Drive to Give

January 16, 2019 • ILE LAB • Boaz Tamir

How contribution to the community provides an opportunity to design of organizational culture and develop skilled and independent workers

The field workers that saved the situation

A family had rented a car from Hertz for a family trip during a holiday weekend, and their car broke down as they were climbing up to the Golan Heights and their B&B.  A representative from Hertz car rentals didn’t merely call the service vehicle; she contacted the company’s offices in the nearby town of Tiberias, which was about to close for the holiday. A young worker in the local branch, who had just finished taking care of returned cars, answered the phone and decided to take one of those cars and go out to the stranded family, to see if he could provide any help while the family was waiting for the service car.  After he realized that the car could not be fixed on the spot, he decided, of his own accord, to give his car to the family and that he would wait for the service car, so that the family could arrive at their destination on time.

Hertz director-general, Dani Shimoni, told me this story.  “The company representative took initiative, went beyond his job description, the driver decided to delay own his vacation and made a series of independent decisions.  The two workers were not afraid to use their discretion and go beyond the usual guidelines…”

What was it about the company, I asked myself, which encouraged field workers to solve problems, without being afraid that they might make a mistake and, worse, without taking any advantage of the freedom that they had?

Building a safe space for independent discretion

In the business environment, it is common to find situations in which the organization’s flexibility and the quality of the service provided to the customer are based on the ability of the staff to deal with problems and make autonomous decisions in real time.  An organization that seeks to be flexible and respond to circumstances as they come up has to forgo the hierarchical structure and its system of monitoring and control and to transfer the authority to make decision from headquarters to the field, from the managers to the employees.  For this to happen, it is necessary to create space where it is safe to make mistakes and where the use of discretion is encouraged.  Such a space requires the construction of a clear organizational culture – a common denominator of cultural values, including trust, identification, partnership and mutual loyalty between the company and its workers.  As Shimoni said, “You can’t separate the customers’ commitment to and satisfaction with the company from management’s commitment to partnership with its workers.”

How can this sense of partnership between the workers and the work place be fostered?  Even though workers are listed on financial accounts as a “variable cost,” Shimoni regards them as partners – “capital” that requires investment and care.  In the company’s vision, people are defined as “our most important asset… [they are] essential partners critical to the company’s success.”  Of course, words are not enough – many companies include investment in their workers in the company vision, but few actually implement these values.  Here is one concrete example.

The “Drive to Give”:  A cultural of mutual responsibility provides meaning and a sense of belonging

A central value of a company is not defined solely vis a vis the workers and the customers:  it must also be applied to the community at large.  Hertz’s management and employees have created an initiative together with CareGivers, a non-profit organization that provides support for family members who are caring for an elderly or sick relative.  Hospital social workers apply to CareGivers and ask them to help a family that is finding it difficult to arrange transportation to oncology treatments or dialysis, and they are then referred to the Hertz service center.  Ten percent of the company’s workers are already involved as volunteers, using company cars to accompany 16 families to the treatments, as often and for as long as is necessary.

This joint project is not part of the company’s PR nor is it a one-off event like the “Day of Good Deeds.”  It is an integral part of the organizational culture that the company is designing for its workers.  Not only do workers who volunteer to transport a patient to treatment become more sensitive and more empathic to others; they also come to feel they are partners in the value that the company is creating for its environment.  In addition, the process of accompanying a family member over times teaches them how to create a culture of long-term trust between the company and its customers.

An organization that encourages its workers to contribute to the community heightens their sense of belonging.  In a 2018 satisfaction survey among Hertz employees, one out of the five questions with the highest rating was, “The Company makes it possible for me to take part in activities for social engagement and to contribute to the community.”  A culture that encourages trust across three concentric circles – workers, customers, and community – will also encourage its service representatives, technicians, receptionists and drivers to make independent decisions in order to be “attentive to and understand the customer’s needs in order to provide him with an appropriate solution.”

The company’s employees do not function as the operative arm of a business strategy dictated down from the top; rather, they themselves are the purpose of the strategy, and it is up to them to implement that strategy for the customers.

Boaz Tamir, ILE.

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