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Are Clueless People Killing Your Business? Bill Knell

In the last few years we've heard that small businesses are failing in record numbers. Large corporations that were once practically guaranteed to show growth every year are reporting that sales are flat. Companies of all sizes seem to be in trouble. Why? What's going on? Is it the economy? Is it corporate reshuffling? Is it a lackluster selection of products? Is it older companies that just haven't kept up with modern consumer trends? The answer may surprise you!

As a teenager looking for work in the early 1970s, I found my job prospects limited to the typical fast food and service jobs that most high school and college students have to endure. Those jobs were just as annoying and low paying then, as now, but there was a difference. With rare exceptions, most of the people I worked made an honest effort to perform their duties correctly. Looking back, I'm actually surprised at how hard we all worked and how much pride we took in a job well done. The same could be said of most adults I knew in those days as well.

The 1980s saw a marked change in employee behavior. On the job theft and a lack of productivity among workers on all levels suddenly became real concerns for employers. Lie detector tests and even background checks were added as necessary steps in the hiring process for many jobs. It became a ritual for customers who visited any one of the major fast food chain restaurants to check their bags. Drive Thru and over the counter order mistakes then, and now, have simply become a part of the fast food consumer experience. What happened to cause these changes? The answer is obvious, or is it?

There are job candidates out there today who have been brainwashed into believing that any potential employer is the enemy. These people have every intention of doing as little work as possible, while getting as much from their employer as they can. Such problem job seekers are the kind of applicants that give potential employers the cold sweats. That's because they are harder to spot then you might think. Many are graduates from terrific schools with all sorts of fabulous recommendation letters, but is such a glowing resume really telling a prospective employer everything they need to know?

It's been my experience that a person's work ethic is revealed by any job they do. Someone who goofs off and does a half-hearted job while working at Burger King will do the same in every other paid position they ever get. It's a matter of character and personal pride. Unfortunately, future employers are unlikely to find out about any character flaws that may affect a prospective employee's future job performance. Thanks to privacy laws, it's almost impossible for them to get any kind of an employee assessment. People who have performed in a less then stellar way at any job will probably just leave that one off their resume.

If poor character is part of the problem, public education must also take some of the blame for those who lack even the most basic of skills needed for good job performance. I have met more then my share of younger people working in the service industry who couldn't count, read well or speak in a manner that would allow them to do their jobs correctly. The problem has become so great that some states now offer competency tests for first time job seekers in or just out of high school. Those who pass the tests are given a certification that they possess the basic language, math and reading skills needed to perform simple jobs or be further trained by employers.

Apart from problem job seekers, many employers are allowing clueless people to run their business into the ground. The service industry has become a textbook case study of this problem. They are allowing people with limited communication, math and language skills to represent their company. If you ask them about it, they'll just spout off some public relations spin about giving everyone a chance to succeed. In reality, they have simply dropped the ball when it comes to effective supervision and management.

We all know businesses that offer consistently bad service. While we don't say it, most consumers will avoid fast food restaurants which have short lines at lunchtime. That's because any order we place will probably be screwed up and the food we do get may not be palatable. The same can be said of hotels where checking in or out is an ordeal, retail stores without enough cashiers or too many incompetent ones and mailing stores where sending a package requires an all day commitment of time.

Employers that accept poor job performance from their employees often believe that something is better then nothing. With a critical shortage of those willing to work minimum wage or low paying jobs, many employers have just thrown up their hands and taken what they can get. Fear of losing even one employee without much hope of finding an easy replacement, often means accepting a lower level of performance from their employees. For companies with that policy, doing some business is obviously better then doing good business.

American businesses have responded to a limited pool of applicants for lower paying and minimum wage jobs by lowering their standards. Instead of hiring competent managers who can properly train, supervisor and handle their employees, many companies have decided to accept whatever level of competency and job performance their employees choose to give them. In response to those kinds of policies, floor managers and supervisors feel abandoned and stressed out. When things go wrong, they get the brunt of customer anger brought about by a general lack of effective policies that define and demand satisfactory employee behavior.

The lowering of standards has brought about an failed policy. The idea that workers need to be enticed to do a good job, rather then be expected to. Many start up Internet and technology firms have tried to entice workers to ne more productive by offering all sorts of perks. They offer child care services, work at home programs and on the job health clinics. Some companies have even went a step further by making employees their partners. Despite all these mega perks, many Internet and technology firms are in as much or more trouble then the rest of the business world. Why?

Most companies that have tried to create a utopian work environment for their employees have run into some trouble. It seems that all these efforts have managed to increase employee productivity, but only among employees who were self-starters. Those workers who were already experts at goofing off have managed to use these new tools at their disposal to perfect the art of on-the-job laziness. Why? Because a lack of effective supervision and management means employees who have no real motivation to produce.

The lowering of standards has lead many companies to accept a certain level of employee incompetence. Sadly, these companies have made the mistake of believing that their customers will also accept that lowering of standards without abandoning them. However, slip shot service will catch up to any company as the major airlines, fast food chains, retail stores and major hotels have discovered. Many of them are losing money because of overworked, underpaid or badly trained employees.


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