Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Since I started my consulting business in January 2021, people have asked me about my tagline, putting people first. This mantra developed early in my career when I saw other leaders only talking about sales, metrics, and what employees were doing wrong. I found out very quickly that focusing on the individual employee and taking time to understand what their goals were and how to motivate them drove sales immensely.
Here is one example that I will never forget. Back in the early 2000s, I was working in a retail setting, and there was an employee that most leadership wanted to figure out how to terminate. She was not meeting her goals, she was timid, but she showed up on time and always was willing to try. I requested to be her mentor, and over the next few months, we worked together every shift until her sales numbers increased. I am happy to report that she became one of our top sales employees after about four months of coaching. When I say coaching, I do not mean performance improvement plan, performance management, or in-the-moment observation coaching. Although I 100% believe those are all especially important, this was not what created success in engaging this specific employee.
So how did I do it? I took time to get to know her as an individual. I asked her simple questions to get to know her better. Why did she apply for this job? What were her expectations? What were her favorite things in this role? What were some of the things that made her nervous? Once I figured out what motivated her and what she feared, I learned to leverage that knowledge into her coaching. We found out what she did well, which happened to be what she was most confident about. I spend time focusing on those areas where she felt comfortable and gave her some tips and tricks, also known as feedback, to increase her performance. Because she was confident in those areas, she did not see those tips and tricks as a threat or negative feedback that made her perceive that she was not doing a good job. Because she was so great in those areas, I wanted to build her confidence by making her a mentor to other employees, and she trained them in those areas. During those few weeks, I started to gain her trust. We spend time together on our lunch breaks and in between customers on the sales floor just talking. Once she knew that I would not let her fail, she was willing to try some of these other areas that she did not feel confident about. I tried to find positive things to compliment and coach her on when she performed an activity where she was not as comfortable. It was not the time to criticize, and it wasn't the time to offer tips and tricks; it was the time to applaud her for stretching out of her comfort zone. Over time it got easier, and over time she started to make sales, and over time she built up enough confidence to become one of our top sales employees. This example has stuck with me over the years and I have applied it in all my leadership roles.
I tell you this story not because this approach will work for everyone. I tell you because the moral of the story was, we almost got rid of an employee that wanted to be there, that had a great attitude, but no one took the time to understand why they were not performing. When you take time to engage and build trust with employees, you will be astounded by how much they want to provide for the organization and or for you as their leader.
Being a manager or leader comes with incredible responsibility. You are responsible to your employees. As the leader, you are accountable for employee development, performance management, and employee productivity. I encourage each of you reading this to think of an employee that was quickly dismissed because they were not performing. Did you do everything that you could do you support them? Did you get to know them as a person and build trust? Many of us do not do that not because we do not want to, but because we do not have time. Time is not a renewable resource, and we only have a certain number of hours in a day to complete all our tasks. But what if we took just a few minutes out of our day to personally connect with each employee responsible to us? Over time, building that trust and rapport with your employees will get you more engagement, more productivity, and a better work experience for you and your employee.
This blog will be about how to reframe the business world to put people first. If you put people first, sales and profits will come. They will probably come more effortlessly and more frequently. Our workplaces are nothing without the people who show up and give 100% every day. Think about one thing you can do to provide more support and build trust with your teams. Try prioritizing that for ten days, and I passionately believe you will see a difference.