Here's the answer to the 'eternal question'

   How to interact with employees — the eternal question. Everyone has had experiences where a boss was a real jerk. Everyone has had an experience where a boss was a pushover, though probably not so often. So what is best? What works and what doesn’t?
   It’s my belief that a happy business is a good driving business. Places that I have worked and places that I have seen where everybody is driven and hounded to exhaustion are not productive places.
   Turnover is high; people don’t care about the end product of their labor, or worse, sabotage their efforts.
   But on the other hand, the ‘90s were filled with stories of companies that went down the tubes because of a too casual, almost party-like attitude toward work. I still remember a going out of business sale where an employee climbing wall was involved.
   Obviously, there has to be a workable medium.
   At Blue Future Filters, we are a technical company dealing with bio-technology, global projects, and regulatory oversight.
   We can’t afford a lot of turnover, because it takes so darned long to get people up to speed with what we do. And it’s not just about money and benefits. Neither of those ensures that people will be either happy or productive.
   I think it is a combination of factors.
   I believe the people working here have to feel like their jobs pay enough so that they are not thinking about the wolf at the door when I want them focusing on the projects on their desks or production tables.
   But paying too much doesn’t necessarily mean more return. To me, bonuses based on profitability seem like a better way to compensate than fat salaries.
   One thing we really have going for us is the type of work we do. There is a big benefit to our people in the satisfaction of providing products that bring healthy water to people all over the world.
   It is also satisfying when a person successfully sees a project to fruition that involves producing parts here in the good ol’ USA and shipping them to Southeast Asia where they are combined with other parts produced from companies and people we only know through phone conversations and e-mails. I think that the importance of job satisfaction cannot be overemphasized.
   Okay, so the employees are satisfactorily engaged. What else is there?
   The vision thing. When I worked for others, even though I tried to come up with creative solutions, everything I did was circumscribed by the vision or intention of my employer.
   This is not a bad thing; in fact it is essential to things working efficiently. The entrepreneur has a vision of what he or she is trying to accomplish and how to do it. The employee’s job is to assist the entrepreneur in accomplishing those goals — that is why they have a job. This dynamic creates the situation where the employee limits their judgment to the bounds of how they perceive the entrepreneur’s vision.
   I find it important to realize and understand this dynamic. It explains why, for instance, employees ask questions sometimes that seem to indicate they aren’t using their own judgment.
   The strong entrepreneur creates that dynamic. On the other hand, if the employee is making their own decisions without checking in when they should be, it means that the entrepreneur’s vision is not understood, respected, or there at all.
   I feel it is my responsibility to be very clear about where I see us going and how we are going to get there. This means I need to have a clear vision myself of what we are doing, where we are going. If I don’t know, how can anybody that works here know?
   When I am successful in this regard, projects proceed successfully. When I’m not, there is conflict, quality declines, confusion occurs.
   I feel it is my job to bring all this together into a cohesive team effort that can focus attention and work to see our efforts successfully accomplished.
   When employees feel good about what they’re doing, are justly compensated, are engaged and understand the vision, and feel part of a successful team effort, in the end it will make for a happy and productive workplace.

Humphrey Blackburn is the President and CEO of Blue Future Filters in Bellingham.

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