|Learning from the general market|
|Written by Kathleen Samuelson|
|Tuesday, 05 May 2015 04:08 PM America/New_York|
Christian owners of companies ‘in the world’ share their best business practices
Business principles and practices based on Scripture are applicable in any kind of business. Many Christians have taken Jesus’ salt-and-light message to heart and opt to live it out in the broader business world.
Perhaps because of America’s Judeo-Christian roots, many “secular” companies have built their businesses on a foundation similar to that of Christian companies. Principles that address ethics, values, expected behavior and best practices often are informed by biblical standards. Christians in leadership can build upon the ethical foundation in their company’s mission and vision statements.
Christian Retailing connected with a few Christian leaders who own or manage such companies, asking them to elaborate on their experiences in integrating their values into the workplace—and share best practices that also are applicable to Christian retail.
The life of a practicing Christian is bound to have an impact in his or her workplace.
“It greatly influences our business plan, our budget, our mission and vision, customer service, hiring practices, terminations and day-to-day operations,” said Carol Pohja, human resources manager at PGM Inc., a grounds-maintenance company that she and her husband, Dan, own. The company has served Colorado Springs, Colorado, commercial clients for more than 30 years.
Pohja’s response aligns with the company’s mission statement: “PGM is dedicated to exceeding our customers’ expectations by providing excellent grounds and landscape services. We pledge to gain trust by building lasting relationships with our customers through committed performance by every member of our team.”
PGM espouses high standards in management-employee communication too.
“We clearly communicate our expectations of all employees’ performance and behavior,” Pohja said. “If their performance or behavior does not align with the organization (or the owners), they are certainly free to seek other employment. We are able to do this because we own our business.”
Scott Graham works in the competitive industry of RV sales. He is the national show director for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Elkhart, Indiana.
“I’m very much in a secular workplace, but it doesn’t change who I am,” said Graham, formerly director of meetings with CBA. “I think my beliefs are proven by my actions. Being honest, admitting my mistakes, doing the right thing no matter what, showing interest in all people—co-workers, clients, business acquaintances—and loving each of them along the way.”
James Dion, president of Dionco Inc., an internationally renowned retail consulting and training firm in Chicago, takes his “business ethics and behavior very seriously, as it is a direct outward expression of me as a Christian,” he said. “I have always found that if you behave in an honest, above-board, ethical manner that the people you are dealing with will often respond in the same spirit.”
Jason Green, former president of the Mardel Christian retail chain, now serves as president of Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
“I think too many of us see the Christian walk as something that applies to us in our personal relationships, but it also applies to our professional ones,” Green said.
Integrating faith-informed best practices into general market companies can be challenging, but there are often substantial values in place on which to build.
Pohja emphasizes these Christian-influenced best practices in her business:
Integrate biblical core values into your business. Think of trust, integrity, respect, commitment, quality work and customer service. As a small business owner, you build your reputation and customer base largely on word-of-mouth marketing from people who have used your services or shopped at your store. The only way you will ever gain trust and respect from your customers is by earning it through commitment, quality work and exceptional customer service.
Build lasting relationships with customers and vendors. Keep your customers coming back into your store by getting to know them and their purchasing needs. Communicate with them verbally, via email and on social media. Also maintain frequent and professional contact with your vendors. Pay them on time. Provide feedback. Build a rapport.
Do your work right the first time. Put significant thought into your marketing campaigns. Follow through with special events and sales—always with the customer at the top of their mind.
Be efficient for the sake of the client/customer. Employing efficiencies in your business helps keep your costs down and frees you to provide better and more comprehensive customer service.
Provide your clients/customers with a complete detailed cost breakdown of all charges. Never let there be a question as to whether they have been overcharged. Provide the best service and most competitive prices you can so that your customers remember your business for value and personal service.
Exceed customer expectations. Surprise and delight your customers by offering them something new and different each time they visit your store. Change your displays with the seasons. Cross-merchandise for ease of shopping. Offer weekly specials. And do something unique to make your store stand out as being “special.”
