Every business owner, myself included, wishes one time or another that an employee would step up, stretch or otherwise do something to help move the company forward in ways beyond his job description. The question is: How can we make this happen? Even more importantly, how can we inspire all our employees to step up at the same time? The answer turns out to be a lot simpler than I thought. You just need to ask.

About a month ago, I asked every member of my staff in a company-wide meeting to devote time during the next week to finding a new way to contribute to the company. I told them that might mean finding a better way to do something they already do, figuring out how to do something completely new, or even asking a colleague to teach them about one of her responsibilities. Other than that, I left it entirely up to each person to decide how she wanted to contribute. There was just one requirement: The person would have to share what she had learned with all the other staff members the following week.

Transformation in Transparency

In the first week, one salesperson learned about our buying and re-stocking process, a quality-check person found a quicker and more thorough way to share quality-check data with our factory manager, and another salesperson did a comparative product chart between one of our products and the equivalent type of item in a competitor's line to share with her co-workers, just to cite a few examples.

I was floored. This was not the first time I had asked people to make a difference, after all, and Metal Mafia is a very open place where the staff is always encouraged to pursue their interests in different areas of our business and cross-train. The only difference was asking my staff to be publicly accountable for how their time was spent and what they had contributed.

Week two was even more amazing. People who had been unsure of how to contribute before used the examples of week one to get inspired. The retail development director who usually works only on chain accounts created new product groups for our independent retailers to give them access to specific trend items they might not have carried in the past. The head of our order fulfillment team re-taught a team member who had been struggling to learn invoicing some shortcuts to make it easier for him and got him operational. A new product buyer taught a reorder buyer the steps needed to ensure a new product comes in correctly, which means the reorder buyer can now lend a hand with new products when needed.

The best part, truly, was the dialogue of collaboration that was opened up among all the members of our team. People now not only know better what others are doing, but they are actively suggesting to each other ways to streamline processes, ideas for having better conversations with customers, and much more. And those on the receiving end of the suggestions don't feel threatened--but appreciative instead. Staff members feel their contributions are noticed, and recognition causes them to want to continue making them. Everyone is bringing their A-game to the table, and our company is making huge leaps forward in record time. All because I asked and my team answered--and were accountable.