I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t have business school training, or someone else’s money, or a killer app to get me started. In fact, in 2000 when I launched Insight Communications, apps didn’t exist. After many years in corporate communication leadership roles, I knew I wanted more. I left my job without a detailed plan. It was an eye opener. Gone was the status that came with my previous role, my dedicated assistant, and a cool Midtown office. My new office was my dining room table. And it turned out just great.
Now Insight Communications is 17 years old! That’s a remarkable milestone when 8 out 10 small businesses fail. Over the years, we transitioned from marketing communications to internal communications. In 2014, we branched out to hatch Nest Egg Communications, a boutique agency focused on ESOP and retirement communications.
None of it would be possible without the customers who have sustained us, challenged us, and inspired us along the way. I am so thankful to them, particularly to Clay Robbins at Oglethorpe Power who was our first customer.
To celebrate our birthday, we have a gift for you: Our viewpoint on communications that separates great workplaces from good ones. Enjoy!
Less is more. The secret to effective communications is keeping it simple. Resist the urge to add more superficial detail. Your audiences will pay attention.
Commitment at the top is the key to success. We’ve worked with both types of leadership teams -those that are aligned and those who just say they are. Your employees recognize when your leaders don’t walk the talk. Get in step.
Personal stories leave a handprint on the heart. The shortest distance between two people is a story. When you share a personal story, people pay attention and remember the point of your message.
Be credible. We’ve seen more than a few companies ballyhoo their fantastic culture externally, while internally, the high performers are beating it out the door. Respect your employees enough to tell the truth. Be brave enough to be transparent, even when the news isn’t good. The most successful businesses tell it straight and involve employees in solutions.
Make your employees the stars. Let’s face it; we’ve all seen enough of the CEO. How often do you hear from frontline employees? Make employees the stars of your internal communications, recruiting and social media. It will bring your brand to life for customers, partners, and new talent.
I’m sitting with friends in a mostly-empty Phillips Arena to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Boston Celtics. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. We weren’t really there to watch the game. We were there to get autographs from players, to hang out in freely-upgraded seats near the court (to try to mask the poor attendance to television viewers), and to troll the opponents as they walked to and from the locker room. Tickets were only $10, so it was a pretty cheap way to waste a Friday night in high school. The Hawks lost by 20. But to look on the bright side, Hawks employees gave us a box of inflatable thunder sticks (inflatable noisemakers) to take home. By the end of the season, the Hawks had won 13 games, and we’d won four boxes of thunder sticks and several items of game worn memorabilia — five shoes, two headbands, and a sock.
The NBA is a glamorous TV product that is played by some of the best athletes on the planet. But in Atlanta, the team was so bad that most of the “crowd” (and I use that term loosely) had to find ways outside the court’s lines to entertain themselves. If you did focus on the game, it was ugly. Not only did the team rack up poor results, but the quality of the play was terrible. Lots of standing around. Lots of one-on-one offense. And lots of complaining by players and coaches, which lead to the same by the fans.
Skip ahead to today, where the Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference and are the only team to have punched their ticket for the playoffs with a hefty 18 games still remaining in the regular season. They produced four all-stars — a club record. They’ve had a 19 game winning streak, tied for the sixth longest in NBA history. I never would have believed such success was possible 10 years ago.
The credit has to go to Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and the players who have adopted his “team first” mentality. His leadership is a perfect example to any leader in any walk of life on how to turn a team into something greater than the sum of its parts. The newly found success of the team is rooted in this philosophy. For example, instead of letting players pick their lockers, or ordering them numerically or alphabetically, “Coach Bud” strategically sat each player next to one teammate they could influence and one who could influence them. He instituted team dinners after road games. The examples go on, but maybe nothing signifies the adoption of his methods more than this excerpt reported by SI.com’s Lee Jenkins:
“Everyone is part of the shot,” [shooting guard Kyle] Korver says. “Everyone matters, and if you feel like you matter, you take ownership.”
That’s engagement, folks. Engagement isn’t about how fun your job is or how often you talk to your boss. It’s about your employees knowing that they matter. Employees who feel valued are more productive and happy people. This is what every boss should aim for, not just the ones on the hardcourt.
If you’re a business owner or you lead a team, take notes from Coach Bud. Think about the little things. Heck, even team meals and seating arrangements apply to many offices. Engage your team and you might discover that you have more all-stars than you thought.
If you work in any sort of white-collar environment, you’ve probably heard bosses ponder how to engage their workers, in particular, the youngest of those cutely nicknamed “Millennials.” The more experienced members of the labor force are often the first to tell you that Millennials are spoiled, lazy, etc. (Full Disclosure: I’m a Millennial) So what are the effects of having an unmotivated generation of workers, who’s problem is it, and how do we fix it?
While researching for this post, I came across an article on Forbes.com by Kathy Caprino entitled “Quit Trying to ‘Engage’ Millenials.” To summarize (or TL:DR for our Millennial readers), Mrs. Caprino states that Millennials can actually be productive members of your team, but only if they’re “properly managed” (sounds like engagement to me). However, I found this quote from her piece shocking:
“Your Millennials chose to apply for a job with your company and probably want to succeed or, at minimum, keep their jobs. They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.”
This is an extremely poor characterization of not just Millennials, but anyone coming to work for a company. I will give Caprino a pass though, considering she goes on to describe ways “to attract, manage and retain [read: engage] Gen Y effectively.”
