If people are your greatest asset, what are you doing to engage and motivate them?

How to create an atmosphere where a high-performing team can take root and flourish.

By Phil Beelendorf, Roquette America Inc.

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Much has been written on the subject of employee engagement. But few articles give practical advice on how to create an atmosphere where a high-performing team can take root and flourish. While most organizations devote a great deal of time, energy, and resources developing strategies to improve the health of their physical assets, they spend far less time and are less strategic when it comes to motivating and empowering their greatest asset: people. So if you believe the old saying, “People are your greatest asset”, my question to you is this: “What are you doing to improve the health of this, the greatest of your assets?”

To truly become a world class maintenance organization, one must have engaged and motivated people. Maintenance and reliability principles and practices cannot produce results by themselves; results come from talented people coming together with a common sense of purpose. Organizations cannot motivate people with speeches and slogans. As the leader of your reliability excellence effort, you can only hope to create an environment where people feel safe, cared for, and valued – and then provide a compelling vision that they choose to be part of.

In the stress-filled environment of today’s workplace, where improving productivity and lowering costs are daily expectations, reliability leaders often lose sight of this, their most important responsibility. The reliability leader must be both intentional and strategic when it comes to employee engagement.

Step 1: Develop an environment of caring

In his Fast Company article “Why Engagement Happens in Employees Hearts, Not Their Minds,” Mark C. Crowley said, “Without exception, bosses predominantly concerned about their own needs create the lowest levels of employee engagement.” To see whether you really care about people take this simple self-assessment quiz. What is more important: (1) Finding the root cause of a critical machine failure?  or (2) Finding out which projects one of your key people is most passionate about working on?

If you answered (2) then ask yourself this follow-up question: If you came in Monday morning not knowing the answer to either question, which would you tend to work on first?

You cannot fake concern; people will see right through your lack of sincerity. Leaders who genuinely care for their people possess a servant’s heart; position and title are not used to lord over or manipulate those they supervise. Genuine, deep compassion and empathy for people’s well-being, growth and development motivates their decisions.

Are you the type of leader who would never ask anyone to do something you would not be willing to do yourself? Having this mindset does not mean that you need to do everything. Leaders should delegate many tasks to those they lead so they can concentrate on leading and guiding those they serve. Ironically, if people believe you would never ask them to do anything you would not do yourself, they will gladly volunteer to take the load off your shoulders when they see you are overburdened. You will not even need to ask them to do so. Many of the people I lead routinely ask me what they can do to help me. But when you do ask them to do something, don’t forget to say please and thank you. Common courtesy goes a long way in demonstrating that you care and shows you appreciate their hard work.

My influence as a leader increased ten-fold when I looked in the mirror and reflected on whether I truly cared about the people I led on a personal level. Unfortunately, I found my personal ambition and career goals were more important than the needs of the people I led. When I committed to genuinely care for people, they took notice of this heartfelt change, and their personal commitment to me and the vision was reciprocated. To remind me of my commitment to care about the people I serve, the following message hangs above my desk. I try to read it every day when I come to work.

"Roquette cannot motivate people. As a leader, all I can hope to do is provide an environment where our people feel safe, cared for, and valued – and then provide them with a compelling vision that they choose to be a part of. I truly believe I am the luckiest leader in the whole world, because of the team I am privileged to lead. Have I demonstrated to my team that I love and value them today? Am I letting the stress of my circumstances keep me from this, my most important responsibility?"

You might think the word “love” is inappropriate in a business environment. The love I am speaking about comes from the Greek word “Agape”. It means to love selflessly or sacrificially. True leadership, the kind found in the transformational leader, involves placing the needs of those you serve above your own. It's a gut-check question; what are you really committed to?

Once you have demonstrated that you care for the people you serve, work on developing the same level of camaraderie throughout your team which exists between soldiers who have served together on the battlefield.

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