December 11, 2018
Company Culture 17 July 2018
How to Have Invested Employees
Joan Elmore
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

You’re preparing to launch a masterpiece.  The big day is fast-approaching, and you’re practically jumping out of your skin in excitement.  Your product is amazing.  You just know – it’s exactly what all of mankind has been waiting for.

…But you just want to ensure that its premiere is a success and those clamoring crowds you’ve been picturing actually show up.  So you go to a marketing professional and ask: “How do I make sure people sleep in their cars in our parking lot the night before, and that the sunrise finds a line that wraps around the block?”

Among his advice is a gold-nugget strategy: “Get them invested in it now.”

How do you do that?

He sees your face and explains, “By letting them help create it.”

There are plenty of ways to have invested employees, but today we’re going to talk about just one.


THE SECRET TO INVESTED EMPLOYEES

We try so hard to help the people in our companies to embrace the mission; to buy-in to the vision; to care about the results. Why can’t they see it? What do I have to do to get them excited about this? 

Your strategy for having a company full of people who feel personally invested in its success is to let your employees help create it. That sounds scary, doesn’t it?  It kind of sounds like I’m about to suggest handing over the controls and letting your company get steered haphazardly with changing whims.  It sounds like letting it become… whatever it is they want.

Let’s go back to our story.  Because it turns out, you have the same fears for your product.

“B-but – I’ve worked so hard on it.  I’ve put everything into this.  I can’t just give it up to other people and let them decide what to turn it into.  What if they don’t understand the vision?  What if they can’t see where it could go if we let it be right now?”

You look like you’re about to have a stroke, so your guru quickly reassures: 

“You won’t be giving it up, or giving it away, or losing control.  You won’t be gambling with its fate. You’ll be sharing some of the process.  You’ll decide what to share.  And all decisions are still ultimately yours.”

Your face is back to its normal color, but you’re still wary, so he gives you some examples:

  • Giving your target audience a choice between two colors you like.
  • Asking them what they would want from a product like this.
  • Asking them what features they’d like to see.
  • Showing them a few options for the packaging and having them vote on their favorite. 

You’ll decide what suggestions and ideas to use, he reminds you.  And your product will make its debut to raving fans.

“On Launch Day,” he concludes, “you’ll have that line around the block.  They’re all going to come out to see what they made.”

How do you apply this to your employees?  How do you take people who punch in and out for their paycheck, and make them raving fans of your company? How do you help them to become its creators?

Happily, there are lots of companies who have figured this out and are reaping the rewards, and we’re going to learn from some of them right now.


LET YOUR EMPLOYEES MAKE THE GOALS

Yes, that’s right.  And it might sound crazy. How could they possibly know better than you do when it comes to what the goals should be?  

Robin Schwartz, PHR at MFG Jobs observed that Employees may have reason to believe their company doesn’t want or need their input when it comes to organizational goal-setting.

I had that belief as an employee in most of my jobs. Most companies I’ve worked for would give us the objective, and give us the benchmarks, and give us a play-by-play for making everything happen according to (the company’s) plan.  And it was all kind of… impersonal.  It felt hard to connect with or really care about - especially on Mondays or when I had my own life going on.

There’s a better way, and the great news is, no matter how much your company’s goals have been micromanaged in the past, you can immediately make simple changes to involve your employees and get them enthusiastic about your vision.


Robert Commandeur from Elephant in the Room Consultancy has a three-step process for this: 

  • (1) Within the company, the employees need to know they are truly valued.  …if not, [they] may not understand why you are involving them.

  • (2) Invite their opinions/perspectives.  I have found that simply inviting them all [together] and clearly communicating what we wanted to do together was incredibly helpful.

  • (3) Make part of their ‘job description’ working out the implementing and process of the vision and goals they helped to ‘flesh out.’

Robin’s (MFG Jobs) suggestion is to: 

“Offer various mediums where employees can share what their goals are for the coming year and work to align them with the company’s goals."

