How to Build Better Employee Engagement

on January 5, 2017

That’s it; I’m leaving my job. I’m going to start a company of sports fans – or rather the corporate equivalent:  Business Buffs? Corporate Crazies? The fact that I don’t know what I’m going to sell is irrelevant.

I want to lead and/or work at a company where I am so fanatical that when my company closes a large deal over our biggest competitor I feel the same rush as when my beloved Wolverines win a come from way behind victory. (Think the 2004 victory over those monsters from East Lansing with Braylon Edward’s 2 TD catches in 5 minute).

Or, I’m so motivated to rally my co-workers during a tough sales slump that I vow to wear my company logoed t-shirt every day for weeks until we see a big spike in pipeline leads. And more importantly,  it’s not just me. Every person I work with feels the same way!

Is this a pipe dream? I don’t think so.

Okay – I’m not quitting. I love Root and I love my job. Why? Because I feel like we’re a company that can actually help other businesses and leaders create those “Corporate Crazies” or “Business Buffs!”

Build Better Engagement – Start Thinking Like Athletic Directors

The issue is – executives need to start thinking the same way every Athletic Director in the Pac 10, SEC, Big 10 (or 14 or whatever we are now) thinks! They spend their time thinking:  “What is the entire experience that I’m creating – for the fans, the players, the concession stand workers, the coaches, etc! How do I get everyone “in the game” based on their particular role – whether they’re on the field, supporting from the sidelines, providing guidance and so on. Unfortunately executives aren’t thinking that way. They’re mainly thinking about the bottom line. They’re thinking about their competition. They’re thinking about market conditions.

What they’re not spending enough time doing is thinking about their people. Do they have a company of fanatical employees who are willing to do whatever it takes to help their team win? Even if they’re not the one’s out of the field? What are the people in the stands doing (think back-office)? Don’t you want them cheering on the women and men selling the products in the stores or across the boardroom table? And for that matter – doing whatever it takes, like wearing the same lucky socks for weeks on end – until that sale comes in? Or in back-office vernacular making sure every “i” and every “t” is crossed on that contract so the customer or prospect loves doing business with you!

Learning from Crazy College Sports Fans

So where is my rant coming from? Like every good Michigan alum, I follow anything and everything that relates to my alma mater. I’m a 20+ year Football season ticket holder. I’m pretty sure 75% of my wardrobe is either maize or blue (or both). So of course when I see an article written by a fellow alum, I’m going to check it out. Ironically it was about “The Psychology of the Crazy College Sports Fan.” As I was reading it, I immediately began to think about how company leaders are approaching the concept of building better employee engagement completely wrong.

Some of the key points from the article were:

  • Sports fandom is not only perpetuated through society and community – we’re biologically wired for it because sports create a sense of belonging – and being part of something so much bigger than ourselves (our own Jim Haudan has talked about this for years and years) is part of human nature.
  • When fans see dramatic plays – it quickens the pulse and energizes people.
  • Super fans process information the same way as if they were the ones out on the field playing
  • When the team plays well, fans get a great big rush of dopamine – creating an emotional high.  And, even if they’re not playing well, this same chemical rush provides feelings of hope!
  • Having this “community” helps create meaning for people – fans who are very invested in their teams have a strong sense of self-worth, are more emotionally stable and are more connected to others.
  • Lastly, identification leads to belonging, which also leads to a sense of meaning.

Creating Crazy Corporate Fanatics aka Employees

So if you’re a leader right now, I really hope you’re saying to yourself, “Whoa! There’s something here. How do I create that same effect in my company?” Like the world series of college softball, March Madness, the Rose Bowl game – all of us leaders should be working to get every single person at our companies to feel like they’re in the game, that they’re on the field!

I had a job where the boss used to send his admin through the office after 5pm to see who was still there. It was SUPER motivational to have someone checking up on us. And after we saw her do it a few times, it was very easy to figure out what was up. This guy doesn’t trust I’m doing my job and he measures my effectiveness based on whether I’m still in the office.

Ultimately this company went through a boatload of mergers and acquisitions and each time we hoped we’d wind up with a leadership team that truly wanted to:

  • Help everyone feel a sense of belonging by creating a company of people who had pride and enthusiasm and cheered the company’s successes.
  • Get everyone energized to get out of bed and go to work and not feel a sense of dread on Sunday evenings.
  • Feel that sense of community – excitement when everything was going well and “we’re all in this together” when there was a slump.

Orchestrating that Come from Behind Victory

Obviously hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back with a different lens, I believe the leaders (and more likely the private equity owners) missed significant opportunities to invest in their people and/or build a culture that created 2,200 strong fan base of Business Buffs or Corporate Crazies!

Perhaps if there had been more attention paid to those areas rather than the cost-cutting and product development (which I don’t mean to imply isn’t important), the outcome for this company would be very different. This is a company with a tremendous amount of latent potential in both its people and its products – yet it still seems to continue to struggle.

I love that I now work for a company where I am as equally psyched to go to work as I am when I walk into the largest stadium in the United States to cheer on the best football in the nation. (I don’t want to hear from you OSU fans, okay?)

Does this sound at all like your company? Is it time to put on your new Athletic Director hat? Leaders, stop thinking about building better employee engagement and start thinking about building a company of super fans!

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