Lea Bailes saw great potential for Valerie Eaton to become a valuable leader at Guier Fence. The only person he needed to sell on developing this untapped talent was Valerie.
“She came into our organization as an associate doing material sales and not getting paid a whole lot to do that,” says Bailes, the 70-employee fence company’s president. “I saw a lot of potential in her to do a lot more than maybe she thought she was even capable of doing or that somebody would allow her to do. I started approaching her about changing roles.”
Bailes wanted Eaton to become involved with outside sales and residential sales, but she turned down his offer several times.
“One day, I guess something changed, and she came back and said, ‘Yes, I want to do it,’” Bailes says. “She ended up being our top residential salesperson for that year. After seeing her accelerate through that, we saw a whole different side of her. We saw this competitiveness and this drive come out.”
So what’s the key to discovering this kind of hidden talent in your organization?
It starts with a patient approach.
“You may see something and you may want something, but it may take time,” Bailes says. “You may be dealing with someone who has a totally different personality than you.”
If you see talent in one of your employees, you need to get that person to recognize it in themselves. You also need to see how committed they are to you and your company. So give the person a small challenge that takes him or her out of his or her comfort zone.
“Move their cheese a little bit and see how they respond,” Bailes says. “If they get upset and start throwing a fit, they’re probably not your most loyal employee. But if they move into the problem and move to what you’re trying to get them to do, they’re probably a very loyal employee.”
It may be as simple as just rearranging the person’s job responsibilities a bit or asking them to take on a small but important project. Whatever it is, the way you present it to the person can go a long way toward their acceptance of both that task and future assignments.
“The way I present it is, ‘This is the greatest area of need in the company; you have an opportunity to come in and be a hero and fulfill this need,’” Bailes says. “We try to portray it like they can ride in and save the day. Try to motivate them through the thought that they can do that. It’s not false. We’re not trying to trick them into doing anything. We really are trying to fill a need.”
If the person handles the project successfully, be vocal with your praise. But you need to go beyond a pat on the back to create true engagement. Show people how their effort helped your business.
“Appreciation motivates people, but so does a sense of getting a job done,” Bailes says. “Crossing something off a list or providing a certain result is something that really motivates people. Review the results with them. Tell them, ‘You did X, and this is exactly what you’ve accomplished, and you should be proud of that.’ Give them that feeling of accomplishment.”
Keep feeding the person challenges and increase the difficulty based on how well they perform.
“You have to be patient and look for those small daily changes,” Bailes says. “I’ve seen managers that weren’t patient and they just run good people off.”
It was through a patient approach that Bailes was able to groom Eaton into a leader who is now responsible for managing her own sales staff.
“Find someone who has an intense passion for what you’re doing and the company itself and then train them how to manage,” Bailes says. “Take the loyalty and instill the management skills.”
How to reach: Guier Fence, (888) 782-6508 or www.guierfence.com
Make your business interesting
Lea Bailes won’t try to convince you that his is the most exciting business in the world. But he will argue that Guier Fence is a lot more than just 70 employees who dig postholes in the ground.
“I struggled with this myself for a while dealing with telling people what my job was,” says Guier, the fence company’s president. “You have to figure out how to make what everybody is doing meaningful. For us, the meaning for what we do is we beautify people’s properties. We protect children and dogs. We keep people from falling into pools or falling off of balconies.”
If your employees feel a sense of purpose in their work, they’re more likely to stay loyal to your business.
“You have to look at it from a consumer perspective,” Bailes says. “There is a reason why someone is buying what we’re selling. If you start looking at your business too introspectively and you look at the day-to-day stuff that you grind through, we all have that. You have to get past all that and not get bogged down in what you don’t like and really look at it from the end perspective.”
If you could ask your team and yourself only one fundamental question, what would it be? How can we increase revenue and profits? How can we perform better as a team? What are the challenges we are facing? There is a more fundamental question to ask.
Many companies, caught up in the day-to-day activities, lose sight of the purpose and passion behind the company. When I ask many executives what the purpose of their business is, without batting an eyelid, they respond it is to make money.
There are a million ways to make money. What compels you to commit to your specific line of business? If your answer does not relate to your passion, then you may be undermining your success. The most fundamental and searching question you can ask your team and yourself is, ‘Why are you passionate about this business?’
Many companies consider themselves purpose-driven. It isn’t sufficient to have a purpose. You must be passionate about that purpose. A company’s mission statement must capture its passion and purpose. The mission must create a strong and clear sense of commitment, serving as an invitation for people to join the bandwagon. Those who subscribe to the mission, join the company, and those who don’t, join a different bandwagon. Having a team that is passionate about the mission can be the difference between mediocre and superior performance.
Let’s look at two mission statements:
1: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
2: “As we strive to become Earth’s most customer-centric company, we constantly look for new ways to innovate on behalf of our different customers: individuals who shop our global websites, merchants who sell on our platform … and creators of the books, music, films, games and other content we sell through our websites. Our greatest contribution to the good of society comes directly from these core business activities.”
If you couldn’t guess, the first mission statement is Google’s, and the second is Amazon’s. Google’s passion to organize the world’s massive information is evident in its actions and its name — derived from the mathematical term googol (a one followed by a hundred zeros). Amazon, too, is passionate about its mission.
Larger and older companies are often at a greater risk of losing sight of their passion. They become mechanical entities driven by the sole need to live up to Wall Street expectations. They lack the spark — lack the spirit — and can find themselves left behind in the marketplace by new startup companies that are committed and passionate about their product or service. Spirited companies are more likely to create the “magic.”
The mission statement isn’t just a feel-good statement or artwork for the office walls to impress visitors. The mission must drive the company’s thinking and actions. A passionate mission alone won’t deliver success. You do have to execute your strategy well, but a strong and specific mission will become the fuel for your engine.
At my speaking engagements, I sometimes ask audience members to share their passion. At one event, a business owner shared her story. When her father passed away, the funeral home treated her family as second-class customers, because the family wanted to cremate her father as opposed to bury him. Not wanting others to suffer the same indignity, she started a funeral home business. The passion to take care of others during their difficult times drives her. It is this conviction that makes her business special and successful.
Rediscover your passion.
Ravi Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive coaching firm. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “Coherent Strategy and Execution: An Eye-opening Parable about Transforming Leadership and Management Perspectives.” To contact Kathuria, please call (281) 403-0250 or visit www.cohegic.com.