“My team just isn’t as committed as I need them to be. It feels like they just don’t give a crap about the business, or the work, or anything…”
This is how the conversation started when I went to meet with a client this last week. His business is successful, but he feels like the performance of his staff is uneven. “Sometimes they really wow the customer. Other times they deliver stuff that’s slapped together and not thought through.” It keeps him up at night – he feels like he has to review everything so that one of the “slapped together” items doesn’t reach the clients.
“Why don’t they care the way I do?” He asks.
Well, they don’t care like you do because it’s your business! They are never going to care like you do. But that doesn’t mean that we have to tolerate apathy. There are ways we can increase their “caring” without giving away any equity.
I’m always puzzled when business owners want their team to be more committed. When I hear that I usually feel like there’s an expectation that someone is going to flip a switch and become a more committed employee. I rarely hear any sort of realization that the business owner has responsibility for the level of engagement of their team. When I ask, “What do you think you can do to increase your employee’s commitment?” The first thought is, “I just think I need different people, who will be more committed!”
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that “commitment” is a problem with the employees–I think it’s a problem with the leadership.
What if—-instead of talking about employee “commitment”—-we were talking about employee engagement? What if I asked the question, ”How can we improve the engagement of your team?” I think that subtle switch in wording opens folks up to the idea that they might be able to change the situation.
So what are some things you can do that might increase the engagement of your team?
1. Point out and recognize examples of great performance.
They say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” I don’t know anything about flies, but people love praise. It’s amazing what people will do for someone who appreciates them, and recognizes their hard work. If there are examples of solid performance, then go wild for them! Say thanks, celebrate, really let it be known how excited you are for it. Don’t worry about “thanking people for doing their job”. You should be doing that anyway. It costs you nothing and people really value it. Really, try it. (If you’re not sure you are doing a good job with thanking folks, read this HBR Article for some pointers and a great story.) Still not convinced? Here’s a boring academic paper that makes the same point!
2. Raise your expectations: “Is this your best work?“
Once you’ve started recognizing good work, you need to deal with the sloppiness. You know they can do better, right? It’s time that they know that too. If you look at a deliverable or work product that’s not up to your company standards, you need to point that out; but not in a demeaning way. You need them to elevate their game. Let them know that you know they can do better. Don’t fix their shoddy draft; send it back to them with a note that says, ”Is this your best work?” If they say that it is, then you need to have a performance conversation. If it isn’t, then why are they sending it to you?
3. They will care when they see you care (about them).
Your team isn’t a machine; it’s made up of people. Since we’ve been working hard on improving performance, now it’s time to recognize their humanity. Have folks been working hard? Give them some time off. Are they working late one night? Buy everyone pizza and a cab ride home. These little gestures are important; they show your employees how much you care about them. The thanks and appreciation you give them is reinforced with something tangible and relevant to them.
4. Eliminate distractions (lower the drama to raise the engagement).
You are reinforcing the positives, upping the game, and noticing what’s going on with them. Now it’s time to supercharge. Is there one “rabble rouser” who’s still stirring the pot? It might be time to vote her off the island. I find time and again when I ask owners, “Who is the biggest distraction on this team?” they have an answer right away! What if we eliminate that distraction, how much more could your team produce? Maybe it’s worth one more conversation to try to change that person’s behavior; but the drama and distraction around that one person raises the temperature for everyone. Removing it lowers the temperature and you’ll be surprised how many others return to being productive once the distraction is eliminated.
Instead of complaining about your team’s lack of commitment, it’s time for you to increase your commitment to them. Notice and celebrate what they do well. Express thanks and appreciation in ways that are meaningful to them. Invite them to up their game and then get out of the way and let them do it. Then eliminate distractions so that you can see their best work.