Question: How do you consistently motivate your employees?
George Jones: I think one of the key elements of successfully retaining and motivating people throughout the organization is communication, really good communication, and I think it needs to be frequent and I think it needs to be honest and straightforward and as informative as you can possibly be. I’ve found in the past when I’ve put together strategic plans for a company that that’s an essential element because you can start at the top and you can sit around a boardroom and you can come up with this great strategy and you can have great people at the top of the organization that all get it and all buy in to the strategy, etc., but you’ve got to get it down through the organization. and you have to get people to buy in to it all through the organization, not just the senior people in the company but you’ve got to have your regional people and your district people and your general managers in your stores and even the people that are out on the sales floor interacting with customers. They all have to sort of be marching in the same direction and I think that communication is vitally important to that. We put a lot of emphasis on frequent communication. Certainly, at headquarters we’ll do a lot of certainly written communication but we also have regular town hall meetings and we try to really open ourselves up for questions and really be able to answer those questions as honestly and frankly as possible of whatever is on our people’s mind. If it’s something because we’re a public company we can’t answer, then we just say, “We can’t answer that because I don’t want to go to jail,” and it is simple as that; you’re unable to do it. On the other hand, aside from that, unless it’s something that’s just vitally confidential going on within the company like can be happening right now-- We’re in this- in-- We’re weighing different strategic alternatives for the company. Some things you can talk about, some you can’t, but again it goes back to what you can even legally do, but aside from that I tell them anything’s fair game. They can ask questions An example of being open to questions within the company, which I think is so important for motivating people, retaining them, etc.: Recently, we announced that we were seeking strategic alternatives for our company which could include the possible sale of either parts or even all of our company. Well, immediately when we did that, and we’re legally required to do that by ICC rules, etc., immediately when you do it you have 35,000 people out there that are all starting to get real nervous. What does it mean for me? What does it mean for the future, etc.? And particularly people at headquarters because if you look at a lot of scenarios that would be out there or if- almost any scenario out there that Borders would be sold, the stores would be in pretty good shape. We have a lot of great stores out there and the stores will still be needed. At headquarters, however, there could be possible scenarios, meaning with a certain strategic buyer or whatever, that could possibly eliminate the headquarters in Ann Arbor that we have there too so that has to weigh heavily on people’s minds so- but we felt like we had to really be straightforward with people and say, “Yes. Is it a possibility? It’s a possibility but there are any number of other possibilities as well,” and you try to keep people informed as you go through the process and you just try to be up front. One of the things that came out of those initial meetings when we had those and announced the strategic alternatives was that people immediately said, “Well, what’s that going to mean?” We also mentioned in part of this process that you were going to be lowering overhead and costs. What does that mean? Does that mean we’re going to have job eliminations, we have layoffs in the company? And my answer to that was back in- at the end of March. My answer was yes, it does, because we knew that it was going to be necessary for us to have job eliminations in the process and if we had not been straightforward and answered that truthfully, even though it put some unrest within headquarters people for a couple of months until we completed the process recently you had to answer it truthfully because otherwise when you come back later and people say, “Well, gee. Our-- There is a rumor out there that we may be going bankrupt” or whatever too, and you hear- start hearing stuff like that, which is completely ridiculous, but to be able to say that to people and have them believe it you have had to be truthful with them previously. And I’ve just found in turnarounds especially it’s just vitally, vitally important to do that, to be able to communicate frequently with people, to answer their questions as frankly as you possibly can, and to build credibility and trust. By doing that and by being credible with them on the front end when we had the recent job eliminations, I was also- then I was able to go to people and say, “That’s it. We’ve taken the cuts necessary. We have no additional eliminations planned for our corporate headquarters so now you can breathe easily and let’s get back and group together and be focused on delivering our initiatives and delivering on our strategic plan.” And people believed it.
Recorded on: 6/18/08