Challenging Your Employees

Posted by on Feb 23, 2013 | 0 comments

You can’t run an effective business without them, but how do you run the best business with them?  That’s the question when it comes to employees.

We all know we need clear job descriptions, and that we need to match a qualified person to the job. It’s not that simple though, because we’re all people who bring our own wants, needs and desires to our jobs.  We’re people, not machines.

Here is what Gordon Bethune of Continental Airlines had to say about this:

“But I like to think that a lot of managers and executives trying to solve problems miss the forest for the trees by forgetting to look at their people — not at how much more they can get from their people or how they can more effectively manage their people. I think they need to look a little more closely at what it’s like for their people to come to work there every day.”

Think about the employees who come to your company everyday.  What do they want to give and receive from this work?  Whether this person is a full time employee, a temp or even one of your contractors who provide a necessary service to your business, they generally all want to do a good job and be appreciated for the job they do.

To be sure, there are some employees who simply work to live and are completely indifferent to your business.  These are the ones you hope to identify and weed out quickly.  Most of your employees though, while they may not “live to work,” are not indifferent about their work or your business.  These employees don’t come to work thinking , “I hope I can be mediocre in my performance today and get paid for it anyhow.” They really want to make a difference and make a positive contribution in their workplace.positive attitude

If you are wondering why you as a business owner should care about the attitude your employees bring to their work, consider David Maister’s research as he reports in his book Practice What You Preach.  He states that the most financially successful businesses do better than the rest on virtually every aspect of employee attitudes, and those that do best on employee attitudes are measurably more profitable.  He further points out that employee attitude actually drives financial results, and not the other way around.

So how do we challenge our employees to bring their best attitudes in the performance of their duties?

I’ve found these ideas from The Principa Alliance group to be valuable guidance for bringing about the best attitudes and performance.

  • Clear Vision – insuring that everyone in your organization knows the company’s vision in simple terms makes it meaningful and inspiring.  It should describe what the business does and what it looks like when it’s complete.  This is the business owner’s method of “setting the bar”.  It establishes the basis for giving employees a sense of winning – the thing to measure against to satisfy our own desire to win.
  • Valuable Jobs – all of us want to know that our efforts add value to the company and its customers.  We want to be an integral part of winning!  Every job description then needs to be related to what we accomplish in our business and what we provide to our customers.  From the clean up crew who never sees the customer, to the salesperson who sees customers daily and all of those in between; each person needs to understand how their job relates to making the business successful.
  • The Right Environment – it seems we shouldn’t need to even say this, but having a positive environment produces positive results!  I’ve been in offices where you can actually feel the tension, and if I, who am not prone to noticing such things, could feel this, then every  customer could feel it too!   Practice encouraging your employees publicly when you see them doing something well – and look for this on a regular basis.   Promote an environment where everyone is encouraged to speak honestly and know they will be treated fairly and with respect.  There are many challenges in this area for managers, as each manager sets the tone and must consistently act with integrity.  We all know that our actions speak louder than our words, so we must practice to correct our attitudes and be the encouraging employer/manager than we need to be.
  • Encourage Team Experimentation and Innovation even though it means Change – Change makes many employees nervous and unsettled, which is not a great environment for a positive attitude.  Yet encouraging employees to think with other team members about how processes might improve, or what new technology or new innovation might make a more efficient or more pleasurable customer experience, creates an environment that encourages people to work together to achieve the vision and be excited about doing it.
  • Be a Team Player – This is practically cliché now, yet it is critical in accomplishing goals.  In a leadership training class I attended years ago, we performed several decision making exercises on our own.  Then we formed teams and went through these exercises again.  Without exception in the whole class there was not one exercise that was better with one person only making the decisions when compared to the decisions produced by a team.   Until that time, I rarely asked for input from my staff on business decisions.  This dramatically illustrated why I needed to change and become a team player and allow my team to contribute on all of the important decisions that drive our business.

So while employees can be challenging, we need to realize that employees need to be challenged, just as we, the owners and managers do.  Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric put it this way: “The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.”

A version of this post was recently published in the Sacramento Business Journal :

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