Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How Do You Get Your Staff To Say Yes

After reading Seth Godin's latest blog, Looking For Yes, I couldn't help but spin his quick story into a great tip for you.

In his blog, Godin talks about the difference between employees that tell your customers "no, we can't do that" and your employees who answer "Yes, we can" to your customers. In the Navy, we called the latter a "can-do" attitude.

Where does a "can-do" attitude come from and how do you hire new employees with it, or train your current employees to get it? In my opinion, generating a "can-do" attitude comes down to creating two things within your business. First, is the development of a "shared vision". Next, is making sure that every employee understands how their role contributes to the "shared vision".

We all know what vision is - a picture of the business you are trying to create and the inspiration for everything done inside the business. And some of you may even have a vision statement that you work from. However, I've found most struggling businesses, do so, because their vision is just the vision of the owner - rarely is there any "real" buy-in from with employees.

What typically happens in most businesses is that the owner(s) or founder spend time writing his or her vision statement - usually because the latest leadership book (or their Business Coach) told them to. Once written down, it is usually cleaned up, published (usually with caligrapy), framed and posted throughout the facility. And it is declare to be gospel.

But visions don't work that way. Visions are only "guiding lights" if the people whom you want to believe in them actually care - when they actually buy-in to what the vision is trying to accomplish. And buy-in doesn't occur just because you tell them to believe. They must be invited into the process - given a chance to choose under their own free will to believe. Or they won't.

It is more than just creating a vision, it must be a shared vision of all stakeholders to have any real value to the company.

However, even if you get full buy-in to a shared vision, that alone isn't enough. There are many businesses that have a very strong visions that all believe in, that are still struggling daily to get their employees to the work necessary to achieving the vision.

This is because visions tend to be "out there". They are lofty and often hard to grasp in everyday life. Truly getting employees to do the right things each and every day requires ensuring every member of the team, from the CEO to the mail clerk, understands clearly how what they do contributes directly to achieving the vision.

This is not easy. It takes strong leadership willing to do more than just talk a big game. It requires leaders and managers take time to interact with employees, understanding what each does and then leading them individually to see how they contribute to the accomplishment of the vision of the business.

To highlight the ideas of shared vision and generating an understanding of how each team member contributes to the greater cause, I'd like to share a powerful story about NASA in the early days - shortly after President Kennedy gave his speech declaring that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. I've heard it many times, but have yet to be able to find factual evidence of it actually taking place. Regardless, though, it is moving - even if it is a bit of a stretch.

In one of the main buildings at the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral, there was an small, elderly woman whose job it was to clean - primarily janitorial work. Evidently, she worked with such commitment and diligence that everyone who entered the facility was taken aback by the cleanliness - in spite of the often dirty work that was done in the building. To honor this woman (and as a great Publicity stunt), one of the NASA Directors had an idea - the next time President Kennedy was touring the facility, they would walk him through her building and ask him to Thank her for such a wonderful job.

His staff agreed, and the date was scheduled. But what happened during the meeting between President Kennedy and this woman janitor, took everyone by surprise - including the President himself.

As it turns out, things were a little ahead of schedule on the day he was to visit the elderly woman janitor, so when when President Kennedy walked into the building, this little woman was still on her hands and knees scrubbing the floors. She was dirty and grimy - not having time to clean up for the visit. But she wasn't embarrassed or ashamed by her appearance, as her facility was, as usual, spotless.

Not used to seeing such hard work, as most tours for the President were staged, Kennedy, looked down at the woman and asked her a simple question, "Maam, this building is second to none in the entire complex, why do you work so hard?"

Her response was simple. She stood up, with a confidence that took back even the leader of the free world. "Why, Mr. President, I'm helping put a man on the moon. I want the men that walk these halls to feel the pride of what they do and not have to worry about anything."

Is there anything more powerful than an employee who doesn't see their work as menial, but as something that is bigger than themself? This woman didn't just see her job as cleaning floors - she saw it as putting men on the moon. That is a glorious purpose, one to inspire even the most most crumudgeon employee to do inspired work. So I ask you, who wouldn't work their butt off everyday, if they believed in what they were doing and could see a direct correlation between their work and the vision?

How well do your employees believe in your vision? And more importantly, do they understand how their work directly contributes to the accomplishment of that vision?

1 comment:

  1. Great post JJ. This will be a great help in getting my "vision" back on track. You revealed an allusive obvious point "leading them individually to see how they contribute to the accomplishment of the vision of the business. That's the key!

    Jay B.