Monroe Wheelchair opens up

Thursday, October 28, 2010

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Rehab provider Doug Westerdahl has given his sales numbers a boost by doing something relatively simple: Being more open with his employees.

Earlier this year, Westerdahl, president of Monroe Wheelchair, began sharing certain financial indicators with his 72 employees, a practice outlined in John Case's book "Open Book Management." He met with employees by department to define and review the indicators, and to offer ideas for making improvements.

"After doing this for a few months, we had a month where we did $200,000 more in sales than my projections thought we would do," he said.

The financial indicators that Westerdahl shares are sales, gross profit, net income before taxes (for each of its three locations), sales per full-time employee (quarterly and yearly), collections vs. sales, days sales outstanding and turnover.

But the impact of Westerdahl's openness has been about more than just numbers, he says.

"There's more spirit and enthusiasm in the company," he said. "I tell employees, 'Please use this as a reminder that just because you've been doing something the same way for the last five years doesn't mean there isn't a better way of doing it. Be open-minded about your job.'"

Westerdahl realizes that the idea of sharing financials with employees may make some providers squeamish. What if employees become resentful when they, for example, put their salaries in the context of a company's gross profit?

"We talk a lot about the importance of profits," Westerdahl said. "All business owners borrow money from banks and those banks need to see a profit to continue lending money."

Now that Westerdahl shares financial indicators with employees and trains them on how to use the indicators to the company's advantage his next move, which he'll likely tackle in 2011: implementing a profit-sharing or bonus program.

"We didn't really have a problem that we were trying to fix with this--we're not making much money, but we're making enough," he said. "This was a way to make things even better and the initial indications are that it's working very, very well."