Be committed to employee development and performance management. Train your team well and hold them responsible for their performance. Their behavior can either win you a customer for life or lose you a customer in seconds.
Be accountable for your own performance. Take responsibility for your actions and learn from your mistakes. Your team members and customers are taking note.
Comply with regulations. That includes local, state and federal regulations. Simply put, be ethical.
“In our employee handbook, our expectations are clearly stated, as well as in employment position postings in advertisements,” Pohja said. “We clearly communicate our expectations of all employees’ performance and behavior.”
Another area where Christian leaders in general market businesses operate by scriptural principles is in dealing with team members—hiring, firing and disciplining. Here, honesty and compassion need to be first and foremost.
“Deal directly, honestly and compassionately with employee performance problems, including terminations, but do not keep poor performers around [simply] because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Pohja said. “Christian organizations tend to treat employees like family and sometimes overlook the fact they have a business to run. Loving one employee and providing too many chances is really being unfair and unkind to the others.”
Green of Baptist Medical cites the importance of treating team members with respect and kindness, but he also believes that the concept of restoration is an important practice to employ.
“In business, it is very easy to set up the rules and regulations, and what to do if someone messes up,” he says. “But, how does that turn into reconciliation and restoration? That is the challenge. That does not mean that every situation has a perfect, happy ending, but I think there is a path that can lead to a better outcome than just disciplinary action.”
Another best practice relates to goal setting. Mark A. Tedford, partner at Tedford Insurance, which has seven locations in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas, highlights the importance of goals to increasing sales.
“Every salesperson needs to have a goal,” Tedford said. “I suggest that goals be broken down between a minimum standard and stretch goal. Also, it is vital that the goals be monitored and reviewed. Any business metric that is being watched will automatically draw more employee attention to it. Employees naturally want to do the best job and not look bad in front of their peers, so at regular intervals, employee scorecards should be handed out with a common ‘scoreboard’ being shared with everyone. Cultivate friendly competition between salesmen, departments and other stores. Also, try to find leading indicators (key performance indicators) that an employee can do that will develop or help sales down the road. Measuring the leading indicators in addition to the sales themselves could enhance sales performance.”
Performance also is tied to efficiency.
“The first step in efficiency is to track employee performance,” Tedford said. “Our customer service representatives are on fixed salaries, so their volume per employee is very important.”
Providing exemplary service is a high priority for any successful company—and keeps your customers coming back.
“When I think of great customer service, it is really the way of a committed Christian treating another person,” Dion said. “I find that the way that I treat people is often returned to me in the same way. I expect my clients to be honest and ethical because that is what I expect of them and what they should expect of me.”
Dion believes that “a Christian store should have the best service on this planet and treat every customer as they themselves would like to be treated,” he said. “This also includes staying in touch with that customer to make sure that they are happy and that what we suggested to them is delivering what they need. Great customer service is nothing more than true ministry. It is living and acting your faith.”
Tedford emphasizes knowing the value of his top customers.
“Every business has customers who are advocates,” he said. “They talk positively about the business to their friends, refer people to the business and buy products from the business and give as gifts to their friends. These advocates can be cultivated by rewards programs, social media recognition and just plain-old face recognition as the store of their choice. I see no reason why Christian retail could not capitalize on this concept because the common ground with the Christian retail patron is a common faith which should strike a deeper chord than what other businesses normally can.”
Christians in leadership positions have the opportunity to exemplify their values through inspired, “servant” leadership—leading by example to serve the mission and realize the vision.
Christian retail store leaders also can inspire their staff and customers by:
“A Christian retailer can be a refuge, a place where resources can help us with our own relationship with Christ,” Graham said. “We are all on this journey, whether you work for a Christian organization or a secular company.”
Whether you’re a Christian working in the general market or in Christian retail or another ministry, certain business principles and best practices will overlap and reflect biblical values.
“I’m not sure if there is a big difference working in a Christian environment versus secular,” Graham said. “Both are filled with humans, and we all fail. We have to rely on our own relationship with Christ.”
Kathleen Samuelson has been a professional editor and writer for 27 years. She currently works in the defense and aerospace industry.