Helping Someone Connect with a Purpose Requires Competency

competency connection defining my purpose definite purpose employee engagement engagement gaining buy-in individual purpose leaders purpose leadership purpose leadership purpose statement mission mission vision values organizational purpose passion and purpose at work relationships respect vision May 01, 2024
gaining buy-in

If we truly want to help our team members feel like they’re part of something that matters, developing solid relationships by connecting on common ground can provide a great foundation. This isn’t some theory I read in a book, it’s something I saw a few managers demonstrate and something I experienced personally throughout my career in safety and human resources. When I left my role at a large manufacturing facility, I knew each of the 650 employees by name and knew a fair amount about a large majority of those employees’ families. In each of the companies I worked directly for from then until I transitioned to full time self employment, I invested a ton of time early on to get to know each of the folks I’d be working with. While those companies had far fewer team members, it still took a focused effort - one that not many of the managers already there had taken the time to do. It was recognized and appreciated by many of my new coworkers, but it wasn’t quite enough for me to earn their complete buy-in or help any of them genuinely connect with even the overall purpose of the organization we were a part of.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with a friend who was one of the first people I met as I started in manufacturing as a nineteen year old kid. Phil had retired just a few months prior to our visit, after more than four decades with that company. Just in case you’re wondering, this is the same Phil whose actions taught me the importance of not forcing a promotion on someone - as I detailed in chapter ten of What’s KILLING Your Profitability? (It ALL Boils Down to Leadership!). We hadn’t seen each other many times since I left that organization nearly a decade prior but we had maintained contact through some mutual friends, including his wife and my son, so we had a lot of ground to cover! We talked a little about music (we both enjoy 80s metal & hair bands), a bit about our kids and grandkids, and a fair amount about our time working together - the good and the bad. I worked on Phil’s assembly line the first few weeks I was with that company, prior to moving to the department that fabricated parts for the assembly lines. For the next four years, I made parts that Phil’s team would eventually use and gained a tremendous understanding of the machines in my home department as well as a general competency in the bulk of the manufacturing processes in the entire facility.

When I moved into other roles in the company, whether it was locally or with the training I provided for other sites across North America, that competency helped me relate to so many of the people I interacted with. As Phil and I talked, he mentioned that specifically as one of the things he appreciated most in dealing with me over the years. He said that even when we didn’t see eye to eye on something, he was able to respect my point of view since he knew I understood where he was coming from. Although I didn’t have that same level of competency in every other part of the facility, I was able to develop a decent understanding of most everything else over the years. That was a huge help when I accepted responsibility for hiring for all the open hourly positions and it made a crucial difference in how I had some tougher conversations with folks who weren’t meeting their performance expectations.

As I think back on the roles I held after leaving that organization, I can point to specific things I did to learn about the various roles of the team members I’d be working with. While doing payroll and HR for a stone quarry, I frequently jumped into the “training seat” in the heavy equipment to get perspective of what those operators experienced each day. While holding safety and human resources responsibility for a mechanical contractor, I visited job sites throughout the Shenandoah Valley on a weekly basis to learn more about what our skilled tradesmen were working on. And in my last position on a company’s payroll, I occasionally took candidates to job sites so they could actually see the work they’d be doing because I remembered how different it was for me when I started working in the agricultural construction field just out of high school.

I won’t pretend any of that was because I understood how much it could help me build effective relationships with the folks I’d be working around, it was really something I just wanted to learn for myself. But developing even that basic competence in the tasks performed in each of those organizations helped me appreciate each role in a way that I could begin connecting it back to what the entire company was striving to achieve. And making those connections served as the framework I could use to help tie any team member’s work to the overall mission, vision, or values of the organization - and help them know they were part of something that mattered - so we’ll look at that in more detail next time.