Five actions every leader can take to build the power of Employee Pride

Feb. 25, 2014

Part 2 of a two-part series features tips for focusing employee pride on operational improvement

In the last Common Ground blog, I described the power that pride– pride of craft, pride of membership, and pride of place– injects into the discretionary energy people bring to operational performance. No matter the current depth of pride in each of these dimensions, leaders always have an opportunity to enrich it even further. 

The place to start is with a clear understanding of the core source of pride in a facility and its current health (see sidebar). Then, solicit input, gain involvement and collaborate with others to create approaches that are invented or tailored for your situation. The following pride-builders, which are some of my favorites, may provide a place to start. What is important about these actions is that they are more than general recognition events. They are designed to celebrate and honor the particular skill and care that employees put into the product or service delivered. 

Help People  Show Off Their Skills and Contribution

One global firm hosts an annual, internal Exhibition Hall, like those at trade shows and conferences. Every department, profession, or function has a "booth" and showcases what they do. This has the double blessing of letting people show off while also educating each other about all that it takes to make the product and run the facility. 

Some variations on this approach have been to:

  • couple it with an Open-House and let people also shine in the eyes of their families, friends, neighbors, and customers;
  • use social media to create virtual exhibits that can also become permanent teaching tools;
  • let employees give workshops, similar to flight attendants we worked with who gave presentations on the destinations they serve to those newly hired, or just beginning to fly those routes;
  • hold an intra- or inter- plant competition in core skills as fire fighters do station-to-station.

Assure Employees Have Line of Sight to What Matters

In the case of an aviation facility’s wire harness shop, leaders collaborated with local union officials to strengthen a collective sense of pride in work despite that it involved very repetitive tasks that only moved the product one small step toward final product assembly, which happened at a distant facility. To connect workers viscerally to the impact of their work, leaders:

  • brought in employees from the assembly plant that installed the wire harnesses on the aircraft to describe what happened when they received the sub-assemblies;
  • rotated employees out to the assembly plant to see the wire harnesses installed as well as the final assembly of the finished aircraft;
  • tracked individual aircraft the wire harnesses were to be installed on, and rang a celebratory bell as that aircraft left the assembly plant for its first fly-away;
  • attended local air shows as a group to see the aircraft that used their harnesses on display and in flight.

One of the most memorable moments in my career was watching a room full of mechanics and engineers quietly wipe away a tear as an astronaut thanked them for enabling him to safely walk in the vacuum of space, and his wife and children thanked them for making sure he came home.

Involve Employees and the Union in the Business

There are numerous ways leaders can ensure employees and the union are involved in the business, which include: educating people about the business and its impact; assuring  business information is readily available; viewing and  treating the union as an important stakeholder in the business;  and inviting people to help solve critical business issues. We have consistently found that in sites where those measures are taken consistently, both the employees and the union take on shared and active responsibility for:

  • ensuring key product lines are healthy;
  • working to save threatened product lines;
  • winning new products or customers;
  • talking up the company to their community contacts and connections;
  • helping strengthen the company or facilities’ presence in the local marketplace.

Assessing Employees’ Aspirations Uncovers Pride-Builders

We use an Aspirational Assessment™ to help leaders build employee commitment and pride in a facility. It includes a set of specifically-designed questions aimed at fostering a conversation that gets at the heart of what workers care about and hope for. In performing an assessment of this nature, it’s critical to listen without bias or judgment (which is partly why organizations often retain outside firms to conduct these) and to then summarize recurring themes that capture “the story” in its truest form about how employees feel about their work and their workplace. 

But even apart from a structured assessment process, leaders who authentically ask aspirational questions of their employees can gain tremendous insights that shed light on the drivers of employee pride, and how powerful a force it can be when cultivated.

One simple way to start a pride-building process is by asking a few questions like these examples from the Aspirational Assessment™.  

