Guest Blog: Hard-Won Lessons in Creating, Inspiring an Engaged Team

The average adult spends 65 percent of his or her waking hours at work. Yet according to the most recent studies, 13 percent of workers worldwide (that’s less than 1 in 7) describe themselves as engaged, committed, and making positive contributions to their workplace.​
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The average adult spends 65 percent of his or her waking hours at work. Yet according to the most recent studies, 13 percent of workers worldwide (that’s less than 1 in 7) describe themselves as engaged, committed, and making positive contributions to their workplace.

Ignoring low engagement means ignoring its consequences: more mistakes, greater rates of absenteeism, higher turnover, and poor customer service (leading to lost clients). Gallup, the public opinion research firm, estimates that these add up to $350 billion in lost productivity and missed business opportunities every year.

For starters, think about your company’s people, not employees. I played a lot of basketball in college and I still think in terms of teammates. No one can do it all, all on their own. Don’t aspire to be the boss in the old school, “because I said so” way. Give your teammates authority, so long as they accept the responsibility that goes along with it, including the responsibility to encourage and inspire everyone around them.

Your goal is to create a work environment where the enthusiasm for what you do and who you do it for is so infectious that it becomes a power of its own. Yes, it starts at the top and goes to the team leaders throughout the company, then carries on down. But I can’t manage more than 1,200 people to my standards (I don’t know anyone who can). Your workers — the people who do the work for you — have to adopt your ideals for themselves and hold their teammates to them earnestly. Once they do, you don’t have to run the team — the team will run itself.

The ultimate goal, or my definition of success, is to have total integration of leaders and teams. Each is only as good as the other, so I want to see complete commitment from both sides. I also want to see honest, thoughtful communication, a sense of fun, mutual encouragement, and an all-in obligation coupled with honest, yes-we-can positivity.

Creating, supporting and communicating that vision is my responsibility. I get everyone on the same page — literally — by writing things down and posting them for all to see. We have a company constitution that dominates our office décor and details the six pillars of our business: people, service, long-term relationships over short-term profits, personal accountability, continuous improvement, and good, enjoyable work.

You owe it to your people to tell them what you expect and to hold them accountable to those standards. But as any leader who has sent out endless memos will know, a written directive is not enough. You also need to be able to walk the talk. Highlight the employees who demonstrate the company ideals — not just parrot them back to management. At the end of the year, we celebrate the employees who make each of our brand pillars real. They deserve the recognition — and the trophy that goes with it. We also tell people when they’re not measuring up, and come up with a plan to get them back on the right path.

Leaders are responsible for direction and goal setting, but they also have to find out what their people contribute to the organization. Find out what they’re about — what gets them going, makes them tick, all that stuff that may seem trite or beside the point at other companies, but is critical to keeping your business on top. When one of our leaders asked a teammate recently why he worked so hard, the teammate turned to the picture of his three kids on his desk, and said, “Because of them. They’re why.” Now we know where his motivation comes from, and what we can expect from him if times get tough: a lot.

Family matters. So do friends, hobbies, callings, past times, causes, and relaxation. Support your people in doing what they love and they will support your business goals. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that more money will secure their loyalty. Money is important, but it is one tool of motivation and praise, not the whole package. Treat your people with respect, give them a chance to live their life outside of work, and reward them for what they do for you.

Maybe the easier road is to ignore low engagement, to pretend that people aren’t miserable when they come in the office door, and don’t grumble behind your back as soon as you’ve left the room. But providing motivation and improving morale isn’t just for the feel-good benefits — it has real-world, business consequences.

Mat Ishbia is president and CEO of United Shore, a mortgage-lending firm in Troy.

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