Dave Lindsey has a favorite story to tell when he is asked why leadership training is important at DEFENDER Direct Inc. It’s a tale of two guys whose job is to load bags of ice onto trucks.
Employee A gets off to a great start upon his hiring. He shows up to work early every day and gets his job done promptly. But within a few months, the effort has left him with a sore back and feelings of frustration with his job and his employer.
“Now he’s got a bad attitude and he thinks the company has been treating him bad,” says Lindsey, founder, chairman and CEO of DEFENDER.
Employee B is given the same workload but takes a different approach to getting it done. Instead of having beer and pizza and crashing on the couch every evening like Employee A, he makes sure he eats a nutritious meal and joins a gym to help him better handle the heavy lifting.
He learns some new lifting techniques and even discovers a belt that will help him lift twice as many bags of ice as he could before.
“Ninety days later, he has twice the productivity of every other guy in the department,” Lindsey says. “He’s teaching every other guy in the department how to lift two bags at once. He is actually done with his work so early every day that he is talking to his boss and figuring out what his boss does. … He has revolutionized the department and doubled productivity. We didn’t even know about these techniques, and he went out and found them and brought them to us.”
DEFENDER doesn’t sell bags of ice. His 1,600-employee company is an authorized dealer for homeowner services and products. But the lesson Lindsey wants to convey still applies. Employees who are willing to invest themselves in their jobs and think about how to do their jobs more effectively can provide great value to your organization.
“It’s growing and developing people,” Lindsey says. “We go into businesses and we all want to have a better widget and a better plan than the next guy. But at the end of the day, the humbling thing as an owner and leader is I’m only able to grow as fast as my people can grow. We have a saying at DEFENDER that businesses don’t grow, people do. We battle every day for that not to be a cliché.”
Lindsey wants his employees to be more like Employee B. He wants them to think about their role in the company, but he also wants them to know that he cares about their personal growth, as well.
His efforts to develop balanced employees have helped DEFENDER grow from $20 million in 2005 revenue to $142 million in 2008. The key to that success is not about getting people to buy in to his vision.
“You can’t get people to do anything,” Lindsey says. “They have to want to.”Prioritize personal growth
DEFENDER holds a convention each year for all of its employees that is built around a specific self-improvement message.
This particular year had not been a good one financially and it seemed as if the convention would be an easy expense to lop off the books.
“It’s easy to say, ‘We’ll cut our budget and not do that,’” Lindsey says. “But it was a real moment of truth for our senior leadership to say, ‘This is what we’re about and this is our growth strategy. If we’re going to get out of this funk, it’s going to take that.’ You have to have that and you have to have a road map.”
Lindsey needed to show employees that the talk of valuing their personal growth was not just words, so the convention was still on.
He further drove his message home by providing his employees with an actual road map for what he wanted to see them accomplish at DEFENDER. The map, which is done like a Monopoly board, contains tasks that aren’t specifically tied to the workplace, but they promote the valuable ideal of self-improvement that Lindsey wants to instill.
“If I’m thinking of a leader, I’m thinking of a person who is focused on improving themself,” Lindsey says. “We say all meaningful change starts on the inside and works its way out. It starts on the inside of somebody’s mind and works out into their life and into their team and then into the company. I’m looking for people that can talk about not just how they have grown in the last 10 years but also how they have grown in the last six to 12 months.”
These experiences include things as simple as reading a book or attending a convention or life-improvement course. There are also more involved experiences, such as going to Mexico and building a home for the poor.
“They are things that we think make somebody a leader,” Lindsey says. “There is a road map that someone can see the day they come in: ‘These are the experiences I’m going to have.’ You set an expectation not only for the employee but for the employer.”
The benefit for DEFENDER isn’t a house that an employee builds in Mexico or a book that an employee reads. It’s the wisdom that is gained from taking part in the experience. It’s the desire to find a better way to haul bags of ice that won’t come without an outlet for personal growth. And it’s showing your people that you really mean it when you say you want to help them achieve personal growth.
