How to Make it to This List:
Start With Employee Engagement
Achieving this exclusive rank means that your leadership practices must be perceived as fair, just, and caring. Companies on the list most likely have high employee engagement levels. Employee engagement is mostly a state of mind—the employee’s mind.
Many leaders can easily wrap their arms around fairness and justice but may be challenged by the caring aspect of their responsibility. Caring should probably rank number one on the list because of three essential human needs: (1) the need for belonging, (2) the need for significance, and (3) the need for self-esteem. When leaders demonstrate that they care about and for their employees, it shows and employees pay a dividend of reciprocity. I often tell leaders, “Your employees will have your back at the exact moment in time when they know for sure that you have theirs and not one second before”. Demonstrating that you have the backs of your employees is not about being nice to them (although not a bad idea), it shows that you genuinely have their interest in the front of your mind.
How to Demonstrate Caring
You can demonstrate caring for employees when you know what they care about and why? If you know for certain what each employee cares about, great. If not, start by asking in one-to-one meetings. There are two, wide-open questions that can start the conversation:
- “What aspects of your work do you feel good about”?
- “What aspects of your work do you struggle with”?
It’s very important that you listen carefully to the answers without interrupting, hijacking the conversation, discounting your employees' thoughts and ideas. Listen as though you have everything to learn and not as though you know everything.
Case in Point
Working with a management team at a national automobile wholesaler ranked in the top 100 companies to work, I listened to one executive (I’ll call him Ben) share his philosophy for employee care. He follows faithfully three rules that contribute to the companies unwavering rank in the top 100 “Great Places to Work”:
- The 10 Card Rule:
- Every week Ben thinks of two employees who have demonstrated exemplary work. He writes each one a hand-written note, not email or text. He describes what they did, how it contributed to an end result and why it was significant. Ben was surprised to see the cards proudly displayed in offices and cubicles. “The cards are not difficult to write nor time consuming, so if it means so much to so many, why stop”?
- Fill my Office Rule:
- Ben knows that succession is critical in any business. He views his employees as potential replacements for his role and acts on development of each one to make sure they are constantly learning and growing in their current jobs, as well as preparing for upward mobility.
- Feedback Friday:
- Ben picks two associates who have “hit the ball out the park” and calls them to offer feedback and express his gratitude.
Ben believes that strict adherence to three leadership rules contributes to the company’s high-ranking, high engagement levels and gridiron commitment. Ben follows the company philosophy, “Let those who build the well drink from it”. Ben is one example of many executives at this company who follow the three rules.
Many leaders might say, “That kind of practice would be frowned upon in my company” or “I could never do that, it’s not me”. Okay, in that case, roll the dice and hope for the best.
Strong employee engagement is possible in every company. Each leader must have the courage to show they care and demonstrate that they have their employees’ backs. Try it for one month and track the results. See if you get an uptick in effort and reciprocal caring that could improve process results, client interactions, and increased discretionary effort.
A Culture of Voice: Every Voice Matters
Lastly, show that every voice has merit. Employees will participate and contribute more, when they see that their voices and input matter. Significance is one of three human needs. When leaders show that the voice of their employees’ is important and has merit, it encourages more input and increases tacit knowledge transfer which could reduce risk and improve productivity.
In a senior leadership meeting last week, one manager (I’ll call her Melinda) with significant sale and marketing responsibilities told a story about a new client system product release that would change one major process. Before the implementation, one regional manager raised her hand and explained that the system process added a constraint that would render clients ineffective and cause an inefficient work-around. Melinda paused and realized that the brave sole just saved the business unit a lot of trouble. They suspended the launch.
Miranda’s story was not about process efficiency. It was about demonstrating a willingness to listen and learn from everyone. She encouraged and rewarded the voice of one and, most likely, others. This is how leaders create a Culture of Voice that contributes to engagement resulting in strong commitment.
Leaders can make small behavioral changes that have huge impact. Start by getting to know what your employees think and how they feel. If they are human beings, they have both thoughts and feelings and leaders must know both.
Getting to the “Best Company to Work” list starts with small actions that—when demonstrated collectively—culminate in high engagement, commitment, and discretionary effort.