Getting Employees More Engaged in High Performance

An age-old management concern that has resulted in labor-management conflict and lower levels of performance continues to vex many organizations.  It has been called a union problem, a generational issue (X Generation, Y Generation), everything but what it is – a leadership gap.  How do leaders get their employees more engaged in building and being part of something special?  How do employees improve performance to standards of excellence on a continual basis?  How does the bottom line get better, whether private or public sector, service or product industries?

As a retired Police Chief and Senior Manager in two Fortune 200 corporations, I saw and experienced first-hand many of those concerns.  I asked myself the obvious question – why was this happening and why didn’t it get any better?  Having dealt with the variety of problems organizations face, I learned that we really don’t answer the difficult questions many times.  We have become very proficient at attacking symptoms of problems rather than identifying real causes.

 Any organization operates based on its culture and its values – not what is typically printed, but what actually occurs.  When there are problems there is usually an undercurrent of distrust and a lack of communication.  Values diminish, as does performance and attitude.

 So what do we do?  Getting to a high performing organization is actually pretty simple.  I learned by doing and the advice here works – every time.  Employees want to be part of something special and they were hired for a reason.  They weren’t brought into an organization because they were substandard or poor performers.  They were brought in because they went through a vetting process to determine if they were the right fit.  Once in, employees want to know what is expected of them – specifically, and that they will be provided the tools and training to get the job done.  They also want to know what the boundaries are – what is and is not acceptable (policy, procedure).

There are two statements that leaders should never tolerate in any organization:

  1. That which is allowed becomes the standard.
  2. The minimum expected becomes the maximum achieved.

 Mediocrity should never be tolerated in any form and employees should understand they came to your organization being expected to achieve a certain set of tasks for a certain pay rate.  They should understand that when they pick up that paycheck every two weeks, they need to have earned it, no questions asked.

 Create a climate of performance excellence by doing these 5 things:

 Only hire A+ people.  Candidates who require someone else to motivate them should never get past the initial interview.  The minute you need to start closely managing an employee, you made a hiring mistake.

  1. Leaders must create a compelling vision and mission statement and everyone in the organization should see it and know it every day.  All staff and resources need to be deployed to achieving it.
  2. Leaders must continually and consistently model the behaviors they expect from everyone else – walk the walk.
  3. The organizational performance must be based on the philosophy of continuous improvement – everyone always looking for ways to improve.  Understand that the people in the best position to identify and solve problems are the people most closely positioned to them.  Listen to these people.
  4. Equally important – if you want your people to buy into what you’re doing – let them help you build it.  They will – just ask them and watch the pride and ownership.

Everyone in the organization must commit – no one is sitting on the bench.  All is requires is leadership.  I’ve applied these principle across multiple private and public sector organizations, across diverse cultures, backgrounds, educational background, experience, unions, and attitudes, and I’ve won every time.  It’s about taking care of the best asset you have – your people.  Get the right people in, the wrong people out, and the right people in the right places.  Combine that with your vision and watch what happens.

Bill Cooper is a retired Chief of Police and Senior Manager who worked in two Fortune 200 corporations.  He is the author of the book Leading Beyond Tradition: Exceeding Expectations in Any Economy.  The book is based on his highly successful Cooper Management Model.  He is a management expert who holds an MBA and Masters in Public Administration.  He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Six Sigma Black Belt.  He speaks, trains, and consults on high performance organizations, leadership, and organizational development.