Adrian Ridner of Study.com says:

“Our employees are very hands-on with setting regular goals.  They know what we’re looking to achieve and work together to determine the milestones we should be working towards.”

At Finder.com, Jon Brodsky says: 

“Each team is actively involved in setting their own goals, and is aware of how each contributes to… getting us closer to our overall goal.

Give your employees the overall goal for this year (or this quarter, or this month, or whatever it is), and have them determine the short-term goals they need to achieve in order to accomplish the company’s goal. 

Keep at it, and don’t be discouraged by any off-course suggestions as you get going.  The more you let your employees practice this, the better they’ll get at setting effective, relevant goals that positively and directly impact your company’s objectives. And they will be much more invested in achieving them! My own goals are way more of a priority for me, and I’m betting your employees are the same way.  Use it to your advantage.


LET THEM ACHIEVE COMPANY GOALS THEIR WAY

Whenever my daughter starts to put on her shoes, I feel the need to hover on the sidelines and give pointers.

“Oop – switch them – “  

“Try sitting down while you do it.”

“Unstrap it first – “ 

She’s patent with me for about ten seconds, and then she either tells me to go away or she throws the shoes at me. I want to do it my way!

When I was her age, my parents didn’t need to fly in and drive me crazy when I put my shoes on, because my dad put stickers on the back of each of them and explained to me once: the shoe with the “R” sticker went on my right foot, the shoe with the “L” sticker went on my left. So as long as I went to school with my shoes on correctly, no one would bother me if I was putting them on while sitting on the floor, or standing in front of the TV, or rolling around inside my blanket fort. And I didn’t start resenting my shoes.

Once the goals are set and understood by everyone, there are lots of things you can do to loosen the reigns, and you’ll save yourself hours of time and trips around the office.  

  • Put the objectives for each task in writing, along with any parameters (so people won’t accidentally break any company rules or industry laws doing the work their own way).

  • Have detailed written procedures for each task as a reference, in case anyone gets stuck.  They’ll be able to look things up without coming to you, you’ll get to avoid jumping in and taking the time to explain, and your employees will keep their independence.

  • Clearly communicate the results you want – whether you’re doing it verbally or in writing.

  • Give everyone all the resources and authority they need so they can finish tasks successfully and with minimal questions/permissions/mistakes.

I’m sure Gabriel Kramer of SI Certs would approve of my dad’s shoe-strategy.  He asserts, 

“I’ve found that giving your employees a lot of autonomy is important for including them in the vision and goal-making process.

“Employees understand that the CEO and other top-level managers are responsible for laying out the broad goals of the company. However, a common pitfall happens when those managers micromanage their employees by not giving them enough control over the execution of those goals.

“If you hire someone, you should allow them to do their job the way they see fit.

“Otherwise, you are stunting their productivity.”

I don’t think I need to add anything.  …And I’m going out to get stickers for my daughter’s shoes today.


LET IT BE THEIR MISSION 

We’ve all heard those inspiring stories of the teachers who went into previously-unmanageable classrooms and started a complete change in the students by first having them decide on and write the class rules.

And I know – your company’s mission is near and dear.  It’s what your company is.  It’s your company’s reason for being in business.  We wouldn’t want to let that get rewritten and redefined.  We can’t risk losing sight of our North Star… right?

“[Your employees] need something they can get behind and feel like they’re contributing to,” Jacob Dayan, CEO of Community Tax tells us, so let’s consider some options.

You can keep the mission statement exactly the way it is and still let your employees feel like it's theirs.

Jacob’s (Community Tax) suggestion when it comes to making sure your employees are invested is to 

“Make sure your employees not only know what the vision is but more importantly how they contribute to the vision. Ensure that managers are taking the time to explain to each employee how the work that they’re doing is making an impact in relation to the company vision.”

