Last September in this column, we proudly announced the publication of 301 Great Management Ideas , a collection of items from Hands On, edited by Inc. 's former managing editor Sara P. Noble. Now in its fifth printing, the book has sold almost 50,000 copies, smashing sales records for Inc . books.
Equally successful was the idea sweepstakes featured in 301. We asked you to share the best ideas you use to manage your own company, and you responded. Entries from all over the country poured in.
We heard from small companies; big companies; manufacturing companies; service companies; a town librarian; a retired Christian Dior wholesale shirt salesman; and a venture-capital club in Bethlehem, Pa., that had compiled its own cookbook of management ideas.
A copy-center franchisee wrote about planting enough seedlings every Arbor Day to replace the trees needed for his yearly paper supply. We got offers of on-site acupressure stress reduction, tips on managing your boss, and the obligatory model business card.
Granted, there were no revolutionary ideas here, but we were overwhelmed by the number of simple ideas executed smartly, all of which made it difficult to select a winner. Difficult -- not impossible. At right, the first annual 301 Great Management Ideas Sweepstakes winner and our first management-ideas honor roll.
We're talking not just one winning idea but two that earn Jadtec, a 30-employee computer-repair business in Orange, Calif., plus free admission for one to Tom Peters's famous management Skunk Camp.
* The perk point pool. With his technicians fixing computers on the first visit only 80% of the time, CEO John Dieball decided to set up an incentive program. He put 3% of the company's monthly profits into a pool and designed a point system. If techs fix the computer on the first visit, they get two points; on more than one visit, one point. If the case reopens within 10 days, negative five points. At the end of each month, the profit pool and total points awarded are calculated, the former is divided by the latter, and the monthly point value is derived. The results are posted. Techs now have a 95% first-time success rate.
* The employee-directed benefits plan. "Every employee had different needs for vacations and group insurance," recalls Dieball. "So to give people a choice, we set up a benefits pool. Each employee gets a fixed sum every month based on his position -- from $100 for hourly employees to $150 for managers. Plus, each is credited 10 hours a month times his hourly rate for the first five years; 15 hours thereafter. Employees can spend the money only for days off or for insurance-premium payments. The money rolls over each year, so employees can take as much vacation time as they've accumulated. When they leave the company, they get the balance of the account in cash."
The Honor Roll
* Adams & Adams Building Services. Founder John Adams uses his managers to help him acknowledge the 200 employees at his $2.3-million commercial janitorial company in Enfield, Conn. Managers carry around congratulatory cards, which they can give to any employee on the spot to signal a job well done. The cards are entered in a biannual drawing and can earn prizes ranging from VCRs to trips. The annual cost is $2,000.
* Accu Bite Dental Supply. This 29-employee dental-products distributor in East Lansing, Mich., gave up on using classified ads and recruitment agencies to find employees. It now rents mailing lists from local dental-professional organizations and sends job-opening notices to prospective employees' homes. For each opening, Accu Bite sends about 500 letters and receives a 5% to 6% response.
* HiFi Buys. This $50-million audio-video retailer in Smyrna, Ga., couldn't compete with national chains' advertising budgets. So when HiFi advertises TVs for sale in newspapers, it inserts photos of local TV stations' programs. In exchange HiFi gets an equivalent amount of advertising on the TV station. HiFi has received more than $500,000 worth of free advertising in the last four years.
* Diesel Technology Corp. (DTC). This $81-million, Wyoming, Mich., company assembles more than 40,000 fuel injectors a month. To make sure employees understand the assembling process, DTC designed a contest. Every employee appears before the quality team and is asked to identify each component part, explain its function, and assemble an injector. Successful employees get an "I Got It Together" T-shirt. Within three weeks, 75% of the employees earned one.