Capturing Your Best Return

Several years ago, I asked a client who was struggling to attract and retain good team members why they treated their customers so well but didn’t extend that same treatment to their employees. This client, the owner of the company, told me that it was because he paid his employees to do what he told them to do so that’s what he expected. He also said that his customers were paying him so they deserved to be treated differently. I immediately replied by telling him that unless he was willing to change that perspective, he had no business having employees. I’m not about to suggest that this reply didn’t ruffle his feathers, but that didn’t mean I was wrong!

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the end of our working relationship. I attempted to help him change this approach for a while longer, until I learned that he had plans for dissolving the business. I won’t go into any more of the ugly details but I will emphasize that it DID NOT have to be that way. Had he been willing to invest even the slightest bit of effort into Changing the Approach he was taking with the folks on his payroll, I truly believe he could have built a team rather than just having a few random people showing up for a check.

If we’re genuinely interested in achieving quantifiable results by dealing with the profitability killers that are having the biggest impact on our bottom line, the simplest solutions can often make the most difference but it’s critical that we start at the top because that will set the tone for everything else across the organization. I’ll stress it once more here just in case I haven’t been clear enough: this doesn’t require some magical gifting that’s only possible for the very select few… Making these behaviors a part of who we are and what we do is as simple as creating any other routine we’ve ever built into our lives, we just need access to the right tools and we need to make a decision to apply them!

 Of all the areas in a business where I believe additional profit could be captured through more effective top down leadership, I’m convinced that recruitment and retention matters the most. Cindy and I developed a lesson in 2020 for our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank, a group of a dozen or so local business owners at that time, called “How Top Leaders Set the Tone for Recruitment & Retention” where we made a business case for just how much money organizations lose when the owners and top executives don’t understand the importance of their relationships throughout their companies. While this also applies to everyone on our teams with even the slightest bit of leadership responsibility, and I’ll break that down in very specific detail soon, the approach those at the top take can absolutely make or break a business - as I referenced before with the client who seemed to believe he owned the folks he was paying…

And the hard reality is that if we don’t give our best people every reason to stay with us, sooner or later (and it’s almost always sooner) we’ll have a hard time recruiting people to take their place. That’s a big enough challenge when we’re trying to fill individual contributor roles in any given field but it kills even more of our profit when the positions we need to fill are ones that oversee key segments of our business!

 Before we dive into the the gory details of why Cindy and I built an entire course geared at helping leaders strengthen their organizational approach to Recruitment, Retention, & Culture, we’ll look at one more area where we’ll see the effects of poor leadership from the top down if we’re not intentional in how we address it and then I’ll touch on one valuable thing we can do as leaders to prepare our organizations to have a strong future…

Something to Strive For

As we build a top down leadership model that has a positive impact on recruitment and retention throughout our company, we can expect that same leadership style to drive results in our areas too as long as we understand the difference between servant leadership and subservient leadership. I heard Dave Ramsey differentiate the two very plainly a few years ago by explaining that subservient leadership is doing things our team members can and should be doing for themselves where servant leadership is doing the things for those folks that they cannot do for themselves. He went on to suggest that a servant leader expects their team members to meet (or even exceed) the expectations of their role!

A while back, I had the opportunity to hear a Lt. Col., who oversees our local university’s ROTC program, share some successes he had seen from his cadets as well as some challenges the United States Military is experiencing nationwide. If I understood correctly, it sounded like overall recruitment across the various service branches was down close to 40%. The part that really grabbed my attention though was him nonchalantly mentioning that his ROTC program had produced almost double the number of officer candidates based on the targets for a school that size. When he gave an opportunity for Q&A, I made sure I had heard both stats correctly and asked what he attributed the overwhelming success of his program to when the nationwide totals were so far down. He simply replied, “We’ve never dropped our high expectations. Good people want to be a part of that.”

When business owners maintain high, but achievable, expectations and they practice a genuine servant leadership approach that cascades from the top down, it definitely attracts and retains some of the best people in the respective field but it also yields a level of performance that just doesn’t come from carrots or sticks… 

In too many scenarios, there’s a misconception that the leader of a team should do whatever they can to ensure their team members are happy or satisfied. Let’s be honest, we all know our share of people who are happy to sit on their couch and eat chips. And we can probably each make a fairly long list of folks who would be perfectly satisfied in a role where they’re not held accountable for anything. But when we invest the time and energy necessary to earn influence and lead effectively, it not only impacts our organization’s recruitment and retention efforts, it also drives this thing called employee engagement. Some employees could be perfectly happy and completely satisfied to just go through the motions without ever meeting or exceeding what their job requires but an engaged employee produces results - and they’re almost always satisfied in their work!

We’ll work through how leaders at any level in their respective company can address this profitability killer soon. For now though, my point ties back to how a top down approach leads to capturing your best return! And if we want to make sure the leaders at each level throughout our teams contribute to this return, we’ll need to continuously work on building our bench strength!

For Best Results…

There are so many ways that effective top down leadership can reduce and even eliminate the profitability killers in our businesses, and we’ll start unpacking some simple strategies for dealing several of the highest risk areas soon, but one way we can ensure we achieve the best possible results across our entire organization is by taking steps to make sure the influence we earn with our teams personally doesn’t stop with us; we need to be very intentional about developing our leaders at every level! To put in sports terms, we need to build a strong bench!

Even the best companies experience some level of turnover; that’s a part of life. If we’ve worked to build great leaders at the highest levels of our organizations, there’s little doubt that we’re seeing it show up on the profit and loss statement. But if we haven’t been just as dedicated to developing leaders in every other part of the business (and notice I didn’t just say level of the business), I’m fairly sure we aren’t doing as well with recruitment and retention as we’re capable of nor are we earning the kind of engagement that produces best-in-class results. If those two things were all we needed to be concerned about by not having effective leaders throughout our organizations - that strong bench, if you will - I would think it would still deserve our attention. However, that’s definitely not where the issues stop!

Without that strong bench, we can also expect significant dips in performance any time one of our top leaders moves on, be that into retirement, to another company, or whatever. If we’re not incredibly strategic about developing our next tier of leaders so they’re prepared to fill gaps as they occur, any given profitability killer can creep back in.

Even this though doesn’t automatically ensure we’ll be able to capture all the profit that’s typically left on the table! Just like leadership isn’t synonymous with management, we can’t focus solely on providing our supervisors and managers with access to leadership development resources and expect peak performance. For best results, we’d do well to provide that same kind of development to every team member who’s shown they have influence with the people around them so their message can be in line with our mission and vision. Whether it’s as a trainer, an informal department lead, a working superintendent, or just a respected peer, their positive leadership skills will impact the performance of others around them!

There’s one trap we’ll need to avoid when we do this though… We need to fight the urge to automatically push them into formal supervisory and management roles just because they’re the best at what they’re currently doing and they’re respected by the people around them. All too often, we advocate that as the natural progression and we end up losing some of the best players on our bench - from the role they love and sometimes from the entire organization. I’m certainly not suggesting that we keep those folks from advancing, just that it should be something they want to do rather than something we’ve pressured them to do. When we’ve created a top down leadership model that’s duplicated across departments and at every level, our chances of eliminating any of (or maybe even all) our profitability killers increase exponentially!

With that in mind, let’s get to work on dealing with them one by one! Stay tuned!