Leading with Vision

Aug 24, 2012

Almost every aftermarket company claims that its people are its most valued asset, but few companies prove it. They don’t empower employees to make a difference.

By being proactive, positive, focused and forward-looking, managers can inspire employees and employees can inspire themselves and their coworkers. This can be done in practical ways that obtain real results and allow their companies to become stronger, more profitable and more competitive in even the most difficult marketplace.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s important to create a framework for managing employees in positive and practical ways and to overcome negativity. Empowering your workforce benefits your employees and your bottom line as well.

The Power of Employee Engagement

Motivating employees in the automotive aftermarket can actually be easier than in other markets, because many workers are also enthusiasts who are excited to have found a job doing something they are passionate about.

Employees also usually want to help the company as best they can to be successful in order to keep their jobs in this competitive workplace world. But they can’t do it in a vacuum. They need leadership and support from management to help create the context for their success.

Warning! The problem of employees who aren’t engaged in their jobs has a devastating impact on many companies. The Gallup Organization, which tracks more than 3.8 million workers around the world, looked into employee engagement and the results weren’t pretty.

According to Gallup’s survey of American companies, only 29 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs. These employees feel a profound connection to their company and are passionate about their work. However, most workers-54 percent-aren’t engaged in their jobs at all. These employees show up at work and punch the clock, but they pour neither energy nor passion into their efforts.

You might ask why results are showing 17 percent of American workers, almost one in five, are actively disengaged? These unhappy employees get little or no work done. Why? Studies show because they often are fearful of change and of being accountable for their own futures.

Envision for a moment raising the engagement level of your workforce and transforming both the average 54 percent of workers who aren’t engaged in their jobs and the 17 percent of workers who are actively disengaged at work. Imagine the power, energy, creativity, efficiency, innovation and customer service you could unleash.

This is the power of employee engagement, and it’s why you, as a manager, need to find ways to tap into it.

Clear and Compelling Direction

The starting point of any effort to improve employee engagement is to give employees a clear and compelling vision. If employees don’t know, or aren’t inspired by, what the company is trying to do, they’ll find it more difficult to summon the motivation to succeed, especially in tough times.

I believe that no matter what business you’re in, everyone in the company needs to know why.

People who perform well feel good about themselves. When personal or company goals are being reached or surpassed, the level of engagement among employees is typically at its highest, which then positively affects other areas of performance as well.

I recently visited air suspension manufacturer RideTech in Jasper, Ind. On a wall is the company’s monthly sales report to date-updated daily. This is an indicator of the quality of its products, its customer service and company pride. No secrets here. The report is something all employees can rally around and feel good about.

Of course, attaining or maintaining high levels of engagement and motivation among employees is decidedly more difficult in challenging economic times. If employees spend most of their time fretting over the financial state of the company-which has a direct impact on their personal financial state-they spend less time on their work, causing productivity as well as customer service to suffer.

If you have to deliver bad news, do it honestly and tactfully, and explain the role employees can play in helping to turn things around.

Know Your Mission & Purpose

Again, empowered, motivated employees want to help a company succeed.

Do a reality check: Ask employees what the mission and purpose of your company is and what their role is in reaching that purpose. If you get a different answer from each person, it’s a good indication that the message has drifted or perhaps hasn’t been clear for some time.

Use this opportunity to revisit the purpose of your business group or function.

To gain clarity about the company mission, management guru Peter Drucker recommends that you ask five questions to get at the core of your business. These questions help connect what your organization is trying to achieve with your customers in the marketplace:

1.      What is our mission?

2.      Who is our customer?

3.      What does the customer value?

4.      What are our results?

5.      What is our plan?

What’s Our Plan?

Clarifying your company’s vision is a useful starting point in deciding where to focus your efforts in order to be the most successful. Every business needs a compelling purpose that inspires its people.

“A vision is not just a picture of what could be-it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more,” says Harvard professor Rasabeth Moss Kanter.

From that vision, you can shape your unique competitive advantages-the aspects that you can offer your customers and that your competition cannot. These advantages represent your strengths in the marketplace that you most need to capitalize on to succeed.

In changing times, the unique advantages you have to offer and the needs of your customers can shift drastically, so looking at this frequently makes sense.

Open Lines of Communication

The need to know what’s going on in one’s job is pervasive. People want to know not just the necessary information to do the work they’re assigned, but also what their coworkers are doing and the organization is doing as a whole.

Management needs to communicate information to employees about the organization’s mission and purpose, its products and services, its strategies for success in the marketplace and even what’s going on with the competition.

In my ongoing management communications research at Cal State University, the highest-ranging variable that 65 percent of employees want most from their managers is ample information at work. This statistic has a degree of significance that places it in a category of its own.

These research findings correlate with recent research from Accountemps that found communication to be the leading variable that 48 percent of management reported could best impact low morale in their company.

One of the most common errors many organizations and managers make is to not share adequate information with employees. In some instances, top management doesn’t share information because managers themselves are uncertain about the constantly changing economic landscape. In other instances, managers feel that sharing information with employees decreases their power and status.

Management may also try to protect employees from fears surrounding a potential job loss or the ability of senior management to effectively handle a pending crisis. More often these well-intended actions backfire; closed-door meetings and hushed hallway conversations create a sense of unease among employees and lead to speculation, heightened fear and worst-case-scenario rumors.

Remember, employees want and need to know what’s going on within the organization, even if the information isn’t always positive. Nothing is wrong with being honest with employees when the company is struggling. Doing so can lead to an increase in teamwork and dedication, especially if you use the bad news as an opportunity to brainstorm and communicate with employees about ideas and plans for turning things around.

Bringing employees into the loop during down times can instill in them a greater sense of involvement and responsibility, which ultimately leads to increased employee feelings of value and trust.

Look for more on this topic in the months to come. As always, I am available at ddixon@csusb.eduor (909) 447-0812 to hear comments and offer perspective. Cheers ‘n gears!

Read Part II    Part III