The One Problem in Business We Can’t Seem to Solve

A Powerful Visual

On Monday night, two AFC East football rivals played under the lights. The New England Patriots had traveled to take on the New York Jets. New England took an early lead and seemed to be dominating their opponent in every phase of the game. While leading 24-0, head coach Bill Belichick called his entire defense together to “coach them up” on the sidelines.

What was remarkable was watching the players. Every eye was on Coach Belichick. They listen to every word and nodded in agreement. It was a powerful visual moment. Even though they were winning, Belichick knew they could do better and he challenged them. It was an image of an engaged leader and an engaged team.

The Challenge

I’ve been in managing people for nearly 30 years and one of the biggest challenges has always been getting people engaged in the business. How do you get them fired up, excited, and actively helping you achieve the organizational goals?

The Gallup organization famously does a survey every year to measure the amount of employee engagement around companies in North America. The thing they find consistently year-after-year is that 70% of employees are typically disengaged at work. It’s a number that doesn’t change. In all the improvements we have made in leadership and business, we haven’t been able to solve this one problem. Overall employee engagement is poor and it isn’t getting any better.

Overall employee engagement is poor and it isn’t getting any better. Click To Tweet

The question is, why are a vast majority of employees just clocking in and out without any desire to get involved with their employer?

A Monster We Created

The sad thing is that when most employees first come to work at any new job, they are excited. They want to be involved and engaged. For many, this is their dream job and they have spent years in school or in training becoming qualified for this role. They want to make a difference and be part of the team.

What ends up happening is these new employees quickly become disillusioned.

They work for bosses who are too busy to lead – bosses who ignore them, don’t listen to their ideas and don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. And most leaders don’t understand how their actions affect their people. These wide-eyed, excited, new employees get slapped in the face with the cold, hard reality of leadership in Corporate America. And after a while, many new employees just give up.

They say to themselves, “You know what, I’m just going to do my job, keep my mouth shut and go home.”

The problem with employee disengagement is that it’s a monster we created. We built this. It’s the leadership in Corporate America that took excited, engaged, happy employees and turned them into apathetic, sarcastic, and discouraged workers who are just trying to make it through the day.

The clear problem with employee engagement in business today is leadership (or the lack thereof).

Back to Basics

You might be surprised to learn there have been more than 15,000 books written on the subject of leadership. It seems our knowledge of leadership has never been stronger. It also seems like our practice of leadership remains subpar and it’s getting worse. The busier we get as leaders, the less time we have to spend with our people. In a time where we are all connected digitally, we are becoming more disconnected on a personal level.

In a time where we are all connected digitally, we are becoming more disconnected on a personal level. Click To Tweet

If we want to solve this problem, it’s time to get back to the basics of leadership. Leadership is simple – It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. There are three main elements: people, influence, and goals. Do you know what’s not on this list? E-mails or meetings.

The average manager today is too busy to lead. Many business leaders come into work and they have full inboxes and long to-do lists. They spend the morning banging out e-mails because they have meetings to get to. They have back-to-back meetings then head out to lunch with a customer or vendor. By two in the afternoon, they still haven’t even seen any members of their team. And the process repeats itself the next day.

Most managers are forgetting about people, influence, and goals. And most employees feel their manager just doesn’t care.

We have to remember that leadership is a people business.

Make a Change Today

The first step in solving this problem is to recognize that, as leaders, we are in the people business. We have a team of people who work for us and we need to engage them. Just like Coach Belichick, if we want engaged employees, we need to be an engaged leader! That’s the bottom line.

If we want engaged employees, we need to be an engaged leader! Click To Tweet

As a leader, you can never underestimate the power of your presence. So be present!

Physically push yourself away from your desk. Even if you’re swamped with work, get into the workplace and talk to people. See what’s going on. Engage your team!

Try this out for the next two weeks and see if it makes a difference in your organization. Focus on people, influence, and goals. You’ll be surprised by the results.

If you are striving to become a better leader, get a copy of my Amazon best selling bookI have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

7 Keys to Engaging Your Employees

In my last post, I was asked how to grab the leadership bull by the horns when you suddenly find yourself thrust into a new position.

And I said the first 100 days are critical.

To review, you’ve got to have a plan, you’ve got to have dialogue…and as many one-on-one meetings as possible!  If you haven’t read my comments yet, you can find them here.

Moving on…

Here are 7 more ways to “ace” that first 100 days:

1. Set expectations early. People want to know what you stand for.  Let them know what’s important to you as a leader. I typically send a list of my top 10 expectations to my team in the first few weeks.

The worst thing you can do is leave them guessing.

2. Set an example. Your minimum behaviors will be your team’s maximum performance. If you expect people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you expect managers to get out of their offices, you need to be out of your office. If you expect people to wear their safety equipment, you need to wear your safety equipment.

It’s simple.

You can’t lead people where you yourself aren’t willing to go!

3. Signal your priorities.  If you spend the first two hours of each day on your computer and not with your team, they’ll notice. They’ll assume they’re not as important as your e-mail. If you’re all about the inventory numbers and not the on-time delivery results, they’ll think you don’t care about customers.

Always be aware…

Your actions telegraph your intentions.

4. Create a buzz.  Do something to get everyone talking. Make it dramatic enough that it gets the point across instantly.  Here’s an example.  In one manufacturing plant, I had the maintenance team paint over all the signs for the reserved parking spaces for managers…mine included!

The message was clear:

No special treatment.

We’re in this together.

