Taking the Helm with Heart

I was recently talking with the staff of a major retailer, trying to solve their problem of low membership for credit card applications. One part-time staff member summarized his experience.

“Basically,” he said, “my job is to sell the company’s credit card to customers. That’s my whole measure of success. If I reach my quota, I get to stay on the first floor. If I don’t reach my quota, I’m banished to the third floor.”

“What’s on the third floor?”

“Home fashion. And about three customers a day.”

“What do you do there? With no customers to sell to, do you straighten the merchandise? Learn the inventory?”

“No. There’s no reason to. I don’t get rewarded to do anything except sell credit cards.”

“What motivates you to sell credit cards? “

“Well, nothing. It’s why I spend a lot of time on the third floor.”

The retailer pays $1 for every approved credit card application. For a struggling college student, this could add up to some valued grocery money. But it wasn’t enough to inspire staff to close sales. Further conversation revealed the staff could not describe why their customers should sign up for their credit card. I wondered how the store’s management conveyed the benefits of the card to the staff. When I asked employees about store leadership, they described their leader of their daily lineups  as a lethargic manager who only cared about the numbers.

In contrast, a winery client I recently worked with has grown its wine club by 170% in less than a year. Given the competitive landscape in the direct-to-consumer business in the wine industry, this is especially remarkable. I pulled a group of the associates together and asked them to describe the key to their success.  They exuded unbridled enthusiasm about their product.

“How can you not sell this membership. Our wines are fantastic. We have great events. And our property is beautiful!”

“We have the best wine club!”

“We want people to feel part of our winery – forever!”

They described a Vice President of Sales who worked alongside them on the floor, and frequently led the lineups. He inspired them with a sense of purpose as he passionately shared his love for the brand and for the company. It was common for their CEO to talk about the vision for the company, from the purchase of vineyards to their winemaking philosophy, as well as their community involvement.

Gallup’s State of the American Worker survey delivers analytics on the changing workplace by polling more than 195,600 U.S. employees. In their latest survey, they found that only 15% of respondents felt their leaders were setting good direction.  The same low percentage of respondents felt their leaders were getting them excited about the future of the company. In short, the majority of American employees are not engaged with their company’s purpose.

There are countless responsibilities of the company leader, and achieving objectives is high among them. But, if leaders lead their teams without gaining their staff’s trust or a instilling a sense of purpose, it is like setting a ship to sea with a full deck of sailors and no helmsman at the wheel. It is the leader’s role to inspire and motivate their staff.  There are several methods managers can use to lead with purpose:

  • Be committed to your team.  Leaders go through an arduous hiring process to assemble their team, and it’s fair to say that most employees start their jobs wanting to perform well. Supervisors should focus on giving their staff the tools they need to do their jobs – from training, to supplies, to work-life balance. If you are authentically working to be of service to your team, your team will be of service to you.
  • Walk the talk. If you want your staff to exemplify excellent customer service, put on a uniform and work alongside them to role model. If you want them to be on time for meetings, show up five minutes early and adhere to hard starts. Staff will may not do as you say, but they will mirror what you do.
  • Praise often. As managers, we are trained to have acute eyes on the opportunities. Yet, our teams are looking for indicators that they are on the right track with their performance. Praise them for specific accomplishments and you will get more of what you praise.
  • Know your team. Try to recall the feeling of your first job, and how easy it was to feel insignificant. Did the Vice President know your name when she visited your location or walked by your desk? How empowering would it have been if she had? When you have subordinates under your subordinates, it doesn’t take much to start slipping in who’s who. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Take the time to introduce yourself and learn the names and interests of your staff. If they feel you matter to them, they will strive to impress you.

Magic happens when leaders exemplify purpose in their work. When they take the helm with heart, and embody the company’s ethos, they have crossed the bridge into authentic leadership.

 

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