The Forgotten Employee is your Greatest Asset

Did you know the most senior sailor on a nuclear submarine will back up the most junior sailor in an emergency?

It certainly was a surprise to my recent podcast guest, Jeff Akin.

When Jeff was a young sailor training to be a helmsman on the USS La Jolla, he heard something he would never forget. The Chief of the Boat, a man who had been in the Navy for nearly 20 years, told him:

“If it ever goes down and something bad happens to you, the first thing I’ll do is leave my post and take over yours.”

He said, “A submarine can operate without a Chief of the Boat, but it cannot operate without a helmsman.”

Jeff realized at that very moment how important his job was. His work was so critical that he would be replaced with the most senior watchstander on the boat if something happened to him.

On a submarine at sea, every sailor is essential to achieving the mission.

Even the most junior sailor.

This is also true in the business world. Every employee is essential to achieving the mission.

Every employee is essential to achieving the mission. Click To Tweet

But, unlike a submarine crew, most company managers don’t see junior employees as vital to their success.

Consider this.

Employees in positions like factory workers, customer service representatives, cashiers, and service technicians are mostly taken for granted.

They are often referred to as “headcount” or labor expenses. They are considered replaceable and non-critical. They are the first to be let go or automated away.

Very few companies see these employees for what they really are – critical to achieving the mission.

In fact, these forgotten employees are your greatest assets.

They are the ones interfacing directly with customers. They are taking orders, building components, making repairs, shipping products, and collecting cash.

In short – they are your company’s front line.

They are adding value to your products, your business, and your customers every day.

A company can function without a manager, but it cannot operate without front-line workers.

A company can function without a manager, but it cannot operate without front-line workers. Click To Tweet

So, the question is – what are you doing to support these critical employees? Are you showing them the respect they deserve, or are you taking them for granted?

Stephen R. Covey said it best, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”

Today, take the time to remind your front-line employees how mission-critical they are. It may be the first time they have ever heard that from a leader.

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Listen to my full interview with Jeff Akin here and pick up a signed copy of my latest leadership book. It will teach you better ways to engage employees and achieve more remarkable results.

Spirit of the Squirrel

Did you know that squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter?

That’s why they work so hard in the fall.

Food is scarce in the colder months so they prepare by finding and burying large stores of acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts.

So, what does this have to do with leadership?

Everything.

You see, squirrels don’t see their hard work in fall as hard work at all. They see it as important and worthwhile. If they don’t put in this effort, they will starve in the winter.

The spirit of the squirrel is this – worthwhile work.

Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it’s important. You know how your work affects the big picture so you are motivated to get it done right. It’s a simple concept I learned years ago in a book called Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it's important. Click To Tweet

The problem is that most bosses don’t take time to help employees connect their work to the bigger picture.

I saw this at one manufacturing plant I led when I first arrived. We were producing 15,000-volt circuit breakers for electric utilities to ensure the power stayed on.

When I first asked employees what they did, they would tell me they drilled holes, ran a CNC machine, or plated parts.

Management hadn’t connected their work to the bigger picture.

As far as they knew, they were just making widgets in a factory.

So, we set about to change that by teaching and showing employees how the products they produced were vitally important to the electrical grid and what would happen if there was a failure of one of our products in the field.

It didn’t happen overnight, but in time, the employees at this plant began to understand that their work was important, their work was worthwhile. There was pride in what they were doing.

Instead of making widgets, they were helping keep the lights on.

Like a squirrel in the fall, their motivation changed. Their work was now connected to the bigger picture. They realized how important their work really was.

I tell this story because I was reminded of this simple concept in a recent podcast episode I did with Max Hourigan.

Max is a company commander in the Army National Guard.

His company of infantrymen was called up to respond to the COVID crisis. His entire team of soldiers was converted into COVID testers. They were trained to become medical personnel and to man mobile testing centers during the initial wave of the pandemic.

When I asked Max how his soldiers responded to being asked to go to the front lines of a global pandemic and act as medical personnel, his answer sounded familiar.

He said – at first they were concerned. They were worried about their health and that of their families. Being on the front lines meant possibly being exposed to this deadly virus. They also had apprehensions about being trained to conduct medical tests.

Over time, though, they all realized how their work impacted the bigger picture.

They realized they were helping to stop the spread of this virus.

They were proud of what they were doing.

Their work was important. They were doing worthwhile work.

The questions I have for you are this – Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Do they feel they are doing worthwhile work?

Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Click To Tweet

If you haven’t, you need to start today.

Connecting employees’ work to the bigger picture changes their perspective.

Nobody wants to be just a cog in the wheel. They want to know the work they are doing has meaning and is important.

Try this and let me know how it goes.

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Employee Motivation Starts Here

In the movie Criminal, Kevin Costner plays a convict whom the CIA chooses for an experimental procedure.  With the help of a top neuroscientist and researcher, they “transplant” the memories of an operative killed in the field – with hopes of stopping a terrorist attack.

This has unintended consequences.

(The subject, a hardened killer named ‘Jericho’, forms an attachment for the dead agent’s wife and daughter for example.)

Initially, the procedure doesn’t completely “take”.

Jericho refuses to cooperate and escapes.

He “remembers” a bag of cash the CIA guy hid and goes on the hunt for it. Frustrated, the CIA talks to the doctor who performed the surgery. He tells them, “He’s fixated on this bag of money…show him how to get it and he’ll do anything you want.”  They do, and he does, until the bad guys complicate the plot, of course.

Legendary motivator Zig Ziglar is famous for saying:

“You can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help other people get what they want.”

“You can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar Click To Tweet

What this scene in Criminal illustrates is…

Everything starts with KNOWING what other people want!

Let’s bring this back to employees. I’m a big fan of being present and spending time with employees. Many business people chafe at this. It’s time-consuming and doesn’t add value, they’ll argue. But I disagree.

I make it a policy to spend as much time as possible with my team.

I ask open-ended questions and listen.  Not only does this help the person feel heard, but it opens a window into their inner world. It helps me know exactly what they need in order to do their best work.

It can work for you as well. Listen with the intent to understand your people better.

And help them get want they need to succeed.

You’ll know it’s working when you notice a pattern of employees going beyond the call of duty for you and your organization.

Speaking about helping other people get what they want…

If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift this year, consider giving my Amazon bestselling book I Have The Watch. It distills best practices gleaned from 30 years of leading people in the military and corporate America.

If you follow this link, you can purchase a signed copy that I will personalize for the leader (or future leader) on your Christmas list.

Give the gift of learning this year!