People are everything!  But, as author Jim Collins has said, “People are not our most important asset, the right ones are.”  With the right ones, we have potential.  With the wrong ones, we have problems!   The capacity to build ultra-successful organizations lands squarely on finding and keeping the right people.  But getting there is easier said than done.  However confusing and overwhelming it can seem, below are some time-tested principles for building and keeping a team of highly productive and committed people.

Traditional thinking doesn’t cut it

The first step is to do away with traditional thinking about “employees”.  How people behave is a direct reflection of a leader’s attitude toward them.  Whether you realize it or not, you speak volumes with your body language, facial expressions, and gestures.  By now, they all know if they are valued as significant, capable individuals or thought of more as (just) a means to an end.  And performance follows!  People who know they are valued as significant contributors actually …well, contribute.  This is not a novel thought.  Johann Goethe noted nearly 100 years ago “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

Consider that people will never follow a “leader” because he or she is ”right’.  They must always choose to do so, and they make those choices based on whether they feel genuinely accepted and valued as significant human beings (not drones or objects).  Having a title or position of authority only gets grants us compliance at best.  Commitment however, requires mutual respect and trust.  It’s a simple principle that gets unintentionally violated way too often, and it’s costly!

Your culture is your choice

Many company cultures are so fixed on traditional, counterproductive behaviors that the people existing in them can’t see the forest for the trees.  It takes a full 180 degree paradigm shift to break down those barriers.  This is a leader’s responsibility and as difficult as it can be, breaking down and replacing old inward, self-limiting mindsets is a mandate for sustained success.  But, for some reason (ignorance is just an excuse) we hate doing it.  After all, it seems scary to face the negative responses we often concoct or assume possible.  Sorry, but you don’t get a pass.  Leaving the wrong people (or leader) on the team and hoping for the best is a formula for failure.  Bad attitudes (an unwillingness to change or at least cooperate) is poison that must be extracted quickly and ruthlessly – although not without compassion.

For chronic non-conformers, consider asking point blank if they want to be on or off the team.  You will suddenly get their attention on a whole new level, and almost always discover how quickly someone’s attitude can change for the better.  Remember, it’s a privilege to work on and contribute to a healthy and prosperous team, not a right.  Ignoring underperformance or poor behaviors just handicaps the rest of the team unfairly.  They don’t appreciate it and will come to resent it when unaddressed.

Once you’ve started your team down this road to growth, build on it!  This is a pivotal point.  Cultivate an environment where people have a voice and are safe to speak up without fear of repercussion – even when the topic is sensitive or deemed off limits in the past.  That doesn’t happen accidentally.  Bring people together, often and regularly.  Ask provocative questions and welcome dissenting viewpoints.  Prod, pull and provoke people to talk and share ideas and solutions.

Three questions to ask

Additionally, consider testing these three impactful questions in a group setting to get the dialog started, being sure you go first, paving the way for others to be vulnerable too:

  1. What is one thing I do that you want me to continue doing?
  2. What is one thing I don’t do that I need to begin to do or do more often?
  3. How can I best support and/or encourage you to become more effective?

Finally, as one leader has noted, “Your culture is a product of what you create and what you allow“.  It takes time and steady perseverance to maintain a positive, productive culture.  It’s fundamentally the most important work of leadership, and it is for sure the work that has the biggest impact and most positive outcomes over time.

Want to set organization apart from the competition?  Value your people as significant, capable individuals.  Know about them and find out about their dreams, wishes and goals.  Invite them to be a part of the solution vs thinking of them as part of the problem.  And finally, foster a culture where people are safe to talk about difficult problems and contribute their unique ideas to overcome them.

As challenging as it may seem, there is nothing more rewarding than watching people grow and thrive as a result of our investment in them.  Committed people become your organization’s biggest advocates, attract other productive employees and create the nucleus of market-leading companies.  While we do live a world of imperfect people (one of which we all are), it is the leader’s job to accept and capitalize on this fact.  People are people everywhere.  And for the most part, they want to succeed and grow to their highest potential.  Your job is to help them get there!

Need to jump-start your team and foster more commitment and collaboration?  Consider Legacy’s one or two-day Team Accelerator or one-to-one leadership coaching.  We’re here for you and your team!