(Just Like) Starting Over

Why you shouldn't wait to adopt the people management tools of big businesses at your small company

Written by Brian Scudamore

When I compare companies that succeed with those that fail, the key difference is the degree of teamwork, alignment and accountability among their employees. It’s relatively easy to ensure high levels of those three things when you have 20 or 200 employees; it’s a different ball game when you have more than 2,000 employees spread across 46 states and nine provinces. Knowing I was no longer the guy who could create and maintain a high-performing team of that size, last June I hired someone who could make it happen: Launi Skinner, the former president of Starbucks’ U.S. operations.

Along with installing Launi as president of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (I remain the CEO), we’ve declared it a “New Day,” the start of a big-company approach to HR that will be our key to busting this recession. But for anyone still at the 20- or 200-employee mark, my message is this: going pro with HR would have benefited 1-800-GOT-JUNK? when it was much smaller.

When Launi joined the company and started meeting members of our team from around the continent, it became clear that we had a lot of passionate and talented people who were not performing at the level needed to build our brand. Some individuals weren’t even executing at the levels required to survive as an employee or, in the case of our franchisees, as a business. I take full responsibility as the founder of the company for not having held the team accountable. However, we were missing the systems needed to help our people hold themselves and their peers to higher performance standards.

Launi brought the New Day concept from Starbucks. When you have many people who aren’t at an adequate level, you need to make changes to the team and declare a New Day. This “reset” helps people make a psychological break from the old way of doing things, which makes it easier to establish and educate your people around a new set of standards and expectations to which they’ll be held accountable.

We officially kicked off our New Day last November to coincide with regional meetings with franchisees in Vancouver, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles. At each meeting, we shared our New Day message: “We are going to expect more from ourselves and from you. We are here to support you and help you succeed. We are going to be making some significant changes in order to reorganize the company around high performance.”

Frankly, I was worried that our people would react negatively to being held to higher standards, but Launi’s delivery was excellent. She showed how these standards would help us win as a team and as individuals, and stressed how the company would invest in the attendant support systems.

One key to New Day success is proving your own commitment right out of the gate. We asked nine people to leave the company, promoted a few and moved some others into the right roles. Less than two weeks later, we essentially shut head office for two days to involve everyone in a learning program called Improving Human Effectiveness, which focuses on crafting the right attitude, abolishing self-limiting beliefs and establishing personal accountability. By giving our people the tools to be better people, I believe, they will become better members of our team.

Once our people understood personal accountability, we could give them the tools and training to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. We started by defining “high performance” for every role in the company. Next, we gave every employee a 360-degree performance review: a process in which a person’s manager, peers and any subordinates provide feedback that’s synthesized into a single report identifying the person’s strengths and areas for improvement.

We’re also educating people on how to communicate and provide feedback one-to-one. Specifically, we’re teaching people about “one-minute managing,” whereby they provide feedback on the fly—an approach that facilitates faster learning and greater accountability.

While all of the above tactics are in the pages of HR 101, they were never systematically and continuously applied at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (although we’ve always done a great job of hiring great people with can-do attitudes). Yes, many people have been nervous about the idea of being “performance managed,” but I think they’re coming to understand that we’re trying to help them become better people first, better employees second.

After almost 20 years of building this business, I look back and think of all opportunities we could have seized, all the great people we could have retained, if only we’d put these systems in place as a younger, smaller business. No matter how big your business is, the chance remains for you to do more to grow your biggest asset: your people. Improve how your employees feel about themselves and your company, and you’ll secure a brighter future for your business—and drive a deeper wedge through this recession.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com