Why your employees aren’t ‘all in’

In 1860, the great tightrope walker Charles Blondin walked the 1,100 feet across Niagara Falls five times.

On the fourth, the story goes, he pushed a wheelbarrow along, and when he reached the other side, asked onlookers, “Is there anyone who doesn’t believe I can do this every time?”
The onlookers cheered. So he said, “All right, someone hop in the wheelbarrow and let’s go back.”
No one did.
That’s the way it is even in the best of organizations these days. Some CEOs think they support the company’s core values, show passion for the mission and embrace it. But they really don’t.
Their employees are “fans,” but not “committed followers.”
Authors Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick explain why in their book, “All In:”

  • CEOs aren’t truly committed themselves or consistent with their words. People sense this, and see it in the boss’ actions. For example, you expect others to commit to doing a good job, but they see you leaving early on Thursday for golf.
  • CEOs aren’t frequent and consistent with espousing the mission. “If it’s not important to you, it’s not to me either,” employees conclude.
  • CEOs too often do things inconsistent with the direction. Everyone should know everyone else’s role in achieving the mission. When employees see the top dog not living it, they’re reluctant to bother.
  • Employees have other important priorities in their personal lives. Kids and church youth groups, for example, take their time and energy.
  • Employees have slightly different beliefs about the behaviors mentioned in the company’s values statement and perform according to what they believe, not necessarily what you believe. And remember, you as CEO hold the key to their financial security. One misstep by you can mean trouble for them, so they are wary. They withhold belief, which leads to diminished commitment and energy.

Why don’t they change? Because it’s comfortable to do what you’re used to.
What do you do?
You’re probably not committed to doing everything on that list thoroughly. Before anything will work, you have to make each person feel valued and valuable by telling them. Include them in discussions before you make a major decision. Trust them with responsibility.
Repeatedly ask yourself, “What do I have to do right now to help my people do their best?” And, “What should I NOT do right now to help my people do their best?”
Your next challenge: Help employees change their own beliefs.
Start by understanding that our brains are wired to feel right, not necessarily be right. That’s why we go to comfort and stay in comfort. As the leader, you must always talk and act in a way that’s consistent with what you want. Then wait for that transformational event when employees adjust their thinking.
Once a nucleus of employees is on board, others will want to follow.
The authors’ to do list

  • Define your “burning platform.” Explain the WHY. Define the threats on the horizon, not just the opportunities, and explain why your platform is burning.
  • Create a customer focus. You have to commit to the basics if you want them to trust you. Listening is the most important thing. Until then, customers won’t care about your advice or opinions. Employees won’t either.
  • Help employees deal with change by showing that you can change, too. Seeing the top dog doing it greatly reduces the pressure that causes “bad stress,” which we know is unhealthy. Productivity results in good stress that can help people reach their goals.
  • Share everything. Generate trust by explaining far more than what employees need to know. They’ll see that you’re genuine and know that you respect and care about them.
  • Partner with your employees and develop their talent. If you listen to them and give them what they need, they will have more energy and creativity to give you, but it’s discretionary. They will give it when they want to.
  • Root for each other by encouraging appreciation and goodwill. Research shows that employees respond best when you recognize them for things they’re good at, especially when it makes them stretch mentally. Acknowledge the “stretch.” It encourages the next one.
  • Make people accountable. Failing companies often ignore sub-par performance. Clear accountability can almost singlehandedly create a good work culture.

When Elton spoke at a TEC Inspirational Leadership program in April, he cautioned: “If you don’t get culture right, it doesn’t matter.”
“Your people, not your strategy, is what differentiates you,” he said. “What are you doing to make them feel special, so they act specially?”
Phil Hauck coordinates three TEC CEO groups and a group of senior marketing/sales executives.

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