People: The Floating Device During Wavy Economic Times

Katherine Mehr

While the economy is in a recession and companies are making budget cuts to training and other functions within HR, Replacements, Ltd. continues to keep its company afloat by focusing on its main source of success—its people.

"If you treat employees right, they will bring your vision to life," said Scott Fleming, president of the dinnerware retailer Replacements, Ltd.

This is the culture that CEO Bob Page instilled throughout the company from the founding in 1981 and continues daily.

According to Fleming, the culture of employee appreciation, growth and diversity is key to the success of Replacements, Ltd. "Giving the employees the opportunity to feel comfortable in the workplace and have the opportunity to excel is important," he said.

The emphasis is always on the people—on helping them make a connection and achieve their career goals. By focusing on people, productivity and performance increase. When employees feel appreciated and fit within the organization, they’ll believe in the goals of the company as well, which leverages overall performance.

Replacements, Ltd. also stresses the importance of diversity, which adds to its unique culture. During the interview process, new hires are informed of the work environment and its "Champion Diversity" program. The company employs approximately 50 to 100 gay and lesbian workers. "We talk to folks about how you are judged on merits of your performance," Fleming said. "We believe in customer service. If you are ‘too good’ to make a phone call, this is not your company to be in."

Fleming and his team created many initiatives that focus on the people side of the business. Within the first few months of employment, the management team holds a Q&A session with the employees to talk about their hobbies and other unconventional information.

"We found that to be a great process," Fleming said. "It’s an informal step. I think it humanizes employees. They see Bob [Page], myself and other leaders as human beings; and sharing personal information about where we were born, where we grew up and whatever else is unique is always beneficial."

It’s also a good way to get to know the employees, which is important for an organization. "When you know someone as a person, [you are] not making decisions on just an entity in the company," Fleming said. He goes one step further to show his gratitude by writing notes acknowledging life events such as having a baby and other milestones and successes.

In helping the employees grow, the company also focuses on career pathing and leadership and offers many avenues to leverage learning and knowledge. For example, it holds "lunch and learns" that talk about anything from winterizing your lawn to minimizing your finances. It has a corporate university where all employees can gain additional training.

Senior management are not only engaged with their employees, but they also aren’t opposed to getting their hands dirty. Management is involved in every aspect of the business. You can find the president, the CEO and other leaders in the warehouse unpacking dishes alongside the rest of their crew. Fleming said he wouldn’t ask anyone to do a job that he wouldn’t do himself.

Fleming stressed that it is important for all managers to hold various posts throughout the organization, and he believes—since he held many posts himself—that this helped him become a leader, achieve his success and climb the corporate ladder.

"By having managers move laterally they are gaining skills, knowledge and experience, which helps the company in the long run," Fleming said. "The more you are exposed to [the different areas of the organization] the more value you can add to the company."

In supporting leaders to be efficient in their role and manage to the best of their ability, Replacements, Ltd. recently incorporated a mandatory leadership training course to inform every manager how they should conduct themselves and how to effectively lead others.

Headcount has been down over the past seven years, but Fleming said the organization is doing more in sales. He contributes this to having great people performing well, which allows them to do more with less.

Replacements, Ltd. shares its employees’ successes and goals. Fleming and his team take pride in their people—helping them become top performers and continuously grow professionally.

"It’s a journey," Fleming said. "It’s never a place where you just finally arrive."

First published on Human Resources IQ.