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Title News - January/ February, 2004

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January/ February, 2004 - Volume 83 Number 1

Motivating Your Employees to Increase Business

by Dayna Kimball

Did you know that -- seventy percent of your employees are less motivated today than they used to be. Eighty percent of your employees could perform significantly better if they wanted to. Fifty percent of your employees only put enough effort into their work to keep their job!

With a slight drop in refinance business we need to change a few things in order to keep competitive, increase our business, and remain profitable. How do we do that? By incorporating these three things:

  1. IMITATING the successful tricks of some of the best companies to work for. After all, we can learn from each other.
  2. EDUCATING yourself and your staff on how to make work fun but still productive and profitable.
  3. MOTIVATING your staff to be progressive and think outside that proverbial box.

Job satisfaction is how you will significantly increase your business, strengthen employee retention, and attract quality employees who will assist in your consistent growth.

If you were to research some of the top companies in America that are highly rated in employee satisfaction, the one common denominator is that management effectively communicates with their employees. Listening, responding, and involving are all part of this communication. Sometimes involvement is difficult because someone has to be in charge. But there is a way to do it without interfering with the overall authority structure of the management team. When you lose the excitement, humor, and enthusiasm in your company, everyone suffers, and that ultimately carries over into the way you do business. Employee satisfaction says everything about your company.

Think of some popular slogans that companies use to describe products or services we all know:

  • We bring good things to life (GE)
  • Like a Rock (Chevy)
  • Have it your way (Burger King)
  • The Real Thing (Coke)
  • Reach out and touch someone (AT&T)

Now ¼ .think about what slogan could describe your company:

  • You deserve a break today
  • Anticipation
  • Plop plop fizz fizz
  • We love to fly, and it shows

There are a lot of motivators that will help your employees enjoy doing what they do. Employees that feel like their opinions and knowledge make a difference to management feel more fulfilled and valuable.

IMITATING

Southwest Airlines is a company rated one of the highest in employee satisfaction.

It could be said by Southwest Air employees that “time flies when your having fun!” They have embraced the idea that a happy employee (cheesy as it may sound) is a hardworking, loyal employee.

Most flights I have taken on Southwest Airlines have been an experience in laughter, fun, and, most of all, an example of employees who love their jobs. Sometime ago on a Southwest flight, I made notes of the “monologue.”

“Ladies and Gentleman, thanks for joining us on Southwest Airlines today. My name is Chad, and the bozo up in first class is Roger. Roger gets kind of spooked at sudden movement, so if you want to “move about the cabin,” do so very slowly. We are joined by Captain Mark Johnson and First Officer Todd Jensen. Captain Johnson is 33, single, and likes rainy days, walks on the beach, and his springer spaniel, Chelsey. First Officer Jensen is married. Nothing big there. We want to remind you that all electronic devices must be turned off, cause it may mess with our compass and instead of ending up in Las Vegas, we could end up in Las Cruces. Seat backs and tray tables must be in their upright position at takeoff, or you'll end up with a lap full of the guy in front of you. In the event of an emergency, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. If you can grab it as you are hurling toward the water, put your arms through the straps and kick, kick, kick, all the way home.

“Should there be a sudden change in cabin pressure, your oxygen mask will drop from above. Secure the mask over your nose and mouth. If you are traveling with a child, secure your own mask, then secure the child's mask. If you are traveling with more than one child, now would be a good time to decide which child you want to keep. Following landing, your bags will be transported to baggage carousel #8. After the cast and crew of your flight here have picked the items they want, you can all divvy up the rest. Just as a reminder, if you are sitting in an exit row, you must be able to offer assistance should the plane need to be evacuated. Children under 15 may not occupy an exit row unless Simon says. Again, my name is Chad and my tip glass will be available up front on your way out!”

The passengers were all in stitches by the time the plane was in the air. Any passenger who was nervous or hesitant about flying forgot their fears.

Southwest employees are encouraged to take their jobs and the competition seriously, but not themselves. The company is serious about creating an environment where play, humor, creativity, and laughter flourish. Southwest believes people having a good time are more stimulated and more themselves. Southwest rejects the idea that work has to be serious in order for people to accomplish great things.

One of my favorite places to visit is Seattle. The first time I visited the city, my guide said,“You have to see the flying fish!” Of course I had no idea what this meant. But I went along for fun and saw ¼ . the flying fish. I never realized that tucked in the middle of the bustling Public Market, the Pike Place Fish Company had perfected the art of bringing employee satisfaction and fun into their work.

