Inspired: Getting employees to love your entrepreneurial baby.

I’ve been asked several times how to get employees to care more about their employer as a whole and as a culture. Fundamentally, how to get the Peter Gibbons’ of the world who are shouting, “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care,” to actually care. I’m not talking dangling carrot promotion caring or a dollar more per hour caring. I’m talking work is my life, it is practically all I think about, it is all I want to do, my identity is my work caring. And then not just a handful of those people, but an entire company full of them.

If you say impossible, then you are part of the problem.

You must first be inspired. It will energize you. It will help you clarify your goal(s). It will help you remove doubt. Just convincing yourself that you can be an agent of positive change can be inspiring.
Once you are inspired, share your vision with your audience in mind. Discuss what you want to transform, why you want to transform it, and how it will help your audience. If done well, it will inspire others. Inspiration and positivity is infectious. You may have to try a few time before you get it right.

Once you do get it right, you will find people that will not partake in your vision. Treat them like cancer. Remove them from your ecosystem. Negativity and second-guessing cause cancer, apply inspirational chemotherapy as needed. If you cannot eliminate the bad vibes, preform a preventative surgery and remove the attitude before cancer forms. It is better a bridge burns than a village.

Make sure you take action upon your vision in a timely manner while your team is revved up.  Vision without action is just a daydream. Daydreamers are slackers. Nobody follows a slacker into battle.
Find quick wins to supplement your momentum during phases of slow action.

Remember to celebrate your victories. This helps to keep morale up, momentum forward, and energy positive.

Keep in mind team members roles. Leaders help people become more than they are. Managers help people be better at who they are. Supervisors make sure people are doing the best at what they are supposed to be doing. If everyone on the team is a true believer in the task for which they are working, inspiration will come from every team member. Even so, everyone must respect each other. 

Personally, I feel it is better to have a sense of working with someone rather than working for someone. It makes achieving a goal more collaborative than authoritative. If you are a smart boss, and I hope you are, you are hiring highly skilled people, who are experts at what they do. That would mean they are smarter than you in at least some contexts. You shouldn’t be telling them what to do, you should be asking them what to do and listening when they tell you.

If you aren’t hiring the best people and opt for people with which you feel the most comfortable, fill the very narrow perception of the position, and/or are just prefer subservient individuals, you are part of your company’s problem. Your employees know it and they are probably miserable. You will only be able to inspire mutiny.

Getting inspired or inspiring others isn’t difficult. People typically want to be useful and like being part of a group with positive impact. It is not about money, power, or other rewards. Keeping the inspiration alive, however, takes a great deal of work. Doing so may mean rewiring your entire brain to react to situations completely differently. My, as well as many others, typical first reaction to adversity is some combination of annoyance, anger, and frustration. You may want to place blame, scream, shoot/strangle/behead the messenger, and all around generally berate people and throw a tantrum. As an inspiration leader, you can’t do that. You must find the opportunity in the challenge. I’ll bring up the Charles Swindoll quote again,” Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” That is practically my mantra in challenging situations. In my version, life only gets 5% though. No one is perfect. Unless you’ve been trained this way all your life, adjusting now will take time.

Another part of keeping people inspired, is keeping their respect. To do that, you have to act respectful. You can’t slap people around, threaten them, or intimidate them. Nor should you publicly ridicule them, call them names, or treat them to any action that violates the laws that govern your location (or theirs if they are virtual). Stuff like denying health care to pregnant women stating it’s a pre-existing condition when a merger forced a health care provider switch, harassing people over anything that is (and should be) covered in titled 7 or any of the other many HR related laws, not paying overtime, inappropriate touching, this list could go on endlessly, but I think you get my point. Believe it or not, this stuff still goes on in the United States. I read about it every day in various HR and legal blogs and magazines. If you are guilty of any of these (and beyond), just stop. It's treatment like this that could re-surge unionization.

Now, in a small group with a single task that will disband quickly, inspiration may be all you need to carry your group through to success. Anything beyond that, will need some clear goals and some success metrics. The more complex your organization, potentially, the more complex your goal structure. For example, in a typical small to medium sized business (SMB) the executives would set the corporate level goals such as increase sales, decrease expenses, and utilize assets better. Then there would be easy to use metric associated with them. We can argue over whether we need lead and lag in another post. Here an example of a metric for better utilize assets would be to have a specific machine run at 90% rather than 80. Then the next level down would set goals for their staff that were directly in line with those corporate level goals. Using the a global sales manager as the next rung in the hierarchy, he would set goals for his staff such as increasing the number of cold calls reps do which should increase sales and making the reps request office supplies directly from the central office rather than buying them on their own in an effort to decrease expenses. I think you get the drift, as the goals cascade down, they get more job/individually specific, but is still directly in line with the overall corporate plan. I’m sure this is not news to you. Let me ask though, are you doing this properly? Really? I’m constantly surprised at how many companies big and small have departmentally silo-ed goals that are skewed or in direct conflict with corporate plans.

Another key to inspirational leadership success; eliminate the unimportant/non-value add/poorly designed tasks that are roadblocks to getting valuable work done. Also, if you are still using Excel and Access to manage and communicate a good portion of your data…just stop. There are better solutions. That is for another post too. Back to my point, nothing kills an inspiration buzz, like having to halt work on an exciting task to do some task that could be automated “if we could just find the time.”  There are lots of reasons manual process still permeate our technologically inclined world, being in IT I know better than some, but as a corporate leader, you have the power to disappear tedious processes. And you should. They are stealing money out of your gross margins.

Furthermore, as a leader, you should make sure you have a good way to track wins for not only the team, but for each individual too. Making sure people are recognized for their part of the team’s success helps ensure they will continue to enjoying being part of the team. Also, if you are going to call out an individual for a victory, make sure that victory wasn’t a team effort. Even if you mean well, doing this will bring instant discord to a team. If this happens to your team, make sure it is addressed immediately. Even just an email apologizing for the mistake. If your team lead or the person who misspoke won’t address the issue, find a new job, the team will be toxic in a few months.  These wins should be noted somewhere so that it can be addressed on the next personnel review. 

Now, annual performance reviews are only as effective as the company makes them. If the company treats them like they are important, they will be important. Otherwise, they will be a joke and will fall into the non-value add section above. Also, once a year is a long time to go to get feedback on performance that is supposed to be tied directly to the corporate goals. Quarterly might be more effective. I’ve also always been a fan on the 360 degree review. When people are honest, it can lead to a better understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses.  

So far, we’ve only addressed the matter from the perspective of teams or companies with existing personnel. If you get to hire your team, you can weed out negative, clock watchers with good probing interview questions. Meeting people face to face, reviewing their resume and experience with them, and having them talk with other team members can all be fairly simple ways to find solid team members.

As you can tell, getting a dream team isn’t so much about finding perfect people. Yes getting people with the capacity to accept your vision and inspiration is as important as finding ones with the correct skill set for the job. It’s more about getting your mind in place to mold your people into the perfect team, then eliminating roadblocks in the workplace. It sounds easy on paper. It starts being easier when you become a leader and stop being a boss.

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