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Getting employees to go above and beyond

October 17, 2016 -  By

Photo: © ordinary people to do the extraordinary more often than not through company culture.

Running a company is exciting until it becomes a slog, isn’t it?

A slog is when profits sag, revenue growth slows and you feel like choking more than 50 percent of your staff to death on a daily basis. What happened? Is it typical?

It is typical. Fewer than 10 percent of all companies grow out of slog mode to become breakthrough companies. Read the book “The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results” to learn how you can get out of slog mode. The basic feature of a breakthrough company is the ability to get ordinary people to do the extraordinary more often than not.

Is this a simple matter of better employee morale? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that motivated people can accomplish more, but no in the sense that motivation isn’t the result of a simple bonus or a human resources “employee of the month” program. Rather, it’s a conscious strategy by leaders to engage employees in a way that generates genuine excitement about the company’s and employees’ futures.

The primary roadblock to achieving breakthrough status is the leadership bottleneck at the top. Most leaders have strong personalities and egos that create a personality cult that revolves around pleasing the boss. This is a death trap. Companies should remove this cult of personality and replace it with the cult of the customer. The focus, then, isn’t on pleasing the boss but pleasing the customer, from whom all growth and money flow. The customer is always more important than the leader.

Create platoon-like commitment

When combat veterans speak about their experiences and the extraordinary things they did and why they did them, they don’t speak about country or commanders first, they talk about their buddies—their platoonmates—and how they’d bleed for each other. While landscaping isn’t spilling blood, we do want that sense of platoon-like commitment.

Here’s how to create it:

Customer first. Companies need to measure customer happiness. If customers aren’t happy, companies need to do whatever it takes to please them, including offering money-back guarantees.

Treat people with dignity. Pride comes from dignity, and dignity comes from three things all leaders can do: set goals high and express belief they can be achieved; provide immediate positive and corrective coaching about performance; and keep open communication, and listen to and implement ideas from the front lines.

Watch the perks. Keeping the perks of the leadership team small creates more of an “us” feeling and less of a “them and us” divisive class dynamic.

Don’t let loyalty become a liability. Don’t cover for nonperformers because you feel loyal to them. Incompetence is the enemy. In combat, it gets people killed.

Cut people in on the action. Every company needs enough profit to reinvest in replacement and growth.

After that, profits can be shared. For example, measure a happiness score (on a scale of 100 percent), and track money-back guarantees. If the company makes $500,000 in after-tax profit, the company keeps half of that for replacement and growth, leaving $250,000 on the table. Assume there’s $50,000 in guarantee give-backs, leaving $200,000. If the cumulative happiness score is 85 percent, this leaves $200,000 times 85 percent, or $170,000, available for bonuses. That’s cutting people in on the action.

Build company character

Company character is an ethos and set of behaviors that reflect customer service and platoon thinking. Closing-time character is an example. A customer walks into a shop at 10 minutes to close needing help repairing an item. What happens? An employee says A). “Come back tomorrow, we’re closed.” B). “Let’s see what we can do in 10 minutes. C). “Come in, and let’s see if we can get it fixed,” regardless of how much past closing time it takes. What’s your culture: A, B or C? That’s character, and character, as they say, is destiny.

So here’s how breakthrough companies create character:

Give folks a fair deal. This one ethos creates trust and loyalty among customers and employees. Yes, you need contracts, and contracts should always be honored. But when they’re not, do you focus on the spirit or the letter of the contract? Fair play focuses on the spirit. There are customers and employees you don’t need, and those are the ones who focus on the letter of the contract. A fair deal is rare and valuable. Customers and employees know they can trust each other when things don’t go right.

Build product excitement. You can build product excitement by introducing new services or product features, but an even better method is sharing customer service success stories with employees. Selling and delivering the product isn’t nearly as exciting as knowing and understanding how that product has made people happier.

Clear goals and feedback. See the dignity bullet point above. People who know where they stand with the boss and coworkers, and get the sense they’re doing better, strive even more mightily. Ordinary people start to believe they can do extraordinary things. People start to believe in each other. Everyone realizes there are no trophies for participation, only trophies for improvement.

Sacrifice performer for character. You know the dilemma—great worker but poor team attitude. This type of employee needs to change or be gone.

Follow through. Emphasize keeping promises among employees and getting things done, not participating in politics, which is the corruptive killer of character.

If you’re tired of the slog and want to break through, follow the aforementioned elements of breakthrough companies. Perhaps they’re not exceptionally unique, but that’s the point. The best companies do the unexceptional things exceptionally, and ordinary people believe that together they can do extraordinary things.

Quick tip:

Don’t let loyalty become a liability. Don’t cover for nonperformers because you feel loyal to them. Incompetence is the enemy.

Photo: ©

This is posted in 1016, Business Planner 2017

About the Author:

Kevin Kehoe was the founder of Aspire Software and a longtime landscape industry consultant.

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