Fire Up Your Employees
and Smoke Your
How to Invite, Incite and Ignite Performance
By Jay Forte
team’s performance is just average; they do just enough to get by.
Customers don’t excite them. Their work doesn’t excite them. They
have to be constantly watched, even to do the basics. You are afraid
to travel and leave them on their own. You catch them playing on the
computer and hear talk of what other jobs are paying. Achieving
performance and financial targets is a constant struggle. Sound the
alarm … you are suffering from smoldering employees; they have the
embers of performance, but no fire.
the problem? Are the employees the problem? How can you ignite these
embers into a fire of passionate performance?
employees change jobs every 18-36 months. As you read this, more
than half of your employees are job hunting, some actively, some
passively. Statistics by the Gallup Organization indicate
approximately 60 percent of your employees do just enough at work
not to be fired; only 20 percent actually come to work committed to
make a difference. By 2012, it is expected that the number of jobs
will outnumber the available employees by close to 10 million. In
the next five years, 20 percent of the U.S.’s largest corporations
will lose 40 percent of their top talent to retirement. This creates
a workplace that is poised for an all-out war for talent.
are tough roads ahead, but not all is doom and gloom. These
statistics mostly indicate employees perform at average levels
because they are bored and unhappy at work. That makes this more of
a management than employee issue; it will take a change in
management thinking and behavior to re-activate and re-ignite the
fires of performance in today’s workforce.
workplace changed from the industrial age of making things to
today’s intellectual age of providing service, it significantly
changed what we want and need from our employees. In the past, we
needed manpower and horsepower to run machinery and manufacture
products. But as manufacturing moved offshore, we moved from
horsepower to brainpower. Thinking and knowledge now drive results.
“One-size-fits-all” jobs no longer exist; thinking is personal and
not all employees think the same way. We must start to align the way
employees think with the thinking needed in their jobs to activate
their passion, interest, emotion, and performance. When we do,
employees become more engaged and passionate about what they do and
perform at exceptional levels; boredom and discontentment in the
management must inspire and engage employees to ignite their
passions and emotions; command-and-control is out. It is important
to connect with employees to know and understand them, in order to
help them perform at their best level. Management must relearn how
to engage employees or be prepared for high turnover and a daily
struggle for performance. Consider these five steps to fire up your
employees and smoke your competition:
1. Create an employee-focused (workplace) culture.
This workplace culture openly appreciates, values and develops
employees, attracts and retains the best candidates. A workplace
culture that is employee-focused includes: sharing a powerful
mission, vision and goals, implementing a competent, talent-based
hiring process, compensating employees fairly, offering achievable
incentive plans, providing recurring skill and career development
and creating a culture of open participation and contribution.
Employees get fired up working for an organization that is publicly
focused on their value and their success.
2. Hire and promote based on talents. Talents
manifest themselves differently in each employee; any employee is
not a good fit for any job. Employees are fired up about jobs whose
thinking and performance requirements match their talents and
passions. The closer they are matched, the more passionate
performance happens. Start with Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder 2.0
to learn the language of talents. Then summarize talent by employee
and talent by each role in the organization. Match talents needed
with the talents of the employees for the best performance. Realign
employees as needed. Only those that are excited about their work
(because it matches their talents and passions) will be fired up to
3. With the right employees in the right roles, now define
performance expectations. Studies show employees are more
excited about performance when they know what is expected and create
the plan to achieve them. This personalizes each role, takes
advantage of their talents and encourages employees to own their
performance. Employees are fired up when they have a voice, are made
to feel competent, and can control their performance.
4. Build a strong personal manager connection though
recurring performance feedback. Act as a coach and
educator; encourage employees to continually improve their skills to
achieve their performance expectations. The more contact you have
with employees in a positive and supportive way, the stronger the
personal connection. This connection is the core of millennial
management; employees are loyal to managers who know them, care
about them and spend time helping them improve.
5. Host recurring “Career Conversations.” Employees
respond to a compelling personal vision of the future. To keep
employees excited about performance, host “Career Conversations” or
development discussions several times a year. Discuss the employee’s
talents and interests in conjunction with the needs and direction of
the organization. This insures a viable plan as it blends the needs
of the organization with the talents, interests and goals of the
employees. Allowing employees a voice in the development process is
one of the most significant ways to fire up an employee.
world has changed; it is time to write a new story. This one has to
be bolder, more engaging and feature the employee. Employees are the
brains and heart, the knowledge and emotions, the actions and
passion of the organization. This powerful new organizational asset
must be well understood to be well managed. Many of today’s managers
misunderstand the performance power of this asset, and never ignite
its potential. Exceptional employee performance starts with great
management. Engage and inspire them. Listen to and care about them.
Fire them up! And in return, they will smoke your competition.
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