t’ working for the good of the team. I’m a big believer in “hire slowly, fire fast”.