Pike Place Fish is another top company in employee satisfaction. Their employees work hard, very long days. But they have fun interacting with the customers and creating a “show.” When the current owner first bought Pike Place Fish Company years ago, it was a small company that simply sold fish. The employees hated their jobs and counted every minute until quitting time. But about ten years ago the management and employees decided they wanted to be an extra-ordinary company known worldwide. They invented unique ways of running their business, creating a lot of fun and bringing the customers into that fun. This is what makes the clock tick, and why the customers return. Pike Place Fish has indeed become “world famous.” They now do consulting for other companies wanting to create the same atmosphere.

Will it Work for Us?

This is not to infer that every day in our offices has to be a day at Disneyland. We are a very professional business with standards to uphold. But creating a happy environment where employees actually want to be spills over, beginning with customer service and carrying through to every aspect of the business.

One major company in our industry incorporates a “Service Star” employee recognition program. They not only run this program but also have encouraged participation by sending customer service surveys to everyone who was involved at the close of each escrow—from agents, to lenders, to buyers and sellers. When the good comments come back, the employee receives a small token from the company. The rewards start out small, and as the great kudos fly in, the gifts or recognitions increase in value and presentation. Star-shaped candy dishes, paperweights, and pencils adorn employees offices and cubicles. The attention is genuine, since managers present individual employees with their service star gifts in the presence of other employees. Employees are encouraged to display their rewards proudly. When customers come into the office, they are intrigued, interested, and want to be part of the process of employee recognition. And from all this ¼ another customer survey is returned. The visual effects these service stars create are outstanding.

EDUCATING

Part of each company's fiscal responsibility is to keep costs under control, especially in this changing market. Involve your employees in the cost-cutting measures. When the gavel comes down and personnel are ordered to cut costs, it becomes a dictatorship. When it becomes a collaborative effort, it becomes a partnership. Here are some suggestions:

· Have employee budget meetings. It isn't necessary to get the employees involved in the specifics of budgeting. This is what management is for. However, treat your employees as co-owners. Invite your employees to the conference table. Show them the profit and loss. Show them what you spend on courier fees every month. They will be astonished! SHOW them what you spend on title costs (of course, this is in direct correlation to increasing numbers of title orders). Show them what you spend on client lunches and public relations. By making them part of the process, you are making them part of the solution. Take the profit and loss and point out the areas employees can control. Give each employee a copy of the profit and loss.

· Give your employees an incentive for cutting costs. Challenge them to come up with an idea that will save the company money. The company will figure out a way for this employee or group of employees to share in the first quarter savings.This is a great incentive. For instance, one company was spend- ing an enormous amount of money on delivery/courier fees for preliminary reports. Mostcustomers don't need or require originals anymore. Everything is either e-mailed or faxed in the interest of time. So the escrow assistants and escrow officers were challenged to mail all the original prelims, and the office saved hundreds of dollars a month in courier fees. Free your courier service to get funding packages where they need to go and to deliver commission checks.

Tell employees to use their imagination. Anything is open! Even one new cost-cutting idea will translate into a better bottom line!

· Reduce working hours for some employees. Involve the employees in the process. Some employees are more open to this than others. Some don't need the daily paycheck as much—so by reducing their pay period from 10 working days to 9, (or 6 hour days instead of 8), you can save money on salaries and help all your employees keep their jobs.

MOTIVATING

Try specific motivational games to create a fun atmosphere in your office, and also to encourage your employees to use their imaginations as well.

With the influx of over 20 new reality shows this season, try a “Survivor” or “American Idol” pop quiz each week. Present the winner with a small gift. Or purchase LTI's new game Title Triumph Ô and have employees play it on their lunch hour to see who knows the most about the industry. (see the ad for Title Triumph Ô on pg. 39). Whether some employees are playing or cheering the others on, it's a simple act of unity that can draw an office together and create some common ground.

Monetary rewards work also. But it's best if they are sporadic and spontaneous. Employees are really looking for affirmation of their value to the office, a pat on the back, an extra “thanks so much,” or the thank- you note or phone call from corporate saying “You are doing a great job; we appreciate your input/work/effort.” One company set an order goal for one of their slow months. The goal was high enough to challenge but not overwhelming or impossible. On the first day of the next month, when they had met their goal, the county manager showed up with $200 cash for each employee. But that isn't always the answer, and when you are balancing the budget, there are other ways that are more economical. Employees really need and crave praise, recognition, and appreciation. Placing faith and trust in your employees helps them to rise to their own personal best, and then everyone wins.

