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As a small business owner, it’s easy to lose sight of what's important. You’re so entrenched in the details of day-to-day operations and management that there’s hardly any time to devote to big-picture vision and values.
But attention to those easily overlooked matters is exactly what sows the seeds of long-term success, experts say. Mission-driven organizations are better able to keep the urgent from overshadowing the important, and they thrive because of it.
To illustrate this point, we asked John Dunavant, Vice President of the FedEx World Hub in Memphis, Tenn., to share the global distribution system’s secrets for humming along at breakneck pace. The hub is urgency incarnate, sorting about a half-million packages every hour and providing service in 24 to 48 hours to 95 percent of the global economy.
Even with sophisticated technology underpinning operations, Dunavant insists that people — not 300 miles of conveyor belts and a fleet of aircraft that log about 6,900 flights per week— make all the difference. Here are a few ways to keep things in perspective:
- Take care of your employees. Staying in tune with changing workforce desires and offering great perks can help you attract stellar workers. “When I started, most everybody was there for money and tuition refunds,” Dunavant says of his hourly position offloading, sorting and reloading packages at the hub three decades ago. “Now, 30 to 40 percent of the people come here for the benefits.” Some are individual contractors who own their own businesses but can’t afford health insurance. Others are older workers whose retirement benefits aren’t sufficient. “We treat everybody the same — hourly employees choose from the same health benefit plans that I do,” says Dunavant. “It’s no different, and that’s why people come to work for us.”
- Deliver outstanding customer service. Once you’ve met your employees’ needs, it’s time for them to do the same for customers. Build a truly client-centered culture and you’ll always stay one step ahead of the competition. FedEx team members call their commitment to making every customer’s experience outstanding “the purple promise.” A young bride witnessed it firsthand when her wedding dress was shipped to the wrong address by a boutique. FedEx customer service, trace agents and a problem account team found the garment mid-shipment and rerouted it for timely delivery. “I love to tell people that the Memphis hub is the reason that people are able to sleep at night,” says Dunavant. “Trust us. When you’re sleeping, your package is moving through the system.”
- Do the right thing. Service doesn’t stop with colleagues or customers — giving generously to the community is good for business too. Encourage your employees to consider making a positive difference wherever they are by donating their time and money to worthy causes and not hesitating to lend a helping hand. “A small private plane crashed in the Memphis airport and two of my employees climbed a barbed-wire fence to pull people out of the aircraft,” Dunavant recalls. “They saved a couple of lives. What we do is important, but who we are in the community is more important.” In recognition of their efforts, the two employees received the FedEx Express 2010 Humanitarian Award.
- Make technology upgrades without sacrificing jobs. Look for ways to use technology to bolster results — and then get creative about reassigning displaced workers. Dunavant says of sorting-technology upgrades, “When we do things and it makes people redundant, we just try to move them to a different job.”
- Say “yes” to new opportunities. “If you’re going to survive in business, you’ll have to change and mold yourself into what’s needed,” says Dunavant. “Our vision was to deliver small packages of checks and legal documents overnight in the U.S. Today, we’re worldwide and ship just about anything you can imagine — everything from panda bears to race cars.”
Maya Payne Smart is a Richmond, Va.-based writer who has authored hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites, including CNNMoney.com, Black Enterprise, Essence, and trade and custom publications. She’s also a contributing author for Princeton Review books such as “120 Jobs That Won’t Chain You to Your Desk.” For more info, visit her website.
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