  • What do you love most about the work you do?
  • What do you find the most satisfying about the work we do here?
  • When is a time you were the most proud of this place?
  • How do you feel when you tell people where you work?

The answers may surprise you, as may employees’ positive reactions to being asked. Uncovering key themes is the first step; taking action is what illuminates the Power of Pride. Like buffing away tarnish on brass, it lets what was there all along truly shine.

Facilities that take employees and union representatives on customer and sales calls, for example, reap tremendous benefits. People will speak passionately and knowledgably about their craft and facility. In one field office, employees voluntarily created a briefing book on the company and operation to share with civic organizations and potential business clients with whom they had personal connections. I have seen union crew chiefs use their experience to solve a critical account's problems during a sales call, cementing their long-term loyalty. In another sales call, airport agents spoke so convincingly of how they would meet the difficult requirements of a professional sports team that the team's leaders decided to switch carriers. 

It doesn't always have to be a visit away from the facility. Customer visits were a frequent occurrence at a tire manufacturing plant, as were employee presentations to the visitors on the plant floor. The workers spoke knowledgeably and with palpable pride when they talked about their products, and were also proud to present the guests with union logo-ed pins or ball caps.  

These kinds of experiences have a marked impact on pride, on the relationship between people and the company and between the management and union institutions. It also impresses clients, who are not used to seeing such “joint” promotion, and a shared commitment to customer satisfaction. 

Honor Pride of Craft in Hiring and Training

While working with a group of dispatchers, we discovered that a major part of what was eroding their sense of pride in the organization was the gradual watering down of recruiting requirements and the new hire process as part of cost-cutting efforts. Individual workers and union leaders felt such moves dishonored their craft, and what they had done to earn their place in the profession. Through an Aspirational Assessment™, management learned that the workers and unions held themselves and their work to higher standards. Leaders, workers, support departments and the union took steps to restore pride of craft by:

  • re-designing job requirements and recruiting;
  • revamping orientation and new-hire training;
  • implementing structured mentoring programs;
  • carefully re-designing job families and job progression;
  • applying rigorous performance management.

Celebrate the Facility’s Place in History and the Community

One of the easiest ways to build pride is to honor the company, product, or facility's place in history and the community.

Art can help. In one company a new CEO helped renew pride overnight by taking down all the abstract art in the facility and replacing it with vintage photos and posters showcasing the history of its products. Another possibility would be to have a local artist create a mural, cartoon, or map that illustrates the history of the product, company or facility and salutes the leaders and workers who have made it all possible. In one plant with a particularly rocky history, a mural that honestly displayed all the perspectives of that history served as a powerful healing device helping to restore pride among the workforce.

Being visible in the community as a team in service activities, local parades, and ethnic celebrations creates a self-generating loop of pride that goes out from the workers and is returned by the community. 

In summary, building employee pride, like rubbing tarnish off brass,
is a function of taking deliberate and consistent action to bring forth a powerful force for fostering high levels of employee commitment and helping direct that energy toward operational improvement. Regardless of the product made or service provided, effective strategies for building pride include:
  1. Helping employees show off their skills and contribution
  2. Assuring they have line of sight to what matters
  3. Involving employees and the union in the business
  4. Honoring pride of craft in hiring and training
  5. Celebrating the facility’s place in history and the community.

Pride is a profound field for common ground. Once leaders understand the roots of employee pride and take action to strengthen it, they create an environment in which the creativity and energy of employees at all levels in every function will spill over into extraordinary levels of performance and commitment.

Marc Bridgham is a member of the Consulting Consortium at Overland Resource Group, a 30-year-old firm specializing in helping its clients achieve operational improvement through employee engagement and labor-management collaboration. He is the President and CEO of The Triskelion Group. Founded in 2002, The Triskelion Group focuses on deliberately and effectively igniting the combined forces of Commitment, Creativity and Community that live within any organization, and aligning those forces to achieve rapid and dramatic improvement in business results. Marc can be reached at [email protected].

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