5. Communicate with employees regularly.  Look, leadership changes can make people uneasy.  Your employees will want to know, will there be any organization changes? What are your initial observations? How are things going?

TIP: Send a weekly e-mail to your team.

Let them know what you’re seeing and what they can expect. If there’s any void in communication, worry, speculation, and rumors will spring up in its stead.

6. Create the mood. Attitude is contagious. You need to be upbeat and “on your game” when you’re around your team – no matter what’s going on for you personally. Be empathetic when you have serious issues to deal with, of course.  But if you’re consistently upbeat and in good spirits, the team will mirror your energy.

A leader who’s quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive or sarcastic, will suck the life out of any team. Always think about what mood you’re conveying.

7. Cast a vision. At the end of the first 100 days, your team’s strengths and weaknesses will be evident. The goal now is to communicate your vision for the future. Know where you want to go. Let your team “see” your vision in a way that’s clear and concise.

Setting the tone early is critical.

All eyes are on you as the new leader, so make it count.

Create a buzz, set an example, show your priorities, establish the mood and most of all…

BE PRESENT.

All of the above will save your gluteus maximus down the line if and when you need to work as a team on the tough issues.

That’s all for today.

One more thing, if you haven’t already, be sure to get your copy of my book I Have The Watch by going here.

And if you buy it before October 30, 2019, and send me your receipt, I’ll send you a special 20-minute video interview I recorded called “Engage Your People, Or Die” that contains some of my best “shotgun” tricks for quickly bringing your team on side when your survival depends on it…because it does!

This recording is NOT for sale anywhere.

And I honestly think it’s some of my most valuable content on the subject…not that I’m biased or anything. 😉

I could probably charge as much as $49 for the video, but it’s yours FREE if you buy the book and send me your receipt by October 30th at 11:59 PM.  Grab your copy today!

The Mission-Minded Leader

It Starts with the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. They understand the importance of clear, concise, and continuous communications with their teams. These leaders know how critical it is to get everyone rowing in the same direction. They appreciate the significance of getting people to recognize and carry out the organization’s mission.

So, why do most leaders forget to talk about their mission? Why are most mission statements ignored?

The problem is that most mission statements are typically long, complicated, and boring. They are written by committees and end up sitting in binders on dusty shelves or in cheap frames in the company’s lobby. Few have ever read them and even fewer can recite them. They’re completely irrelevant to the day-to-day operation of the business.

Mission-minded leaders know that when everyone knows the mission, there is cadence. When no one knows the mission, there is chaos.

But what if there was a better way? What if there was a simple method to embed the organization’s mission in everyday discussions? What if there was an easy way to get everyone on the same page?

This can be done and it’s easier than you think. Let me give you an example.

An Unforgettable Mission Statement

More than 20 years ago, my wife was a first-year teacher working at a small public school in Georgia. She had an amazing principal who was leading that school. The school had a mission to maximize the instruction time for each student. He wanted teachers to teach and not conduct other school business. He found a simple way to communicate his mission and it took just four words. In every meeting and interaction with his teachers, he simply said, “get up and teach.”

If teachers found themselves grading homework or working on lesson plans when the students were in the classroom, he wanted his words to remind them of what to do. He wanted them to put down their pens, get up out of their chairs, and teach students. Four simple words, “get up and teach,” was all he needed to communicate the mission.

What’s interesting is that all these years later, my wife still has those words echoing in her ears. Anytime she sits down in the classroom and she’s doing something other than teaching, her former leader’s words come to her. If she’s grading a paper or doing some administrative work, she hears his words, “get up and teach,” so she does. She puts down her pen, gets up, and she teaches because she knows that’s really what she’s there to do. These four simple words have stood the test of time. A mission statement she will never forget.

A Mission to be Different

This is something I have adopted in my business.

I run a manufacturing company called Peak Demand Inc. which I co-founded in 2016. We started this company because we believed that customers were tired of the existing suppliers in the industry. Lead times were long, prices were high, customer support was poor, and the buying process was complex. We wanted to change that. This was our mission.

We chose four simple words to communicate that mission. I remind employees daily that we are a “different kind of supplier.” Our mission is to provide something to the market that they can’t get from the other guys.

For example, other suppliers take 4-6 weeks to ship their product, we do it in 24 hours. Other suppliers have complex buying processes but you can order our products online and pay with a credit card if needed. If anything goes wrong in the field, the other guys make it hard to get it resolved. We have people on the phone 24 hours a day with the goal of getting the problem fixed as quickly as possible.

We’re different. We’re customer-driven, friendly, and we make things easy. When an issue comes up with a customer, I want my words echoing in the ears of my employees. When they start thinking like a big company, I want my words to remind them. I want them to choose a solution that would be different from the rest of the industry. I want them to be a “different kind of supplier.” It’s a quick and simple way to remind everyone of what the mission of our company is.

Internalizing the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. To be more effective as a leader, you need to communicate your mission daily. To do this, all you need is a simple, easy-to-remember way, to remind your employees of what’s important. Think about my wife, more than 20 years later, she is still reminded of those four simple words, get up and teach.” She’s still following them today even though she’s no longer part of that leader’s organization.

Great leaders are mission-minded. 

Make your mission statement so simple and so effective that when your employees hear it, they get it. They internalize it. It becomes part of who they are. If you do that, you’re going to build a mission-driven organization and be a much more effective leader.

Can you communicate your mission in just four words? Will your team remember it 20 years from now?  Mission-minded leaders answer yes to both these questions.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

[Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Edward Guttierrez III/Released]