Personal Touch

Smaller company conducive to more customer quality time

By Stacey B. Kearney

With only 24 hours in a day, we strive for balance in our personal and professional lives. Quality time is necessary for marriages to thrive, children to grow and individuals to maintain health and happiness. In essence, quality time is the time spent on relationships. In management, quality time is the time spent conversing with customers and employees, all while meeting their expectations and requirements.

I have been a government contractor for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security for nearly 17 years. I have worked for small firms and large firms due to mergers and contract wins.

It has been my experience that smaller firms are better at pursuing quality time than larger firms. This is why—after eight years at a large, well-renowned IT company in Arlington, VA—I decided to leave last year and move to a smaller firm.

Playing Big Brother

At the large company, I was a frontline manager who worked directly with several clients and had a team of about 12 employees. Instead of being able to focus on my clients and team, I was expected to be a multitasker and a Big Brother, ensuring my employees complied with security briefs and time-reporting procedures. I also was expected to implement a metrics program, keep up with policy changes and assist with proposals.

It was an impossible task to keep everyone happy in my company’s chain: subordinates, managers, clients, stakeholders and stockholders. I spent more than half of my time on administrative paperwork when I would have rather spent quality time with my employees and customers.

The company continued to impose more requirements upon me and other frontline managers. After I completed my Six Sigma Green Belt certification, I compiled a list of items I felt upper management should address so I and other managers could have the quality time we needed to focus on employees and customers to help grow the business.

Unfortunately, I received no feedback—most likely because in a large company, communication does not freely flow up and down the chain of command. This ultimately caused me to feel as though management no longer valued delivering quality products.

Fearing the impending demise of the company’s reputation and my own, I moved to the McHenry Management Group (TMMG), a smaller, more focused firm based in Chesapeake, VA.

Everybody knows your name

Now that I am no longer responsible for appeasing stockholders and a multi-layered organization, I can devote the quality time needed to customers and employees. Decisions can be made relatively quickly because TMMG is a much more flat organization. I am only a phone call away from the company owner.

This smaller company is more willing to make long-term investments in its people. Employees are not singled out to receive special awards or bonuses—everyone is on equal footing because every employee is valued as a quality employee.

TMMG does not have annual performance reviews. The belief is that the company only hires professionals, and as professionals, we do not need annual performance reviews to tell us how we are performing. Instead, leaders communicate with customers, peers and employees. They mentor us daily with encouragement and support.

There’s also that personal touch. For example, each year in August, employees’ children receive gift cards for school supplies. Employees and their family members are addressed by name; I am Stacey, not Employee No. 2,101. By focusing on people, those people can focus on clients.

Implementing ideas

If you are an executive at a large company, reexamine the requirements you are placing on your frontline managers. Return to the House of Quality, one of the tools in the Six Sigma toolbox. Prioritize what is truly important. Do you need to hire additional bodies to assume some of those administrative duties so technical employees can focus on technical requirements? Do you really need a particular administrative requirement, or is it something that you have "always done that way?"

Don’t wait to obtain data from your exit interviews. Query your frontline managers and listen to them—they know your clients and employees. Chances are, if you reduce the amount of jobs required of them, they will have the quality time they need to ensure quality service is delivered.

Stacey B. Kearney is a project manager for the McHenry Management Group in Chesapeake, VA. She received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. Kearney spent 17 years supporting Navy and Coast Guard projects—11 of those years were spent in a project manager role. She is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Green Belt and an ASQ member.

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