Set Some Unusual Goals

The traditional approaches occasionally work when trying to increase your order count (i.e., the thermometer whose temperature rises when new escrows heat it up). But when you experiment with the new or the unusual, employee interest peaks.

Try creating what I call “production games.” Enlist the help of your I.T. Department to put a chart or gameboard on your company server similar to a monopoly board. With each team represented by a mascot piece and managers updating the company progress every couple of days, this ongoing game can be an exercise in anticipation and imagination. As the month progresses, employees are provided with small rewards along the “yellow brick road,” thereby encouraging constant participation, ongoing enthusiasm, and continued gratitude for their efforts and support for their future goals.

By expanding this type of production game to include a customer service employee or an employee from title to be added to each escrow team or each branch office, you involve the employees of the office with a support person and bond those people, rather than creating the diversity that our day-to-day production sometimes breeds. This also serves a dual purpose: Not only do your employees bond, but you create a great working relationship between title, customer service, and escrow that translates into faster turn around on prelims and customer service requests. This of course, reflects in customer satisfaction, an increased level of service, and return business. It's all inter-connected.

If you have a small office, tell them that the number of orders they bring in during the month will dictate how much money you can spend on a reward dinner. Twenty-five escrows might get each employee a happy meal, and 200 escrows may get them a nice steak dinner.

As your teams and departments reach their goals, make sure they are rewarded. Positive reinforcement along the way is a great reminder and a tickler in reaching those goals. When setting goals, consistently provide e-mails that encourage employees and keep them informed of their progress.

By breaking down your goals, it seems less intimidating and overwhelming. Take your goal for the month and break it down. If your goal is 200 for the month, inform the office at the first of the month. Then start breaking it down in smaller numbers for weekly goals, or even daily goals. Telling an office that your goal for the month is 200 orders sounds a lot more difficult and unattainable than reminding them in the middle of the month that to keep on track, they need to bring in 30 more orders by the following Friday. By month's end, not only will you be rewarded with more closed orders the next month translating into higher bonus and commission dollars paid out, but everyone will get to share in a reward (i.e., a nice lunch or dinner). It's a small price to pay. A $200 dinner is paid for many times over in one additional order.

Consider a double day. During the month, have two days where you send out an e-mail that tells your employees that for every one order they get during those designated days, it counts as two. This gets them to the goal quicker, enables a better chance for the reward.

Involve your customers in your order-setting goals. By including the customers, you make them part of the team. The last week of the month, get a “phone-a-thon” going. Have all the employees start making phone calls telling customers there is an order contest going and you are only ten escrows away from your goal. Asking them if they can help by opening up an escrow becomes surprisingly fun for the customers. They will ask at the end of the month whether you met your goals, and you can tell them that because of their help, your office enjoyed a great pizza lunch paid for by the company.

Create a fun “call-list” during a particular month. Set a goal for each employee to contact five clients during that day. Each employee will document their calls and what the result of each call was. Three of these calls can be voice mail. By increasing that customer contact, you increase your visibility in the marketplace, “touch” your clients more often, and, in turn, generate more orders. By contacting these clients, maybe you are lucky enough to catch them on a day when they have an escrow to open. It gives your employees a reason to call that makes them feel more comfortable (for those who are a little uncomfortable on the sales side). In return for meeting a weekly goal of 25 client contacts, each employee could receive a Starbucks gift card. Small tokens are meaningful. Of course, adjust the goals on the client contact call list to meet who will be using the list. Assistants and escrow officers may have a higher number of client contacts expected of them than a receptionist or customer service rep.

Create Your Own Incentives

Not all these ideas may be right for your company. But by challenging and motivating your employees and involving them in the solutions rather than the methods, employees will become more enthusiastic about what they do, who they work for, and the quality they put into their work. Make your company a fun place to work where thoughts, ideas, and creativity are part of every day. The results will reveal themselves.

When it comes to motivating—your imagination is your only limitation.


Dayna Kimball is senior escrow officer for New Century Title in Sacramento. This article is an excerpt from Dayna's presentation during ALTA®'s Annual Convention last October. Dayna can be reached at: 916-563-6609 or dkimball@newcenturytitle.com.



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