Employer Practice Change Worker Voice and Engagement

Mine Your Gems

Kimberly B. Lewis, President & CEO, Goodwill Industries of East Texas, Inc. August 29, 2019
Mine Your Gems

Just recently my leadership team and I gathered for our monthly meeting. It is my practice to call for “trends and troubles,” during these meetings. The idea is to encourage my team to continuously educate themselves and the rest of the group on the trends in their respective areas, and to bring one problem or issue to the table that we can solve collectively.

My Director of Donated Goods Retail spoke up first on a national trend of decreasing aftermarket sales. In the thrift market, in particular, there are avenues to sell items (mostly textiles) that do not sell in our stores to a secondary market of recyclers. This is a commodities market and the price varies from market to market and from month to month. However, the prices are trending down, meanwhile operational costs continue to rise.

So, what do we do in times like these, and yes I’ve seen many of these times in my 16-year career in this industry. There are many things you can do to mitigate your losses. Reducing our spending by closely monitoring payroll expenses and other operational expenses is what we think of first, but there’s something that is just as effective – mining the intellectual gems within your company and capitalizing on their strengths. You can even look around your community and draft influencers. We did this and hired two local fashion influencers. I came across one of them via a social media post sporting clothing he had purchased from one of our stores. I thanked him for the mention and we ended up meeting several months later. I began mentoring the other as she navigated the business world and ended up hiring her has a Style Influencer/PR Marketer. They both now work for Goodwill of East Texas and have expanded our social media presence 20-fold. We just recently held our first Luxury Blue Fashion Gala that they jointly organized and it was breathtaking.

My work with these two influencers began with me reaching out to them and getting their perspectives on how to expand our brand to an audience eager to find ways to express their style. This relationship led to mentorship and coaching, and eventually recruitment.

Mining for gems should also be inward facing. For the last couple of years, my team and I have coached our way out of sluggish retail sales. We sought out our best frontline workers, supervisors, and managers and asked them to help lead the way. We beefed up our networks to them – newsletters, personal daily messages from myself, and visits from leadership staff throughout the organization, and asked them to coach their co-workers.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. They can tell their own stories of success better than we can. We had a few staff who went from store to store to teach others how to merchandise, ask for “Round Up” donations at the register by telling their own story that tied to our mission, for example.
  2. They really want the organization to win! Competition is good so we challenged each location to out sell the other. We got the whole organization involved via email challenges. We had lots of good-natured trash talking and lots of laughs.
  3. They know how to develop solutions to problems quickly and how to get buy-in from their teams. Managers would demonstrate how they sold the most shoes or books that month.
  4. Frontline staff want to hear positive feedback from their immediate supervisor and when it comes via a micro coaching session — it sounds more uplifting than being told they are doing something wrong.
  5. Barbeque is always a winner (a great job means that one of our associates will show up with ribs, chicken and brisket)! This associate has the title of “Dream Manager” by the way and his BBQ is the best across the land, but that’s an article for another edition.
  6. Everyone has a story to tell – you just have to know the right questions to ask.
  7. Many times the person demonstrating the most leadership is not the one with the title.

To encourage innovation, growth and sustainability – mine the gems around you. They have the answers and just a little coaching can help them to shine.