A Publication of WTVP

One lesson every worker has learned through the most recent economic downturn is the importance of proving one’s worth. Those who made it through the recession without losing their jobs somehow communicated that they possessed a skill, talent, or level of experience the company really needed; learned or trained in a new skill or developed a hidden talent; or both.

Movie director Woody Allen once said that 90 percent of success is showing up. That may have been true at one time-and certainly workers will lose a job because they didn’t show up, or showed up inconsistently. Today, however, workers have to prove their worth on an ongoing basis. If you read this column with any regularity, you know one of my main questions in business and worker ethics is, "How do you add value to the business of your company?" Or to managers: "How do you call forth value from your employees?"

There are three ways to tell whether value is being created by an employee and whether an employer is calling forth or building value: clear goals, solid training, and basic benchmarks. These three elements work together to help an employee prove his or her worth and to communicate that the company is one worth working for.

The first "value way" is to communicate clear goals. How can an employee know he or she is contributing to something greater if that "something greater" never is identified? One employer produces a variety of printed materials for customers. Employees never have been told about the number of customers, their level of satisfaction, or the goal for an increase in the customer base.

How well are your employees trained? Solid training increases an employee’s worth. But how do you know it does? How do you determine the return on investment in training? Productivity standards tell just one part of the story. A person can become technically proficient but can continue to have a poor work attitude. The training ROI is important to establish, and so are training goals.

The Heart of Illinois Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development will host a panel discussion from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., November 12, on how companies measure ROI in training. Dave Vance from Caterpillar University, George Geagea from the Institute for Learning at OSF St. Francis Medical Center, and Dorothy Abbott from CEFCU University will describe how they’re putting systems in place to help measure ROI and employee value from the time and money invested in training. Anyone in any company is welcome to learn more with us.

Finally, employees discover their worth and competence as their performance is compared to basic benchmarks. Many companies can identify such benchmarks in the area of employee productivity. But what benchmarks does your company have to measure innovation? Additions to intellectual capital and knowledge? Process efficiencies? Customer delight? A solid, competent employer will have given a lot of thought to appropriate performance benchmarks in a variety of areas in the business so employees really know how they’re doing. They want to know.

So what makes a company worth working for? An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal recently said employers may have a shock once the economy really shifts into high gear: Many of their most talented and productive managers and technical employees will quit for another job in another company. Why? Because they’ve had it with poor management and lack of rewards, financial and otherwise.

Three traits mark a company worth working for: clear commitments, clear communication, and clear outcomes. Ask your employees (or have a consultant ask them): Does management keep its promises? Is there a defined, yet flexible, strategy with measurable objectives? Can employees trust their company to keep its promises?

In clear communication, ask whether these promises have been made clear to employees, so their expectations are reasonable. If there are changes to the plan, are these changes communicated clearly and thoroughly? Communication failure or breakdown is one of the primary reasons for a sense of employee worthlessness. Another factor: one-way communication only, from management to employees, with no feedback loop or a sense of trust that the feedback will be received and processed without damage to the employee.

Finally, clear outcomes make clear to employees how they know they’ll have achieved or exceeded expectations. Employees don’t feel they’re worth much if they don’t hear clearly or know precisely that outcomes have been achieved.

Worth is a two-way street. Employees need to believe and commit themselves to an employer who believes in them and understands they possess great value to the company. Employers need to strive from the executive level onward that their employees at any level of the company are essential to success, and that they’ll do all in their power to help them achieve their goals as they achieve the company’s goals. IBI