I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks
Let’s make lots of money
You’ve got the brawn, I’ve got the brains
Let’s make lots of money
The Pet Shop Boys made it sound so simple back in the 80s. But in the real world, achieving financial success in business is a little more complex. I work for a publicly-traded company, so it is no secret that I am part of a leadership team at the helm of a company that has struggled to achieve the desired level of financial performance in recent times.
Leaders of companies that struggle to consistently show strong performance can become frustrated as they try and find the thing that will break the business free from the rut and set it upon a path of prosperity. They constantly question what is at the root cause of the performance issues. Is it the offerings or quality issues or economic headwinds or ineffective marketing or any one of a plethora of other reasons? All too often one of the answers that pops up is “employee are not working hard enough.”
However, from what I observed at other companies and from what I have directly witnessed in my own career, the cause of financial performance struggles is rarely, if ever, the result of employees (at any level) not trying hard enough. Several months back I ran into a former senior leader of my current company at a high school basketball game. As we were talking he said “looks like you guys need to be working harder.” I paused as he said that and then replied “if spectacular financial performance were as simple as having people work harder, I would have been able to retire years ago.” He scratched his head for a moment and then told me I had a good point.
Unfortunately the premise of “we just need to have employees work harder” can easily lead to not recognizing and rewarding the work efforts of employees. In fact during times of challenged performance, it common to see leaders blame employees’ lack of individual performance for the financial woes – alienating the very group of people that can get the company back on track.
One of the things I have been passionate about in recent years is making sure the recognition of employee efforts becomes and remains a part of the company culture. Even in times when financial performance is not exactly celebration worthy, it is always time to celebrate the heroic efforts employees make to deliver for clients. At the core of my current company’s employee recognition efforts is a quarterly awards program called “A Promise We Live.” It is centered on the fact that we make promises to our clients and to each other to deliver what we sold; and that we have to live up to those promises every day.
The program involves employees submitting nominations for the efforts of their fellow employees. It is not a top down program where management determines those that are worthy of consideration; it is driven by employees recognizing the heroic efforts of their co-workers and taking the time to tell others about those efforts. There is then a panel of managers that read and score the nominations using our published core values as the benchmark. From that panel review, the best of the best efforts are selected as quarterly winners, but all those that were nominated are celebrated as well.
Each quarter I look forward to reading through the nominations to learn about the lengths our employees go to deliver on our promises. I am constantly amazed at the level of dedication shown at all levels of staff and from all levels of tenure. It reinforces for me the fact there are so many talented people throughout the organization and reminds me of all the early mornings, late nights, and week-ends employees sacrifice to service our clients. It also provides data points that our issues are not caused by lack of effort by employees. It were just about working harder, our stock price would be through the roof.
I may not have the brains (nor brawn) to know all the answers to all the questions about what holds back a company’s financial performance, but I have decided that simply imploring employees to work harder is not the solution. I am also smart enough to know that taking the time to recognize and celebrate those truly heroic efforts made by employees every day is a key to performance success.
My closing thought to you is to recognize the extra efforts of those working around you. Even if your employer does not have a formal recognition program in place, a simple “Thank You” can convey that efforts do not go unnoticed.