“We ask everybody to work harder on themselves than on their job every year,” Lindsey says. “From the time we hire someone, we want it to be very clear in our materials and our culture that we attract someone that already has a burning desire for self-improvement.”
If you get your employees looking for opportunities outside the workplace to demonstrate leadership and to grow personally, your business will reap the benefits.
“It goes back to the old line, ‘I’m too busy to take a time management course,’” Lindsey says. “I hear that all the time and I laugh. It takes leaders that are self-reflecting that really buy in to this in their own life and carve out the time and just insist that their employees do it.
“Someone can work their butt off for 10 hours or they can work their butt off for seven hours and spend three hours reading and learning. That person will be ahead of the person slugging away 10 hours every day.”Do your own homework
There tends to be a lot of cynicism when it comes to things like leadership training or personal growth or development courses. But Lindsey says you shouldn’t expect to learn everything there is to know about being a better person from one course or one experience.
“I’m very challenged by someone who can sit through a training program that was put together by smart people and say, ‘I can’t pull anything from it,’” Lindsey says. “The problem is in the student. … Never underestimate the power of one good idea.”
If you find that your employees walk away from personal growth opportunities feeling as though they didn’t gain anything to help them on the job, ask them to not try looking so hard.
“Sometimes, we go on these things and we want 20 good ideas,” Lindsey says. “If we can get one good idea a month, that should be enough to hold us over. You go to a four-hour meeting and you get one good idea, you should be happy.”
You can help ensure your employees are getting useful advice from training workshops by pu tting yourself through the material beforehand. When you show that you’re interested, it can only help do the same with your people.
“Know the material and be a believer in it yourself,” Lindsey says. “Go through the training so you know that there are nuggets in there to be found. If you’ve done that and you know there are nuggets there and now you’re sharing them with your people, it should be a natural process. If you have good learners, then they are going to get it.”
If you’re still having trouble, try adding breaks to your training sessions and including short reviews before going on to the next topic.
“We’ll have an insight page, and we’ll write down insights every time we take a break,” Lindsey says. “You gather them at each break instead of after the whole thing at the end of the day and you’re trying to figure out, ‘OK, what did I learn? What am I going to do?’ Do it throughout the day.”
You can also engage your people by putting them in a position to lead some of the training sessions.
“Some of the best learning occurs as we teach others,” Lindsey says. “The best way to learn math or to try to learn a sport is to try to teach it to someone else. I do that with my son. He can say he knows the answers to his math problems, but if he has to sit down and tell his second-grade sister how to do it, he really learns it. You’re teaching yourself and you’re just getting a mind that works that way. It’s participating and staying engaged.”
If it’s you that is doing the teaching, you gain that extra benefit. If it’s your employees being given the opportunity, then their growth is furthered that much more.
“It’s an understanding that the real roots of success are not the better widget or the better plan, but it’s the better person,” Lindsey says.
Giving people experience through training will help down the road. In addition to their expertise in a certain area, they will also bring some knowledge of teaching to the sessions.
“It used to be the technician manager starts writing the training program,” Lindsey says. “A salesperson is going to write the program like a salesperson would write it. Maybe that isn’t appealing to all five senses and all the different ways we learn. Now we have people that are skilled in writing training programs writing all our training programs.
“Personal growth is the solution to most, if not all of our challenges. We need to model that and instill that and look for others that believe the same thing.”
Trying to create an environment of continuing education in the workplace can seem like a daunting task. But Lindsey says it’s not if you focus on small steps.
“We talk about that 1 percent better,” Lindsey says. “Can your organization get 1 percent better every week? This is a journey, not a destination. It does take time. You’re going to have to spend some time early on pushing and those pushes early on might be hiring or firing people. It might be building programs or doing things. It’s just like working out or any kind of exercise. The healthier you get, the easier it gets to work out.”
How to reach: DEFENDER Direct Inc., (317) 810-4720 or www.defenderdirect.com