Millennials aren’t different from any other generation in that we all need to be engaged in what we do to be the most effective. Robert Hall, author of “The Disengagement Economy,” recently blogged about the engagement crisis we are facing. Below is a summary of his findings:
Gallup reports 70 percent of employees are not engaged in their work, 18 percent of which are actively disengaged. What’s even more disturbing is that this trend is following workers out of the office. Divorce rates have doubled over the past five decades. Divorced men are depressed at six times the rate of those who aren’t. Marriage is down 50 percent since 1970. Single-parent families have jumped 700% since the 1970s. And to bring it back to the youngsters, Millennials are rejecting marriage, political parties, religious affiliation, corporate organizations and trust in others at unprecedented levels. What’s the cost of all this disengagement, you ask? Researchers estimate $4.7 trillion.
Now think again about Caprino’s article, “Quit trying to engage Millennials.” I don’t know about you, but it infuriates me that people think this way. That leaders think it’s not their job to motivate. It’s not their job to sacrifice for lower earners. That, to quote Caprino again, “They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.” Pretty infuriating, right?
The onus of engagement is on the leaders of businesses. Someone shouldn’t be called a leader because they have a fancy title. They should be called a leader because they motivate, empathize and inspire their colleagues.
I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin last month with my family and we visited Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. My husband is a Wisconsin native and a recovering Packers fan. My father-in-law attended the legendary Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship between Green Bay and Dallas. He credits a flask of brandy in his coat pocket with keeping him alive that day.
Lambeau Field is a beautiful facility with a gift shop as large as an elementary school. Right out front is a statue of Vince Lombardi, the former coach. I’m very familiar with Vince, not because I’m a Packers fan, but because I’ve used his quotes on teamwork and leadership countless times over my career.
To win five NFL champions, you need great talent, strong fundamentals, and more than your share of good luck, but there are two elements that are required. You can’t win without teamwork and leadership.
Businesses are looking for the formula that helps their managers become better leaders and employees more engaged. Leadership is not about one thing, it’s about everything: creating a specific vision, setting measurable goals, listening and asking for input, inspiring your team to work together and succeed, recognizing and celebrating success. If there was a simple, one-time solution, everyone would use it. Leadership is an ongoing process that requires daily attention.
Although Vince Lombardi passed more than 40 years ago, his perspective on leadership still resonates. Take a look at a few of his quotes and let them inspire you to be a more effective leader.
“Individual commitment to a team effort is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work. “
“Leaders aren’t born; they are made, just like anything else through hard work.”
“Leadership is based on a spiritual quality—the power to inspire.”
“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can attain excellence.”
“The key to success is heart power. Capture the hearts of people you are leading, connect their hearts to your goals and nothing will be impossible for you.”
How have you been a leader in the past? Did leadership advice from greats like Vince Lombardi help you? Share your story with me! Contact Maureen at email@example.com.
I recently participated in a panel discussion for business owners and entrepreneurs hosted by the University of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Program. Our businesses varied, from retail and professional services to banking and healthcare. No two businesses were alike.
Here’s the part that interested me the most: When asked to share their most challenging business issue, it wasn’t business growth, technology costs or the pace of change that drove the conversation. It was people. Nearly every business owner identified people issues as their number one challenge.
They talked about the lack of buy-in for programs and systems. They talked about hiring the right people for the job, and then losing them once they were fully trained. They talked about how difficult it is to motivate front line employees.
Employee engagement is vital whether you run billion dollar business or a mom and pop shop. Your employees are the face of your business to customers. To win their hearts and minds is no small achievement, but it can be done without throwing money at the problem.
A recent Gallup Survey, The State of the American Workplace 2013, states that 70% of American workers are “actively disengaged” and not working to their full potential. Those with the lowest engagement in any occupation are service employees who are on the front line serving customers.
What can we all do to build engagement? Few of us can offer the rich perks offered by Google (like free food, haircuts and fitness training), but there are lots of ways to build pride and engagement. Here are just a few low cost, but effective opportunities:
Hire the right managers. You can talk about how much you love your employees and what a great culture you’re building but your managers must deliver that every day. If they don’t walk the talk, credibility is lost. My favorite former boss used to say great leaders have a balance of skills and style and both are equally important. Don’t hire an individual who is technically superior but can’t motivate and connect with their team. That type of person will drive off your best people.
Say thank you. It doesn’t cost anything to say thank you. Why don’t business leaders say it more often? Recently a business owner told me he often sent thank you notes to clients, but it hadn’t occurred to him to send them to his team. Try it. It works.
Tap into the power of philanthropy. People feel good about helping others. Find a charity that is a good fit with your business and your people will take it from there. Their creativity will amaze you. There are 1.3 million charities in America, and every community has a public school that needs volunteers. Better yet, ask your people what they would like to support. Set up a volunteer work day or fundraiser and see what a meaningful impact it has on your people.
Ask for feedback. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, built his brand on four little words, “How am I doing?” Be sure you have a feedback channel for bottom-to-top, instead of top-to-bottom communication. Whether it’s as simple as regularly scheduled staff meetings or a direct email box for ideas and questions, set up a way for employees to interact with management. Then take action. There’s nothing more discouraging than to share your ideas and issues and nothing changes.
Promote healthy lifestyles. Rising healthcare costs are a critical issue for all of us. You can show employees you care by supporting wellness activities. Start with healthier snacks in the break rooms and vending machines. Form an employee Wellness Committee. Celebrate with those who meet their wellness goals and encourage everyone to get healthier.