Aaron Schmookler (The Yes Works) recommends showing them the impact of their work: 

“Get people together across departments.  …Give them access and exposure to the clients who are affected by the work they do… [since] seeing people benefiting directly or indirectly from our work is fulfilling, rewarding, and motivating.  And …gives us a sense of the big picture and our place in it.”

At Finder.com, Jon Brodsky explains that employees are shown the impact of their work with total transparency: 

“Our financials are completely laid bare every week at our company-wide operational meeting. This gives the team an innate sense of the business objectives, and how they as individuals are actively contributing to achieving these” 

And let’s not forget to show employees how they benefit from contributing to the company’s mission! Let Rod Brace deliver the truth: 

“[The employees’] commitment is largely driven by whether they see a personal benefit in their commitment.  …They must first understand enough about the vision and plans… [to] determine whether or not it will benefit their personal goals.”

Foxy Trades understands the importance of this too, and they do it by “sharing a piece of the annual pie,” as Paul explains.  

“As employees are our company's core assets, we try to do our very best to take very good care of them. Out of whatever profits we make, we share 20% [with] the employees. This is one of the small things that has helped improve our employee satisfaction and their contribution to reaching our goals.”

At one of my past jobs, our employer had us all write down what the company’s mission meant to us personally, and then he put each of our answers into a binder for customers to read in the reception area. There are so many ways to help your employees connect with and own the company’s mission, and I can’t wait till you see what your business becomes when that happens.

 

ASK FOR THEIR IDEAS

This might sound risky.  Like you might as well stick your hand out and invite Trouble to swoop in and make a home.  Most of my employers never asked for our ideas, and I can understand what they must have been worried about.

What if we gave an idea and it wasn’t really… a good fit?  Wouldn’t they have backed themselves into a corner with the two awful choices being to either approve the idea and end up with disaster, or reject the idea and offend us (resulting in disaster)?

Maybe you also fear that if you ask for an idea you’ll have to use it, so let’s clear that up right now:

You don’t.

It’s not quite that simple, because you’ll want to make sure you make your employees feel really good about their idea even when you don’t use it, and one of my bosses did this perfectly for me. 

He’d tell me his goals and vision for the company, and then he’d say, “What do you think would help us get there?” or “Would you mind taking time to think about these and write up your ideas?” 

I would send him something I wrote up, and about eight times out of ten, it didn’t really apply, or wasn’t something the company could put in place, or wasn’t something the company could put in place at that time.

My boss would read over the whole thing, and I knew he had, because he’d meet with me and tell me how he really appreciated my thoughts on this-or-that, and he found ways to mention specific things I’d written. Then he’d ask me questions about my process of coming to this conclusion (in a really respectful way, like he was genuinely interested), and my head would swell with pride while I explained my genius thinking.

He’d thank me sincerely for sharing this idea with him, and then either in this meeting or the next, he’d explain a little about why the company wasn’t at this point yet, or whatever it was, and he’d say, “but you know – you got me thinking – “ and he’d tell me about what my idea had “prompted” him to do. 

I became an idea machine. I never cared whether an idea would get used or not when my boss made me feel so good about giving it. I didn’t even wait for him to request my input – I churned out and submitted ideas he’d never even asked for.  I became so excited about my place in the company and was constantly looking for ways to contribute.  

You want to make everyone in your organization feel like that, so put out a welcome mat for their ideas.


OFFER DIFFERENT WAYS TO SHARE IDEAS

I wasn’t always enthusiastic about giving mine. I remember countless meetings, in various jobs, where my boss would open things up for our input.  And I had no desire to speak up. 

What if everyone disagreed with me?  What if my boss disagreed? It’d be way too embarrassing, so – no way.  I’d keep silent and play with my pen.

Giving my ideas in writing - to one person at a time - was what it took to get me involved.  And on the flipside, I had coworkers who loved sharing in a group.  They got energy from it, and the interaction kept their thoughts flowing.  They would have completely shut down if their only option was a sheet of paper and no audience.

