The ability to mobilize and implement requires energy. Energy is defined here as opportunistic optimism married to a sense of urgency. If we look at the history of some of the world’s corporate giants—those who have weathered all types of challenges and adversity—we see a commonality shared by all great managers and leaders. With an eye to economic cycles and market indicators, smart managers seize the moment and act with surety.
Leadership Requires Energy and Openness
Great leaders also realize that they, acting alone, cannot make change happen. To drive an organization, leaders must create a “why not” versus a defensive “why” culture. They must be open to new ideas and resistant to bureaucracy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Johnson when he was vice president and general manager for Target’s home décor department. Ron considered Target to have a “why-not” culture. When new ideas were suggested under his watch, he answered, “Why not?”
Johnson believed strongly that the key merchandise trend for the next decade would be design. He told me, "My team identified a person that we thought was one of the foremost architects and product designers of the twentieth century—Michael Graves. Team members said, ‘We need someone who can provide great design at a value that we can market.’"
In order to accomplish that goal, Johnson had to make a major, up-front commitment to Graves for something that was unproven in the market. Would it work? Would people really want to move to that standard? After all, it was Target, not Bloomingdale’s. They went forward with the project and signed an agreement to launch over 250 products in Target stores, setting an example of Target’s "go for it” culture.
For organizations to survive, they need this type of “why not” attitude—the energy and optimism to find opportunities everywhere, in both the good and the bad, and the flexibility and fearlessness to take advantage of the out-of-the-box thoughts of those who work for them.
The Importance of Relevant Rewards
Another factor in dynamic leadership is the management of reward systems. You can generally assume that all people will work for the corporate or organizational good, and in some cultures the group is more important than the individual. But the group still wants to be rewarded. The effect of rewards cannot be ignored. Rewarding people for a job well done, and choosing rewards that are meaningful, is the lifeblood of any organization.
Making rewards meaningful is key. Employees are motivated to put forth their best effort when they value the rewards. So it’s important to get into the shoes of the potential recipient and find out culturally, individually, communally and fiscally what rewards individuals and groups will appreciate and value.
James Smith, a manager at Departmente de Formadoras, Formax, in Illinois, sent me the following story:
When it comes to recognition, non-monetary rewards are quite effective. I currently have 45 highly skilled, well-paid technicians working in my service department. Several years ago I implemented a customer satisfaction survey which I send to the customer following every service visit. The purpose is to evaluate the performance of the technician and measure the satisfaction of the customer.
You can imagine the reaction of these technical people when we began this program. Overall, they did not like the idea that "big brother" would ask customers to fill out a survey and return it to us. However, the decision to proceed was a democratic one. For every returned survey, the results were tabulated and scored to monitor satisfaction levels. The overwhelming majority of the surveys were returned with excellent reviews and comments. Occasionally, surveys would arrive back with less than favorable results and comments. These were used to fine-tune our technical services and improve performance.
As time went on I began to see that a number of the technicians received repeated perfect scores. I thought that some form of recognition for these perfect scores was appropriate. In order to recognize these outstanding performers, key rings were purchased. Etched into the key rings were the words, “In recognition of outstanding service performance,” along with the company logo. During our regular monthly meetings, all technicians who received perfect scores on two or more satisfaction surveys over a six-month period were brought before their peers, thanked for their performance, and handed the gift. In addition, all the individuals from this group were added to a drawing for a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
I wanted to believe that these were magical moments and that every technician would improve his or her performance as a result. However, in view of all the jabs and jokes that the rewarded technicians received from their peers, I had to conclude that this form of recognition in front of peers was the wrong way to go about it and wasn't making much of a difference. The general perception was that the technicians viewed it as silly.
The month of May would have marked the fifth time that recognition awards were handed out. As I was unable to attend the meeting, one of my supervisors stood in for me. Having decided that the award ceremonies were not popular, I had decided to put off the May rewards until June or July. Surprisingly, a number of technicians inquired as to where the recognition awards were.
Apparently, even though the rewards appeared to be unfruitful, deep inside the rough exterior of those technicians lurked the desire to be appreciated and recognized for jobs well done. Satisfaction could not be achieved through monetary rewards alone. Public recognition in front of peers, no matter how embarrassed the recipient might have appeared, was an excellent motivational tool.
Smith is a good example of a dynamic leader who is open to feedback. His “of the people” accessibility and willingness to do something different gave each individual on his team the feeling that they, too, were dynamic leaders in their own work—performers worthy of recognition.
While this kind of energy can be acquired, some leaders come by it naturally. When you enjoy your work, energy will tend to grow. If you don’t, energy will be difficult to to muster, even if it's part of your nature.
Do you bring out the energy in your people? Consider these questions:
- Do you have a “why” or “why not” culture? Are you open to new ideas—different ways of doing things?
- Once a week, ask your team to examine every corporate habit or process within your area of responsibility. Is there a more efficient, effective way to do things?
- Do you consider yourself energetic? Do others?
- When things get tough at home or at work, do you see the glass as half empty or half full?
- Do you reward people for innovation and quick decision making? How?
About the Author
Larraine Segil is a management consultant and coach serving multiple industries, including healthcare, technology, consumer products, manufacturing, aerospace, financial services and more. She is the author of Intelligent Business Alliances; Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization; Partnering: The New Face of Leadership and Measuring the Value of Partnering. Visit her website at www.lsegil.com.