When All American Window and Door Company was not selected for a National Remodeling Quality Award in 2001, the home improvement company asked why. Part of the reason, according to President Terri Lodwick, was that the company didn’t manage and measure processes by enough statistics.
That answer motivated Lodwick to start a job-swap program to engage her employees and improve overall company performance by promoting an understanding of each person’s responsibilities and contributions to the whole organization. “We wanted to give everybody a hands-on view of each others’ job duties, [so they could gain] a greater appreciation and understanding of each team member,” she said. “We also wanted to strengthen our customer service and take [our company] to the next level of excellence.”
In a job swap, two employees from different departments exchange jobs for a certain time period. At All American Window and Door, every one of Lodwick’s 22 employees completes up to 40 hours of job-swap training annually. The swaps are done in four-hour periods.
When establishing the program, Lodwick determined that the company should look more closely at the statistics surrounding the company’s error rates and cycle times for turning around customer contracts. To successfully monitor those elements, employees had to know each others’ job responsibilities.
“The only way that statistics and measuring was going to work was if each employee understood why he needed to know that,” she said. “So we set about in company meetings a conversation of how are we going to get there, with everybody understanding what’s going on, not just in their little cubicle, but in the whole entire company.”
The staff helped create an Excel spreadsheet, which listed all the employees and the positions that were going to be swapped. These included the office, service department, installation department, sales and a stint with Lodwick as the owner.
After an employee completed a job swap session, they had to fill out a questionnaire, which asked the following:
- Describe what you did on your job swap today.
- What did you learn / observe today?
- What questions do you have about the process you observed?
- What suggestions do you have for the process you observed?
- What impressed you most about the person or the process today?
- What is the biggest obstacle this person faced today, and how did they overcome it?
The questionnaire has recently been updated to include additional questions such as “What specifically do I do to hinder this person in their job?” and “What specifically do I do to help this person in their job?”
A benefit of having employees fill out a questionnaire after observing another job was that employees often provided a fresh perspective for the job.
“We were able to really look at things from everybody’s suggestions and make some really big changes,” she said. “All it did was to make us better.”
For example, the company improved the cycle time for their contracts by analyzing the data culled from the employee questionnaires. As a result, customer order turnaround was reduced from six to eight weeks to four to six weeks.
“If we can shorten internal processes and deliver exceptional service every time, we accomplish great things,” Lodwick said. “A high level of employee satisfaction, teamwork and cooperation translates into great customer service. Happy employees convey happiness to customers.”
Because of cross training at the company, Lodwick also can easily continue operating if an employee has to take a leave of absence for personal reasons or an emergency. For example, when a team member went on sick leave, she divided the workload among multiple employees. One person took over product ordering; another reviewed job contracts; a third took over scheduling with the homeowners; and others helped with the paperwork and check processing.
“It makes it so that everybody fills in and there’s not a grudging thing. It’s not an attitude of, ‘Ugh, I have to do her work,’ because we’re in it as a team. We’re in it together,” Lodwick said.
As a result of the job-swap program, employees also have identified tasks they would enjoy taking on as well as jobs they would not like to learn. This has allowed Lodwick to shift job responsibilities as needed.
“Challenging employees to grow and providing an environment which allows that makes us successful,” she said. “Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each employee means there is no secrets among employees with job duties. If an employee is repeatedly struggling with a task, perhaps it’s best to give it to someone who will enjoy doing it.”
Lodwick believes companies should implement job-swap programs because the experience helps strengthen employee skills and builds teamwork.
“When the employees identify something that can be done better and they create the solution, you know you have empowered and engaged employees,” she said. “My goal has always been to keep communication lines open between employees and take away the fear of making mistakes or the guarding of one’s job.”
She also attributes her on-going job swap program as part of the reason for the company’s success. Since the program started, they’ve won awards such as the Better Business Bureau Torch Award in Wisconsin in 2009 and were named business of the year in their community.—Amalia Deligiannis