Leaders who still believe that inspiring employees should take a backseat to cost-cutting need to look to Apple.
At the end of June, the company’s co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs made headlines when he returned to work after medical leave. Wall Street was on the edge of its seat because Jobs’ value to Apple is in his ability to inspire employees so they will perform with the same innovative intensity and attention to detail that Jobs brings to his own work. Indeed, Apple is a great company not simply because of Jobs’ creative vision — the one that brought us iPods and iPhones — but because of his ability to share and instill that vision throughout the company so that his ideas evolve into products consumers love.
Without Jobs’ infectious genius at the helm, investors fear for Apple’s future.
But no one succeeds alone, which is why all leaders must find a way to pollinate the workforce with their values, ideas and enthusiasm. This is what keeps businesses humming, especially during a downturn.
Some leaders inspire the masses via the grand motivational speech. Others via one-on-one conversations. At Time Warner, CEO Jeffrey L. Bewkes held a series of skip-level lunches with ten to twelve high performers that typically had little or no access to him. He spent two unscripted hours talking about his vision and answering their questions. Employees who attended Bewkes’ lunches reported feeling more “conﬁdent in the company” and developed a new affinity for their chief.
Whatever vehicle leaders choose to use to reach out and inspire employees at local levels, their talk must have teeth. Don’t spout hyperbole — “Great job” or “we can do it!” Instead, serve up concrete, achievable goals. Listen to people’s problems and offer real solutions. Mentor by sharing your own lessons learned, celebrate teams’ efforts and reward tangible accomplishments. Even a simple “thanks” goes a long way when delivered from on high.
Each week at furniture designer Knoll, president and COO Lynn Utter emails four senior managers and asks them for the name of one person on their team who has been exemplary. Utter then calls each person to thank and congratulate him or her for a specific accomplishment. Utter is as time-constrained as the rest of us but says that if she cannot make four phone calls a week to acknowledge people’s good work, then she is not doing her job.
“[Innovation] is not about money,” Apple’s Jobs was cited as saying in Fortune in 1998. “It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
And that’s essentially the point. A leader’s job is not only to rein in expenses, meet with customers, brief investors and close deals. A leaders’ job is to make sure people get it.
If you want to make sure your message is getting through the entire organization, click here to download more information about how Time Warner CEO Jeffrey L. Bewkes keeps the lines of communication open.