Increase Productivity and Keep Clients with Happy Workers

When it comes to employees, I often encounter religious organizations and non-profits who have an "us against them" mentality.  Rather than creating an environment of creativity and innovation, they believe a culture of domination works better.  So for all you religious and non-profits that still try to "manage by fear and respect," here's some highlights from a Wall Street Journal article by Joann Lubin describing the techniques of innovative ad agency "Mother" in the U.K.:

Keeping Clients by Keeping Workers
Unique Efforts to Encourage Employee Loyalty Pay Off For U.K. Ad Shop Mother

LONDON — Happy employees make for loyal, profitable customers, studies show. Yet few businesses apply this simple concept well.

Then there's Mother, a small London-based advertising agency known for its plentiful perquisites, strong corporate identity and offbeat ads. That translates into rapid growth and extraordinary employee loyalty. Mother's billings more than tripled between 2002 and last year, to £141 million ($267.1 million), according to Campaign, an industry trade publication.

The firm says fewer than 10% of its 165 employees leave annually — the rate for its United Kingdom rivals is 19%, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising estimates. Quitters often return. Cecilia Dufils, a 36-year-old art director and copywriter, rejoined a year after departing for a Dutch agency in 2001. She says she and her fiancé, another returnee, felt more at home when they came back.

The agency rarely loses important accounts either. Clients that have stayed for most of its 10-year existence include Unilever PLC, Coca-Cola Co. and Orange, the mobile-phone unit of France Télécom SA. They like an ad shop "with a highly motivated, happy work force…because we get better work out of it," says Pippa Dunn, brand marketing director for U.K. Orange.

Too few companies have figured out that connection, says Diane Durkin, president of Loyalty Factor, a Portsmouth, N.H., consulting-and-training concern, and author of the book "The Loyalty Advantage." She urges businesses to offer employees more training and rewards that are "frequent, timely and meaningful to the person."

Paul Rogers, head of the global-organization practice for U.S. consulting firm Bain & Co., says managers undervalue long-term customer relationships because traditional accounting doesn't measure them.

Another explanation: Many bosses don't assess employees based on customer satisfaction. Scott Cawood, a New York organizational-development consultant, suggests judging workers mainly on behavior that "resulted in additional customer loyalty, learning, service or spending."

Mother promotes an egalitarian, fun-loving culture that appeals to employees and clients. There are no private offices at its headquarters. Except for bathrooms, "we don't have any doors in the whole place," notes Mark Waites, a partner who favors blue jeans and flip-flops.

He and his colleagues work from a huge oval table and switch assigned spots roughly twice a month. Perks include a daily £1, or roughly $2, "self-improvement bonus" applicable to gym memberships, yoga classes and the like, as well as two types of weekly massages, free hot lunches, winter ski trip, three-month sabbaticals — plus days off for birthdays and the day after Mother's Day.

Many U.S. ad shops scaled back such extras during a downturn five years ago. By contrast, Mother has introduced perks during industry slowdowns. "Mother goes a bit above and beyond" what U.S. agencies do for their workers, says Amy Hooper, an executive vice president of Talent Zoo, an Atlanta search firm specializing in advertising. "They are hot."

To reinforce Mother's image, employee business cards lack titles, but include a picture of the employee's mother. Mr. Waites has seen the cards posted on clients' walls. An especially popular one depicts a scantily clad former Miss World whose daughter works for the agency.

"Mother is a brand in its own right…that's creative through and through," remarks Orange's Ms. Dunn. A distinct corporate identity attracts creative people and clients who prize innovative advertising, she adds.

Mother employees say clients sometimes show up hours before a meeting because they know the agency team members well and enjoy working beside them.

"The last thing you want to do is for these people to get bored," warns Bain's Mr. Rogers.

Write to Joann S. Lublin at joann.lublin@wsj.com1
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  1. Yesterday I had a pleasant conversation with a long time employee of the Four Seasons Hotel Chain.  Needless to say, since the upscale chain is in the high end hospitality business, they need employees who are very pleasant and accommodating to guests.  Four Seasons has long know the connection between happy customers and happy employees.  As I talked to the happy employee, he outlined many of the perqs that kept employees happy. 

    He explained that he had been offered outrageously high pay from other companies, but turned them down because he was so happy where he was.  A generous salary, and even more generous company policies kept him loyal.  Further, he really enjoyed being part of the team where he worked.  He described an intensive set of 7+ interviews and a probationary employment period that assured that those who were hired were a good fit.

    I think that last part is important too.  Employees need to really be happy with their interpersonal relationships at work.  Company policies are a big part of what makes or breaks these relationships.  Too often I've seen companies that unintentionally create adversarial situations between coworkers.  When this happens, those employees with the highest "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence) jump ship, leaving the less interpersonally adept people behind.  That's really sad, because those left behind don't deserve to be miserable either, but they're the least able to cope with the stress or affect change for the better.  Company policies need to foster good relationships, starting with the hiring process and continuing through the entire employment experience.  That's a key element in attracting and retaining employees who excell at customer relations.

  2. Boy does this hit home.

    Churches and Non-Profit religious organizations are among the worst when it comes to employee treatment.  A lot of practices that would result in a lawsuit and bad publicity for a secular company, go on regularly in churches and religious 501-C-3 corps because in the US the separation of Church and state confuses many issues and provides a shield or veil which hides many things.

    That's a broad statement and of course, there are many that do a great job.

    There's a lot of pastors and christian workers too who come to the end of their careers and wind up very bitter and resentful people.  That's another topic though.

    Again, a lot of leadership principles are becoming better understood as academic and professional organization give time and attention to study and measure things.  I'm immersed in this type of material again as I complete a degree in Organizational Leadership.  Many times I have to step back and look at what the studies show and just say, "DUH!"  You mean if you treat your employees with respect, take good care of them and focus them on a goal that fits into your reason for existing then they'll do a good job for you, be happy and attract people to your organization?  What a radical concept!  Sounds almost like the Golden Rule, doesn't it?

    Then there are churches and non-profits paying minimum wage, reducing benefits, beating people up and expecting people to show up at services and be greeted by staff who love the church who are just trying to hang on to their families and meet the needs and wondering when the next beating is coming.

    Don't get me wrong.  It's obviously not all about that.  It's not even primarily about that.  It's always struck me as a conflicting message however to have pastors and boards in churches tell potential employees to have faith that things will improve to where we will treat you better, when obviously they don't have the faith to trust God to take good care of their people because it's the right thing to do.

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