Mops, People and the ‘Soul’ of Your Firm

What in heavens name does a mop have to do with valuing people AND profit? Let’s explore how an $8 billion dollar NYSE firm lived out the answer based upon biblical truth. Doesn’t your day go better when the tools you use everyday work well? If your computer was 8 years old, it would be a tough day checking your email. If your car tires were out of balance, you’d be heading for the tire shop asap to correct the wobbling. Yet in the worlds of our team members, we often ignore the tools that they use and we even allow them to work with mediocre, old or broken tools. The startling truth is however that there is a link between profitability and the way things happen at the lowest level of our firm.

In their fine work The Service Profit Chain, authors Heskett, Schlesingerand Sasser of The Harvard business School uncover the linkage between employees, customers and profits. You can learn more at http://www.serviceprofitchain.com.

As leaders, we can’t teach excellence, then welcome a new team member on their first day of work by giving them the last employee’s uniform, one size too big, with stains on it, while assigning them a truck to tool around town in that has a crack in the windshield. Or how about that office team member we ask to produce superior results with five year old computer, a rickety chair and poor lighting overhead? In the employee’s mind, the analogy breaks down. In effect, we’ve said we care about excellence with customers and profit for our firm, but not about them as a person. There’s a link between valuing people and achieving profit.

 

The ServiceMaster Company Values

At ServiceMaster, where I was greatly privileged to work for 20 years, we built an $8 billion dollar firm on the basis of ascribing dignity and worth to service workers, providing them with stellar tools and caring deeply for them and their families. At the same time we cared deeply for achieving organizational excellence and growing profitably. The principles that fuel ServiceMaster are based in biblical truth and we always deployed that truth in the public square, including on our Annual Shareholders Report, the wall in the lobby and more. If you were to visit the headquarters of the firm, when you walk into the two-story lobby, you’d see a curved marble wall ninety feet long and eighteen feet tall. Etched into the stone of that wall, in letters eight feet tall, are the four objectives of the firm. The marble wall tells the world about a set of values that are permanent. The principles carved in stone in the Chicago headquarters trickle down to the daily practices of the 80,000 team members around the world. Here they are:

 

Four Objectives of ServiceMaster

  • To honor God in all we do
  • To help people develop
  • To pursue excellence
  • To grow profitably

The first two objectives are end goals, the second two are means goals. ServiceMaster doesn’t use the first objective as a basis of exclusion. It is, in fact, the reason for their promotion of diversity as they recognize the potential and worth of every individual. In a diverse and pluralistic society, some may question whether the first objective belongs as part of a purpose statement of a public company, but regardless of your starting point, the principle that can be embraced by all is where the objectives lead the firm, and that is towards the dignity and worth of every person.

 

ServiceMaster Vision Statement

  • “To be a vehicle for use by God in the lives of people as they serve and contribute to others.”

 

Biblical leadership and the tools of your team members

Bill Pollard, the former President of ServiceMaster, said “…leadership is not so much about the leader, but instead it is about the people who follow and the direction they are headed. This is the principle that Christ was teaching his disciples when he washed their feet. A leader must know what he or she believes, the direction they are going, and why it is important for people to follow. A leader must understand what it means to walk in the shoes of the people that follow.

So how are you investing in your people? Have you ‘walked in their shoes’ lately?

ServiceMaster spent time walking in the shoes of service workers who were cleaning especially in the area of mopping floors. They took the standard cotton mop on a wooden handle and transformed it into a tool that employees appreciated. The wooden handle was replaced with a hollow fiberglass core which made it lighter, stronger and more flexible, thus, less fatigue sets in per day and the handle is resistant to breaking. Next, they coated it with a safety yellow paint so that it was visible and could be used to block off wet floor areas; put a rubber grip on the end so holding the mop was less tiring; used stainless steel on the mop-head holder so that it didn’t rust from staying in a bucket of water all day. The mop-head holder was made to be ‘quick-release’ so that the employee did not have to unscrew the rusty bolt holding the mop-head on to the handle. All in all, they created a tool that was ‘top of the line’ but the results were housekeepers who felt cared for and valued and in turn had dignity and worth ascribed to them as people.

Why do you think ServiceMaster spend so much time and money making a better mop? It actually flowed from biblical worldview truths embedded in the people development principles at the firm. You could implement similar principles at your firm that would have a ripple effect throughout your company. Here’s just one of them:

 

People are Created in the Image of God(Genesis 1)

Leadership principles that flow from this truth:

  1. Since God is creator, and people are created in His image, therefore people are also creative. Therefore, as leaders we should:
  • Value the input of people into their own work and into our work.
  • Provide opportunities for people to express feedback on how they view their work.
  • Be creative in our utilization of the creative talents of others.
  • Be promoters and sponsors of the potential of the people we lead.

 

  1. Since God intensely values each person, and people are his most valued creation, therefore people have value (Psalm 139:13). Therefore, as leaders we should:
  • Treat people with respect and dignity.
  • Lead people, as we want to be led.
  • Serve the people we lead, seeing them as ends not means in accomplishing work. We can use work as a development tool.
  • Help people be something as well as do something.

 

  1. God created each of us with certain gifts. Therefore, as leaders we should:
  • Recognize God given gifts in those we lead.
  • Help them develop these gifts to become all that God meant them to be.
  • Recognize that each individual is in the final analysis accountable to be a growing person. Both motivation and development are the responsibility of each person for himself/herself. We as leaders are accountable to provide the climate that encourages such individual development.

What is the new social contract between you as the employer and your employee’s for the 21st century?

 

Breakthrough Discussion Questions

  1. What areas of your business are you doing well in with regards to valuing and honoring your team members?
  2. What are the ‘mops’ or tools in your business that may need tuning up? Think about where there needs to be course correction in areas where you may not be treating your team members with dignity and worth.

 

Next Steps

What are your next steps in moving forward to implement strong biblically based people valuing principles?