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A Cut(co) Above – Training for Life

I was telling our board member Mel Kleiman this story yesterday and he suggested it would make a good blog post.  Here goes.

My 19 year old son is working for Vector Marketing this summer, selling Cutco knives.  Vector is a 60 year old company that sells high end cutlery through a workforce principally comprised of temporary contract employees.  The product is very good – my oldest Cutco knives are almost 20 years old.  Having been a prior customer, I’ve been fascinated by a close up view of how they develop their reps and keep them engaged.  There are lessons here that most employers can and should apply to their own workforce.

  1. Train your employees to generate the outcomes you require – Cutco has a formula they’ve refined over 60 years and they make sure their employees can execute that formula.
  2. Keep in regular contact with your employees to understand their progress and motivate them to even better performance – The reps call the office every day to report on their sales results as well as their pipeline building activities.
  3. Recognize and reward superior accomplishment – Commission rates expand in proportion to the rep’s cumulative sales.  Reps who achieve short term challenge goals earn more.

While my son may occasionnally chafe at the structure of the Cutco process, he’s learned a few things this summer beyond how to sell knives:

  1. Customer communication skills are critical – he has to make appointments to build a pipeline, and he has to make a compelling argument for his product to earn commissions.
  2. Planning is key to success – if he doesn’t schedule time to make appointments, they don’t make themselves.
  3. Customer service is hard, but worth it – he’s had a few difficult appointments with difficult people, but has prevailed through patience and humor.

All in all, he won’t retire for life on his Cutco earnings, but he’s learned valuable lessons he can take to the bank.

Gaming the Clock

In a recent survey we conducted with Harris Interactive, we asked over 700 hourly paid employees if they had ever cheated in reporting their hours in order to increase their paycheck.  Twenty-one percent indicated that they had.  Not surprisingly, of the 21% of respondents who admitted to cheating on their time reporting, the highest percentage (35%) of them were using paper based systems.  As the means of time reporting became more automated and harder to deceive, the percentage of cheaters declined, with only 5% of those using biometric time clocks reporting themselves as having gamed the system.  Among those who cheated, the tactics included:

  • Punching in earlier or out later than scheduled (69%)
  • Adding extra time to their timesheet (22%)
  • Failure to punch out for meals or breaks (14%)
  • Having someone else punch them in or out (5%)

How much does time theft hurt businesses?  A recent Diagnostic Assessment analysis Kronos conducted for a 6,800 employee manufacturer revealed rounding-rule abuse cost of over 1.3% of total wages paid.  The 4 worst-performing departments in terms of rounding-rule abuse cost the organization approximately $3.6M annually.  According to a 2006 Nucleus Research Report ROI report, companies with manual time and attendance systems typically incur unnecessary payroll costs upwards of 1.2 percent of their total payroll costs due to inaccurate application of pay rules, as well as human errors, intentional and otherwise.

Feelings run high on both sides of this issue.  This discussion thread from Woodweb, a  website for the woodworking industry, is a spirited debate between employers and workers regarding whether automated time tracking is a necessary management tool or Orwellian incursion.  The truth lies in how the tools are used, of course.  Employee punches collected by time clocks are indisputable data elements.  Friction between employers and employees, or failure to comply with standards such as those set by FMLA, FLSA or union rules, is caused by how that data is used to calculate pay.  Fair and legal policies, consistently applied via technology, can help to close those gaps.

June is Innovation Month

…at least according to Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe.  Scott is encouraging his readers to think about ways to revive the New England economy from its doldrums by supporting new innovators and innovations.  You can visit his website for ideas on how to “make new connections, share your expertise, find out about and support new ventures. Help accelerate some of the important, cool, life-saving, world-changing innovations being developed here in New England.”

Having worked in high tech in New England for the past 28 years, here are my favorite innovations and innovators that I’ve had the opportunity to work with in no particular order:

  • Our own Mark Ain – father of the computerized timeclock and founder of the world’s leading workforce management software company
  • Lotus Notes – first in collaborative computing.  Sharepoint is still trying to catch up!
  • An Wang – a genius and a very gracious man.
  • Wang Imaging – ahead of its time, but gave me the opportunity to travel the world educating hundreds of consultants on business process improvement.
  • John Landry – a wild man on the dance floor and prescient force of nature.  You called it on eCommerce in 1994!
  • Mark Dane – visionary and pragmatic, you never forget the customer.
  • My colleagues at BrassRing – we had a wild ride, leading the way to applicant tracking on the Internet

Who’s your favorite innovator today?