A buddy of mine loves to punctuate long training runs with speed drills. After logging several miles, my reaction is typically, “You jerk! Seriously?!” But then I’m sprinting, figuring it will make me a stronger runner. The same principle applied to working for Derek Correia at G2. After rigorous decathlons of deck writing, client management and program design, I’d still show up for work the next day, ready to do it all over.
So today I sat down with Derek, now CEO at Source Marketing in Norwalk, CT, to figure out why I killed myself for bosses like him.
JS: What’s the secret to motivating teams?
DC: Part of it is simply being human. Caring about the people that work with you and treating them like human beings. There are a lot of dimensions to that, such as taking into consideration their personal styles, understanding what’s important to them, recognizing where they are at in their careers and so forth. What’s going thru their minds, and what will to be gratifying to them? You’ve got to do a lot of listening to be good at it, and listening was not always my forte (some would say it still isn’t), so I had to work hard at that!
Recognition and appreciation were an essential part of the culture when I was at PepsiCo and we spun off Tricon (now Yum! Brands). David Novak did a great job of creating a reward and recognition culture, focused on catching people doing things right, and making a big deal out of celebrating the accomplishments of people, not just your own direct reports. Our titles even changes from Marketing Director to Marketing Coach, to better emphasize a team-oriented environment and a coaching philosophy to leadership.
JS: How do you recognize and retain the best people in a company?
DC: Well, it certainly starts with empathy and recognition. After that I would say setting clear objectives, and holding people accountable are also important. And that’s not just on an individual basis… How do you think an A-level player feels in a company that’s loaded with, and seemingly tolerates, B, C and D-players? S/he probably feels frustrated, bored or even annoyed. It’s important to identify the A-players and give them stretch assignments. It’s equally important to drive improved performance from the B’s and C’s, or manage them out.
Derek’s practice of acknowledging the potential of his staff is critical for both retaining and developing top performers. I described a bit of research I first read about in Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman. In this experiment, new military recruits were arbitrarily assigned a “command potential” score: High, average or unknown. These scores had nothing to with aptitude – they were randomly assigned. Scores were shared with their supervisors, who then oversaw the new recruits in a 15-week training program. At the program’s end, the recruits were tested on what they learned. Test scores mapped exactly to the recruits’ command potential scores – with high potential recruits posting scores 23% higher than unknown potential.
The lesson being: When you acknowledge someone’s potential, whether expressly or subconsciously, s/he will typically rise to the expectations you set for them. (And that works in both directions). As such, managers have a responsibility to recognize potential, convey clear expectations and celebrate accomplishments.
As a recruiter, I’ve found that lack of recognition is the number one reason people give for leaving jobs. Derek mentions that in the past 2 years, only one person (in a company of 40+ employees) has voluntarily resigned from Source Marketing.
JS: How do you get people to bring their A-game every day?
DC: A good manager is a coach who knows the strengths and weaknesses of his players, which links to another dimension of employee satisfaction and retention: Deployment. Instead of focusing on development plans to overcome weaknesses, it’s better to understand strengths and deploy team members in ways that activate only their strengths, to the extent possible. Another aspect of the sports/team metaphor that’s true… sports are competitive AND fun. Work should be the same way – we should relish competing with other companies and respect our opponents, and we should enjoy the game. A good manager makes sure that work doesn’t suck!
JS: How do you earn the respect of the people you manage?
DC: Respect is complicated. I’m not exactly sure. If you communicate goals and you get people invested in making it happen, then your victories and your team’s victories are the same thing. You share the glory and the rewards of success (including money) with those who helped achieve it, and when things don’t go well, you take your share – and then some – of the blame. When you’re in charge, if it goes wrong it’s your fault. As they say: “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.” And it’s the leader’s orphan.
In summary, Derek’s Top 5 tips for inspiring teams:
1. Empathize with the needs of your employees, at every level and stage within the company.
2. Help team members to see their potential and set clear expectations – Be accountable and expect accountability.
3. Recognize and reward performance.
4. Deploy team in ways that play to their strengths.
5. Provide opportunities to own ideas and accomplishments.