In the last 10 years, employees in the tech industry had see an 80% increase in their wages while those who worked in the service industry only saw a 10% increase. This wage gap is often indicative of other things such as the lack of career mobility, agency, and overall health and wellness--which can all lead to an inability to grow.
We had the pleasure of working with PTG Linen Service, a commercial laundromat situated in San Leandro, with the goal of investing employee empowerment, entrepreneurship, and innovation as a means of growing PTG's business.
II. SOLUTION OVERVIEW
In these 8 months, we delved deep into this space and tackled various areas of opportunities by facilitating a workshop, defining values, refining the brand based on these values, prototyped a decision making framework--which all lead to various points of impact.
III. THE RESEARCH
To get a better understanding of the space, we set out to interview the employees at PTG. In total, we spoke with 16 employees, ranging from equity partners to general managers to the ground level employees (i.e. washers, folders, drivers).
It is also important to note that most of the ground level employees spoke mostly Spanish but we were lucky enough that one of our teammates, Sylvia, spoke Spanish and the office manager, Joanna, was also bilingual and was happy to help translate.
IV. THE INSIGHTS
After speaking with the employees and management, we realized that that many factors were at play and we derived three main insights.
1. Communication Gap
Leadership was inspired by grand goals of employee incubator while the employees who worked ground floor was struggling with pulling wet sheets out of the carts and management was focused on growing the business. The current system was a top down hierarchy that was very stable but also rigid in nature.
2. Inconsistent Feedback loop
There was little and no consistent form of feedback going from employees to management to leadership and so PTG was actually missing out on valuable information that their employees or management could know but have no way of communicating.
3. Systems, not Instances
So much of the necessary groundwork did not exist and this is when we realized that we needed to create a system that empowers and not instances of empowerment.
There was a misalignment of goals and a lack of a common language throughout the organization and in order to create a system that empowers, we first needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page.
V. THE WORKSHOP
We hosted a workshop with the intention of bringing everyone from all levels of PTG as a way of creating alignment but unfortunately, it was also the busiest season and they could not spare any of the ground level workers.
In this workshop, we defined PTG's values and also prototyped a decision making framework called Idea to Action, which leverages design thinking as a way of creating more opportunities for participation from ground level employees.
Together as a group, we identified goals and areas of opportunity PTG would like to work on and mapped out a plan on how to work towards that goal. This framework allowed us to identify the challenge, the people needed as well as resources needed and also encouraged PTG Linen Service to think beyond of just more capital and more in terms of people.
The biggest outcome of this workshop was the shift in the perspective of employee involvement. In the beginning, the CEO, was concerned about how employee participation may affect productivity and morale (in the cases where promises were thought to be made but not delivered).
But as an outcome of the workshop, he was beginning to consider to bring more ground levels employees into the decision making process; thereby, inverting that top-down, triangular hierarchy that was preventing PTG from becoming a more flexible but still stable organization.
This workshop also allowed us to test our decision making framework
VI. THE IMPACT
During the workshop, we used the framework as a way of identifying areas of opportunity and PTG Linen focused on improving their customer service. The main issue that came up during this discussion was how to streamline communication between drivers, the office manager, and the general manager regarding pickups and deliveries.
As one of the outcomes of the workshop, we were given the greenlight to prototype and test for a way that could streamline communication and prevent confusion. We decided to bring Joanna, the office manager, into our discussion as she plays a vital role in linking the employees with management.
We were focused on creating a space for Joanna to lead us through her challenge areas, prototype, and test with other employees. Joanna led a quick prototyping session with one of the drivers who immediately told us that our second idea would not work under any circumstances since it would not be able to keep up with the sheer volume of deliveries PTG gets.
This was actually very exciting as the valuable input from someone who worked on the ground floor saved us many days of work by simply knowing that it would not work.
As we left PTG Linen Service, we were still wondering how could we solve for this issue and so we started playing around with free resources which eventually led us to "hacking" QR codes and Google Forums as a way for PTG to scan and track data over a long period of time.
In addition to this, one of our goals from the workshop was to create alignment around goals and common language and not only have consensus around these items but also embody them externally to their clients but also internally to their employees. We accomplished this by creating opportunities for employee engagement and very recently, PTG Linen Service has secured a contract from Sonders because of these values PTG embodies.
VII. Our Learnings & Reflection
1. System Change Takes Time
We first came into this space very excited about all of the changes we were going to make but we soon realized the scope of the task we were trying to undertake.
System change takes time because it is about shifting perspectives, creating trust within communities, and encouraging behavioral change. All of this cannot be accomplished overnight without compromising on something else.
2. Trust the Process
Trusting the process meant being patient and this is incredibly important when working with communities in which you are an outsider, Even though we were itching to start working, we took a step back from the situtation and asked ourselves is this what the system really needed and who were we designing for,
3. Inward Reflection for Outward Success
When we first embarked on this journey, we took the time to map out a charter-like document for our team that detailed our ideal outcomes, goals, and wants for this project. We also did emotion check-in multiple times throughout the course of this project and this common language really helped us cultivate trust and success with this project.