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Jennifer Wilson
Want to make more money? Engage your people first

Four ways to inspire your team to deliver exceptional client service and profitability

March 3, 2014
by Jennifer Wilson

I was reading my Runner’s World magazine on a recent vacation. In it, David Willey ended his editor’s letter with this quote, “[T]he pursuit of contentment may be the best route to perfection. Not the other way around.”

When he wrote this, Willey probably didn’t intend me to think of work. But as I read it, it struck me that most of us overfocus on our most desired outcome—the end result. And, in our tunnel vision, we forget to cultivate the critical success factors that most affect the outcome we seek.

For instance, in the accounting profession, we focus so much on client satisfaction and profitability that we miss the all-important role that our people play in affecting both. Willey’s quote reminded me immediately of something David Maister wrote in Practice What You Preach: “[W]hat conventional wisdom forgets is that great client service is itself a product of other things. To get client service, it turns out, you must first energize your people to deliver it.”

Maister’s premise is this: When your team members are motivated and engaged, they will deliver exceptional client service, which will then drive increased profitability. To prove his point, Maister surveyed employees in 29 professional services firms around the world to determine how well those employees felt their leaders were doing in living their values, serving their clients, and communicating—essentially practicing what they preach. Maister’s data showed that when employees felt their leaders’ behavior matched their stated commitments, those organizations had higher levels of employee engagement, client satisfaction, and profitability.

Maister’s ideas were echoed by Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, who said, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”

But we’re not winning in the workplace

Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders report found that only 30% of the 25 million respondents reported being actively engaged and inspired at work. Another 20% reported being actively disengaged, and the other 50% are not engaged or as Gallup describes it, “They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.” Wow! Seven of 10 American workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged at work—and some of these are probably working in your organization today.

So, if you want to be more competitive and more profitable, focus first on these four factors that affect employee engagement:

  • Put your people first—really! Leadership has to practice what it preaches and place employee engagement, people development, and internal communication on the same plane as you place service delivery, client satisfaction, and financial performance. You’ll know that you have done so when your key leaders are measured, paid, and promoted on cultural and people measures with as much weight as they are incented on client and financial measures. See my blog post “Let’s Stop Playing Lip Service to People Development” to further explore how your firm truly values people development.
  • Give your work meaning. The 2014 Society for HR Management’s HR’s Holy Grail: The Engaged Employee suggests that employees need a sense that what they’re doing is important to be engaged. What difference is your firm making in the world—for clients and for the community? What is your firm’s vision for the future? How well is your firm’s mission and vision understood among your team members? How clear are team members about how their role and the work they do each day fits within your firm’s mission and vision? Work to define and communicate the difference your organization and each team member make to maximize employee engagement.
  • Manage your people well. Remember the adage, “People don’t quit their company, they quit their manager”? In the aforementioned employee engagement report, Gallup’s CEO, Jim Clifton, advises leaders that, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all of the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” Who have you placed in a position of authority over your people? Are you accepting poor leadership or bad behavior from even one partner or manager in your firm? How come? For ideas for resolving “bad managers” read my blog post “You ARE Better Off Without Them!”.
  • Listen! Your people are filled with ideas to improve your firm and its services. They’ll tell you how they feel about their managers and their work. They’ll also have suggestions for ways you can engage and develop them. And, when they feel you’re interested in their feedback and you’ll take action on their ideas, their motivation and engagement will improve. For six ideas on listening to your people, read my article “Great Leaders Gather Feedback,” CPA Insider, April 23, 2012.

As Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman wrote in Closing the Engagement Gap:

“[A]n engaged employee understands what to do to help her company succeed, she feels emotionally connected to the organization and its leaders, and she is willing to put that knowledge and emotion into action to improve performance, her own and the organization’s.”

I understand that focusing on client satisfaction comes naturally to you. And we all want a stronger bottom line. But to sustain these important objectives and achieve your highest organizational potential, you must first exhibit a relentless drive to engage, motivate, and inspire your people. When you do, you’ll achieve both Willey’s contentment and perfection along the way.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.