How can we ask our employees to be loyal in such unsettling times when companies regularly downsize and job security is nonexistent?
Perhaps a better question, given the times, is: Do we even want them to be loyal?
Loyalty can sometimes be misdirected or be just another name for resisting change. At the same time, keeping valuable employees is key to success. If we can direct employees' focus away from issues of loyalty or morale, we can get them to commit to their jobs and recognize that performance is what pays the bills - ours and theirs.
The first step toward getting employees to commit to the company is management commitment. The atmosphere in your bank is determined by you. As in so many other areas, when it comes to building commitment, you must lead by example. In Israel, all tank commanders have to lead by being exposed in the turret. The Israeli army in general holds the philosophy that the leader has the least rights and the most obligations to the soldiers. Only when the commander cares for his troops and shows unwavering commitment will the troops follow. Leadership must be passionate and unwavering. Management commitment is the same.
In addition to commitment, management needs to give the company a clear focus. Building and inspiring organizational purpose is the first step toward mobilizing the troops. Fight for survival, for glory, or for setting the world's standard. But fight for something clear and focused and rewarding. Further, you need to create an environment where goals are achievable and you, the leader, are the vehicle for goal achievement. I often envision the leader as the man with the machete who clears the path for the elephant to move forward. The elephant is your organization.
Empowerment is an overused word. What it really means is motivation. People who have power are motivated to use it. People who don't have it act like victims and take no responsibility. Empowering people does not mean loss of control or loss of centralized power. It means generating more energy from everyone - making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and making your people feel needed. People respond to that. They need to feel that they matter, that they are not replaceable production units. There is nothing more countermotivational than to know that if one leaves tomorrow, another person will fill the slot instantaneously without any penalty to the organization. People want to feel useful and unique. Once they feel so, they are prepared to make a commitment to the organization in return.
Change is the enemy of commitment. It is scary, distracting, and creates unproductive work. If you focus on results and hold people personally accountable for them, you will not lose productivity during times of change. Just the opposite. By taking responsibility, people become empowered.
Change can also be used as an opportunity to reaffirm people's belonging to an organization. Employees do not like to be hired and forgotten. Like customers, they do not like to feel like a number and lose individuality. Include your employees, even if they will not initiate it. If you do, you will get better results. Share your decision-making philosophy with them. Put them in your shoes as a decision maker and share the necessary information. They will be drawn in and provide you with valuable insights, while giving you their commitment.
Especially during times of change, do not slow down. It distracts employees from the task at hand. The leader's job is to accelerate and focus people on achieving tangible results and specific performance gains. Focusing on results, celebrating accomplishments, and raising the bar will create momentum for you. By expecting and inspecting daily progress, you will build up the pace of the company and its excitement.
One more way to increase commitment among employees is to reward them as owners. There is no better perspective on a company than the owner's perspective. Owners are truly committed and employees who feel they are owners invest their best resources, effort, and heart in the company. It is also important to make the company a personal place to work, a place where people share and create pride in what they do and inspire each other; a place where they can talk about their children and become a person rather than a cog in the big wheel. Such steps will make a difference.
In these days of continuous uncertainty on an institutional or a personal level, creating a bond between employee and the company is as great a challenge as ever. Yet overcoming the hesitation to commit is critical to success, because employees are our most important resource.
Ms. Bird is chief operating officer of Roosevelt Financial Group, St. Louis.