Congratulations, you started a business! You convinced investors to support your cause and recruited top-notch talent to bring your vision to life and, ultimately, generate a profit. You have a lot on your plate, too: making payroll, keeping customers happy, and, of course, growing the company. You’re excited as customers purchase your offering and are delighted with the value. And even if something happens in the market that demands a strategy shift, you feel prepared to handle it and embrace the opportunity to improve.
But does your team feel the same way?
For many new entrepreneurs, people management isn’t the top priority. You likely started a business to deliver a game-changing product or service, not to manage employees. What’s more, getting every team member on the same page and excited about strategy might not come naturally — especially when that strategy changes. But keeping your employees engaged and focused on the company’s mission is vital.
Consider this example: I had a client in the medical services industry that provided air transportation for clients to safely travel from one location to another for treatment. The CEO wanted medics and nurses to partner more closely with EMTs at the scene and work seamlessly to improve quality of care and ensure they were the provider of choice. However, the nurses and medics (who were incredible at their jobs) thought their exceptional medical skills alone were sufficient to land the business. Why fix what seemed unbroken?
The CEO spelled it out in growth numbers — demonstrating why it was important to the business — but it didn’t convince them. Only when I interviewed their customers and learned that effective teamwork and communication were why they nabbed the business did employees began to change the way they worked together. Receiving feedback directly from the customer shattered their misconceptions and helped them work more cohesively.
You Can’t Afford to Lose a Rower
You have a lot to juggle, but your team’s excitement about and involvement in strategy execution can’t be an afterthought. A Gallup report states that only 34 percent of American employees are engaged. The rest are either disengaged — which means they’re unconcerned about costs, new solutions, output, and the company overall — or they’re actively disengaged and sabotaging your progress. Keep in mind: If even a single person isn’t rowing with you, that person is slowing down your boat.
When they find themselves here, entrepreneurs are charged with tapping into their Influencer strengths. Gallup’s CliftonStrengths make up a person’s “talent DNA” — what individual strengths you rely on to execute ideas and relate to others. The Influencer skills help sell ideas and align people with common goals. They’re precisely what you’ll lean on in rallying your team around a new strategy.
Gaining Companywide Buy-In
Change can seem intimidating and confusing, but to reach your company’s full potential, you need teammates rowing in sync. Here are five ways I encourage new leaders to exercise their Influencer strength and get everyone on board with a company change:
1. Set aside the numbers for a bit; shout about the vision instead
Numbers are powerful motivators for executives and investors, but numbers alone aren’t enough for your employees. They likely joined your company because they want to make a difference and be part of an exciting journey, so lead with your company vision when communicating with employees. Let them know where you’re headed: How will this new goal or strategy affect the next few years? Tie everything to a broader purpose, and it will resonate better.
2. Demonstrate how everyone plays a role
You made it meaningful; now, make it personal. Tell teammates how they specifically contribute to implementing the new strategy and realizing goals. Engineers, for instance, may revamp designs to reduce costs, whereas customer service representatives are the face of the company and set the tone for customer relationships. Each and every employee has the ability and is expected to add value. Let individuals know that.
3. Stick to the what, and let your team focus on the how
Truly rallying a team requires finesse. Set team members’ sights on the big goal — the “what” — but let them determine how they’ll work toward that endgame. Doing so fosters team engagement; employees will become more active in their participation.
4. Seek your team’s input
In my consulting, I sometimes hold focus groups with clients’ employees. I’ve found all team members have amazing feedback for leadership, but many choose to keep it to themselves. Your role as CEO is to set direction, but your team will ultimately help you get from one point to another. Make a deliberate choice to ask for employees’ input: They may see obstacles you haven’t identified or have fresh ideas for improving the company’s work.
5. Reconnect and connect the dots
When you use employees’ ideas, give them credit. You’re boosting engagement by showing the relationship between their input and the business’s growth. And if you choose not to use an idea, let the individual know why; it’s an opportunity for him or her to learn more about the business.
There’s no better time to determine how aligned your team is with your strategy. Take a portion of the day to perform a quick test. Ask 10 random employees the following questions:
- Who are we competing against?
- What makes us different from that competition?
- Why do customers choose us over our competitors?
- How do you personally affect that difference so we’re successful?
See how different (or similar) answers are — or see if you get blank stares. Then, act accordingly. Your boat won’t reach top speed until everyone is aligned.