By: Carmine Gallo
Even in the best of economic times, employee engagement surveys show that only 10 percent of employees look forward to their jobs. Today your employees might look forward to going to work because, well, they have jobs. But are they truly inspired and engaged? Legendary General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, doesn't think so. In a recent BusinessWeek column, Welch wrote that many people don't want to work for "the man" anymore, having grown distrustful and skeptical as they watch millions of others lose jobs and careers. Welch believes the impact of this growing attitude will be profound as the economy recovers and employers are left with employees who are not especially excited to work for them.
As an author and communication skills coach for some of the world's most admired brands, I've personally witnessed the influence that inspiring leaders have on corporate culture. The key word is "inspiring." Most anyone can study management or human resources and run a department or division but few people can create an engaged workforce where employees can't wait to jump out of bed Monday morning to get to the office. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has the ability to energize his employees, as do extraordinary leaders who run companies like The Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, and Google. Here's how.
Sell dreams. In an inspired culture, employees see their jobs as more than a paycheck. Steve Jobs doesn't sell computers. He and his team create "tools to unleash human potential." Jobs has a passion for Apple products and he's not afraid of sharing that passion and enthusiasm with his team. It's part of the "reality distortion field" that some observers say surrounds Jobs--the ability to convince people of almost anything.
Jobs is persuasive because he genuinely believes Apple products are making the world a better place. When PepsiCo CEO John Sculley was debating whether or not to accept the CEO position at Apple, Steve Jobs turned to him and said, "Do you want to sell sugared water all your life or do you want to change the world?" Sculley said those words hit him like a punch to the gut. Inspiring leaders don't offer jobs. They offer opportunities to live a meaningful life.
Create vision. Inspiring leaders craft and deliver a specific, consistent and memorable vision. A goal such as "we intend to double our sales by this time next year," is not inspiring. Neither is a long, convoluted mission statement destined to be tucked away and forgotten in a desk somewhere. A vision is a vivid description of what the world will look like if your product or service succeeds. And it can fit within the 140 characters of a Twitter post! Microsoft's Steve Ballmer once said that shortly after he joined the company, he was having second thoughts. Bill Gates and Gates' father took Ballmer out to dinner and said he had it all wrong. They said Ballmer was looking at his role as bean counter for a startup. Instead, they had a vision of putting a computer on every desk, in every home. Ballmer said that vision -- a computer on every desk, in every home-- convinced him to stay.
Tell stories. Inspiring leaders call on effective communication skills to weave stories into the cultural fabric of the workplace. Each day at every Ritz-Carlton hotel in the world, every department gathers for a staff meeting in which they share "wow stories." These are true stories of employees who go above and beyond a guest's expectations. Ritz-Carlton President Simon Cooper told me that these corporate stories give people "local fame." People want to be famous in front of their peers. Local fame is a powerful motivator and, as a bonus, it helps inspire, educate and motivate others to offer the same exceptional service.
Invite participation. Inspiring cultures empower employees to participate in the growth of the company. Google Vice President Marissa Mayer has "office hours." Every day at 4:00 p.m., anyone on her team can sign up for a fifteen minute discussion to talk about anything: feedback on existing products, introducing new ideas, etc. She says some of Google's best products have been born in these office hours. This is especially important with younger employees who value participation. The "command and control" way of managing is over.
Encourage potential. An inspired company culture motivates employees by recognizing the power of praise and incorporates praise into the workplace.Virgin founder Richard Branson has said that when you praise people, they flourish. Criticize, and they shrivel up. When people receive genuine praise, their doubt diminishes and their spirits soar. Great leaders nurture a culture where teams praise each other. Disney's Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark, became famous for taking a class of underachieving fifth graders in Harlem, New York, and turned them into a class of winners -- the kids in his class outperformed the "gifted" classes by the end of the school year. Clark told me that he praised his students often, but he also encouraged the students to praise each other's accomplishments. Together, they lifted each other to higher levels of achievement.
Regardless of your title, you have the potential to be the chief inspiration officer in your workplace, helping to create a company culture that rocks! Encourage people to be their best selves and they will walk through walls for you.
Carmine Gallo is a communications coach and author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience (October, 2009, McGraw-Hill) and Fire Them Up! 7 Simple Secrets of Inspiring Leaders(Wiley, October 2007).