5 Reasons to Get Your Hands Dirty
Do you want to gain a deep understanding of your company? Have more motivated employees? Scale your operation effectively?
Here's a strategy for achieving all those things: Take every position in your company from janitor to marketer, and do the job for at least a few days.
It worked for Scott Moorehead. His parents, Steve and Phyllis Moorehead, started The Cellular Connection in 1991 with a single store. The company had grown to hundreds of stores by 2008 when Scott took over as CEO. Though he'd worked in the stores through high school and college, he knew little of the operations at company headquarters. So he began his tenure by spending nine months rotating through the 32 positions at the company's headquarters, holding each for a minimum of two days and up to one week.
"It was a curriculum my mother put together," he says. "She wanted me to gain a deep understanding of the company, and to gain it rather quickly."
He did--and a lot more. Here are some of the benefits both he and the company gleaned as a result of Moorehead's nine-month job-by-job excursion:
1. Improved efficiency
"Everything was so siloed--we really had no one who crossed all the departments," he says. "There wasn't anyone who knew intimately what everyone else was doing."
Though no one was fired as a result of one of his visits, Moorehead was able to make things run more smoothly and reduce stress on some departments by redistributing some tasks. "It became valuable for everyone to use me as the sounding board," he says.
2. Greater relationships with employees
"At the end of nine months, I'd had face time with every employee at the corporate office," Moorehead says. "It really laid the foundation for many years to come to know their struggles and the intricacies of their jobs. Without this, I wouldn't have understood what they are passionate about or what their capabilities are."
3. Better use of technology
One of the most siloed operations at the company was the IT department which had always operated at a distance from executive management. Moorehead was able to tackle IT jobs having studied technological topics at college. "I knew just enough about Visual Basic to be dangerous," he says.
He is also able to speak in technical terms. "Asking IT guys questions in their own language was a bit foreign to them because there'd been an executive wall there," he says now. "It really opened up the opportunity for the executive management team to take the business goals they were trying to accomplish to the IT team and make actual progress instead of just looking at each other confused."
4. The ability to scale
Moorehead wanted to expand the company, but he knew growing too fast can easily backfire. With his newly-gained information about the company and its processes, he was able to grow the company from $137 million to $466 million in annual revenues within the first five years.
"Growing out of control is easy," he says. "We grew this company in a controlled manner. No one department was a bottleneck; we all grew at the same rate."
5. Greater credibility
"In a family owned business, the changing of the guard from generation to generation doesn't always go so well," Moorehead says. "This showed the rest of the employees that I wasn't an entitled snot-nosed brat."
He was greeted with some uncertainty when he started his first few jobs. "Then word started to spread that it was like a mini-vacation because Scott was going to come do your job for a few days," he says.
It worked, he adds, because he threw himself into each of the jobs, determined to do them as well as he possibly could. "If you're going to try this, don't go through the motions," he cautions. "It can easily turn the other way and your credibility could be shot."
Instead, he advises, "Go at it with gusto. Work each job like you're going to own it, as if it's going to be your job for the rest of your career."
MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.