Since what works for one person might not for the next, giving a variety of choices for different personalities and preferences will help you get everyone participating. Robin (MFG Jobs) says, 

“Some employees would be eager to share ideas in an open forum or focus group, while others would prefer to share their ideas one-on-one or through survey data.  Give your employee multiple options when it comes to adding input”.

Finder has solutions for this too, as Jon Brodsky (Finder.com) explains:

“Recognizing that some team members are more forthcoming with ideas than others, we have facilitated events that prompt people to think outside of the box, such as our weekly challenge; a creative problem-solving task everyone is encouraged to enter.

On a larger, annual scale we also run Hack Day, [where] people team up with colleagues across the world to brainstorm, develop and launch innovations that they believe will move our business forward.”

Some other suggestions:

  • You could post a goal or a challenge your business is currently facing, and ask people to submit their ideas to an email address or to write them down and give them anonymously, or be ready to present them in a brainstorming meeting.

  • You could make games around company goals or common challenges, to make giving solutions fun.

I know a company that always keeps a box out for employees to anonymously drop their written ideas in.  There’s never a certain subject/problem/goal to tackle – just an open place for everyone to share their lightbulb moments about anything for the company. Their boss regularly reviews the box’s contents and addresses each idea in a meeting.  It’s a safe place for the more reserved employees to give their input, and it’s a constant reminder that the company leadership welcomes ideas from everyone. 

You’ll want to find as many ways as possible, and offer them to your employees.  You want everyone keeping your company and its success in mind, and the more they put in, the more it will feel like theirs.


CONCLUSION

You’re ready to get started!  Let’s just recap the plan:

  • LET YOUR EMPLOYEES MAKE THE GOALS
  • LET THEM ACHIEVE COMPANY GOALS THEIR WAY
  • LET IT BE THEIR MISSION
  • ASK FOR THEIR IDEAS
  • OFFER DIFFERENT WAYS TO SHARE IDEAS

And what will you get when you let your employees help with creating the company?

Let the experts testify:

“This has greatly improved the attitude of our employees.  We are able to mutually brainstorm ideas for growth, and they are more prone to implement the necessary steps to reach the goals we’ve set.” 

Paul (Foxy Trades)


“This has instilled great pride, ownership, and excitement amongst our team members, as they are all part of what we’re growing.”

 - Jon Brodsky (Finder.com)


"We have employees are fully invested in the mission and really want to make a difference, [We’re] also better able to recruit and retain top talent.”

 - Adrian Ridner (Study.com)


“We have had employees whose whole demeanor and dealing with clients changed once they understood why they were important.”

- Robert Commandeur (Elephant in the Room)


"One of our goals last year was to increase gross revenue by 60%, …and we were able to meet the goal.  Also, we’re on track to grow by 60% again this year.”

 - Gabriel Kramer (SI Certs)

And I’ll share a personal secret with you: At that job where my boss started asking me for my ideas, I’d previously been feeling a little restless.  I’d been with the company for about seven years, and even though I loved my job, my attention was starting to wander.  I was really tempted to make things interesting again with a big change and a new pasture.

But as I got more and more involved in helping my boss to grow the business, I started falling in love with it. It wasn’t actually my company.  I mean – I hadn’t started it; I didn’t own it; I wasn’t calling the shots.  But it felt like my special project.  It felt like my baby.  I felt so personally invested in its results, and I couldn’t wait for clients to see what I was making.

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I became a way better employee.  

Robert Commandeur says it perfectly: Employees who see themselves as being an integral part of the company are incredible assets.”


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Joanie is a former employee with a mission to end the Sunday Night Blues.  

Find out what she learned from her experience, and how she uses it to help employees to have happiness, fulfillment, and high-performance in their jobs: useyourjob.com/about    

Message Joanie at: joanie@elmoregroupinc.com