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.

Order the book: I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following

 

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.

Radical Transparency

Have you ever sat through an annual performance review and had that awkward feeling?

Like your boss was not giving you true feedback?

Like they were just going through the motions?

Did it seem…Fake? Forced? Phony?

Maybe it’s just me, but when I worked in corporate America, I couldn’t stand the annual performance review process.

Once a year, I would get feedback from my boss.

The company had a policy – so he wrote up a review, we sat down together, and he checked the box.

The feedback certainly wasn’t timely but it also wasn’t very honest.

What do I mean by that?

The feedback wasn’t real. It wasn’t raw. It wasn’t a true reflection of what my boss thought of my performance.

Instead, it was a carefully worded document designed to keep my boss and the company out of trouble. It was almost like a legal document that stated that we met, we reviewed my performance over the past year, and it was generally good. Simple and safe…and irrelevant.

A safe, bland review to check the box and move one.

Contrast this with life in a small company.

I recently had D’Shawn Russell on my podcast. She is the founder and owner of Southern Elegance Candle Company.

When I asked her about leadership in a small, start-up company, she said something that stood out.

She said she practiced radical transparency.

When I asked what it was, she was very clear. She said, “I tell my people exactly what I think of their performance on a daily basis…If they suck, I tell them and if they can’t turn it around, they know I’ll fire them.”

I tell my people exactly what I think of their performance on a daily basis Click To Tweet

She added, “But if they’re doing good, I tell them that as well.”

In the bland corporate world of pale pastels, her comments stood out as bold colors.

I’ll admit, at first I was taken aback. I thought she was being a little too transparent with her employees but then I thought about this simple rule:

Feedback should be timely and relevant.

Feedback should be timely and relevant. Click To Tweet

I have no doubt that her employees always know exactly where they stand at any time. Radical transparency means honest and timely feedback. I know a lot of good employees who would prefer to get honest and timely feedback instead of the bland corporate review.

So think about the feedback you are providing employees.

Is it real? Is it timely? And is it honest?

Or are you just checking a box once a year?

Try practicing radical transparency and let me know how it goes.

Deep Leadership Podcast

Listen to my entire interview with D’Shawn here. It’s a powerful story on what it takes to lead a startup business.

For more stories like this, get my Amazon bestselling leadership book, I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. Signed copies are available here.

 

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.

Deep Leadership Podcast

PS. I recommend subscribing to the Deep Leadership podcast so you don’t miss an episode.