Jeff Steinke doesn't leave employee productivity to chance at his automobile dealership.
"If you measure it, you improve it," Steinke told his Steamboat Springs audience this month. "Make sure your employees know how they are judged. Establishing criteria in the short term is important. Employees need to know what they need to accomplish that day."
Steinke was speaking at a seminar intended to help business owners defend their bottom line. The Forum Series luncheon was part of an ongoing series hosted by the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association, Colorado Mountain College and Mountain West Insurance.
Steinke has managed several dealerships in his career and has been at Steamboat Motors for two years. He brought with him an approach to employee productivity that assumes everyone is, by nature, competitive.
He focused his remarks on his dealership's service department, where diagnostic and repair tasks can be standardized.
"In our service department, we sell time," Steinke said. He observed that if a service technician can accomplish a repair usually allotted one hour in eight-tenths of an hour, that technician has achieved 120 percent productivity.
Steinke makes certain everyone in the service department knows who is achieving by posting a productivity scorecard on a door for all to see.
Business owners who adopt a similar technique can be prepared for the veteran employees initially to rebel but gradually come around to the new regime, he said.
"They'll go out there and tear (the scorecards) down," Steinke said. "It takes about two weeks to purge."
He backs up his productivity charts with three-ringed binders stuffed with detailed job descriptions and pay scales tied to productivity levels.
Steinke's approach to employee productivity isn't limited to the blunt strategy of posting productivity scores. He also tries hard to give his employees a voice in how their departments run.
Compensation is not at the top of the list of most employees' concerns, Steinke said.
"The most important thing is recognition, he said. "No. 2 is being involved in their department. That's one of the biggest things we can overlook."
Steinke advocates sharing as much information about his company's financial performance as possible.
Restaurant owner Rex Brice, of Rex's American Grill and Bar, Mazzola's and Big House Burgers, shares Steinke's commitment to involving employees at all levels in strategy sessions. He invited more than 100 employees to attend and participate in a meeting last week devoted to the restaurants' new marketing plan.
"What comes from that is some fantastic ideas and employee awareness that their ideas are valued," he said.
It's important to understand, Brice said, that it isn't enough to merely allow employees to speak up. It's also important to put their suggestions into action. Otherwise, they'll feel patronized."
In his restaurant career, Brice added, he worked for a manager who promised to involve employees in the direction of the restaurant but never delivered. He also worked for a manager who was hard on his employees but knew how to properly reward them and never failed to point out to them when he'd given them a raise.
"People loved to work for him," Brice said. "I try to be a nice guy and all, but we're a demanding company. We don't have a lot of slackers. They don't seem to last."
By empowering everyone from delivery drivers to cooks and food servers in company strategy, Brice said, he's reassured that if a few employees gather and begin to express displeasure with business, there always will be someone who will step up and defend the policies.
Steamboat Springs-based business consultant Roger Good devoted three decades of his life to working in the service department of a company selling very large computer systems to other businesses. In that line of work, he learned some valuable lessons about productivity.
"People don't work for companies," Good said. "People work for people. I really believe it's about recognition, respect and are you being treated fairly?"
Top achievers also want to see that less effective employees are being treated accordingly, Good added.
Good's conclusion is that employee productivity is keyed to the workers' respect for their supervisors.
Good also is convinced that from a company standpoint, there is no productivity without quality.
"Productivity and quality have to go hand in hand," he said. "Doing a task really fast, badly, doesn't make me a good employee."
Brice said he tries to impress upon his food servers, who greet an average of 1,000 diners daily, that they are sales representatives for whom he provides a territory. But that doesn't necessarily imply that he's coaching them to sell bottles of wine, appetizers and desserts to build their tickets.
More importantly, Brice said, he encourages his food servers to build a rapport with their customers so they return often to their territories and ask for them by name.
At his former company, Good said, the cream of the crop among service technicians were treated to long weekends with their spouses in destinations like Hilton Head Island, S.C.
"People worked hard to get there," he said.
In today's challenging economy, that trip to Hilton Head may have turned into a weekend in a nice Denver hotel and a couple of tickets to an Avalanche game, but the message is the same.