BRKeenan & Associates, LLC

Great Work Groups: Q#2 “I have the proper tools.”

Tools #013

In my last blog, I reviewed the first of Gallup’s 12 key factors in retaining good employees.  In this blog, I address the 2nd factor: Materials and Equipment.

But first, a remainder of Gallup’s key discovery: There are no great companies. There are only great workgroups.  We tend to think about a company (or a division thereof) in the macro, in its entirety.  But employees don’t work in the macro or at the entity level, but rather with their particular work group.  Great workgroups have four key dimensions: 1. employee retention, 2. customer satisfaction, 3. productivity, and 4. profitability.  The Gallup 12 factors focus on these four dimensions.


Q#2: Do I have the right materials and equipment?


In their book, Hacking work : breaking stupid rules for smart results, authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein tell the story of a company which refused to supply a remote employee with a necessary color printer (cost $ 300±).  As a work around, that employee bought color markers to provide highlights.  This corporate behavior is pennywise and pound stupid.

I get it.  Color printers at $ 300 a pop times a large work force can lead to real money.  But, when the corporate pencil pushers x-nayed the printer, they omitted various negative externalities in their calculations, such as employee frustration and waste of time.  Jensen and Klein didn’t pencil it out, but if time is money, I wonder how much money that company lost in one employee’s wasted time.

Tools of the trade are important.  Not having the proper tools is inefficient and ineffective; having the proper tools but no training can be even more frustrating and wasteful.  Mismatched employees and equipment often leads to employees voting with their feet.

Admittedly, properly matching employees to tools and equipment is a major challenge.  Typically, a company skews the analysis in favor of itself, which makes intuitive sense since the company is footing the bill.  But, if equipment matching is not properly set, there can be a great cost for both individual and company.  In my experience, companies often buy Howitzers when a BB gun would be sufficient and employees complain that, without a Howitzer, they can’t perform, which is often incorrect.  The classic tale is a full loaded sales organization with high end laptops (e.g., the Howitzer) used primarily to play solitaire and occasionally write reports or update the CRM software (e.g., BB gun usage).   In other words, don’t give people materials and equipment they actually don’t need to do their job and do it well.

In handing out toys, remember to be careful of office politics.  When I worked for Amoco, by walking into someone’s office, I instantly knew where he or she sat in the corporate hierarchy.  For example, an office with a lockable door, four ceiling lights, credenza, sofa and stand-alone meeting table meant that person was exactly four rungs above me on the corporate ladder.  Be aware that, in today’s world, corporate toys (e.g., tools and equipment) give clues as to social standing.  Only the CEO has access to the corporate jet!

When possible, the best managers shift the equipment decision to the employee.  For example, they might ask how is this new tool or piece of equipment going to help the employee, the company and/or the customer/client.   With this broader approach, the manager can get out of the traditional “parent giving presents” role and allows for the employee to further own their own results.


Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”.  Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous large and small companies succeed, focusing on Finance, Law, Strategy and Operations since 1999.

©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. March 2015