How To Deal With Employees In The Stretch; Stories And Artefacts
The idea that most people just work for a paycheck, clock in and out and will avoid doing anything above and beyond might be true for some people, but it’s definitely not the majority of people.
In general, people see work as an extension of themselves and will actively try to work on getting to the next level. Work is part of their identity, and they want to do well in their professional life as it means feeling better about themselves. Most employees will want to go the extra mile if they perceive that this effort is seen and is valued.
Telling people how much you appreciate them putting their heart and soul into work is vital to provide that feedback loop. But there must be more to it than just this simple request for patience. Money only goes so far, especially if this is unaffected by overtime. The amount people are willing to give depends on the relationship they have with the company.
But how do you manage that relationship to go beyond the transactional side of it?
Asking people to go above and beyond is sometimes needed, but make sure it doesn’t become the standard operating procedure. Having to ask people to do overtime or to cover something can happen, but it happens all the time, then you have a capacity issue.
The key is that you actively work towards fixing this capacity problem. Your employees are not dumb, they will see the problem almost as quick as you do.
Asking people to do overtime while not making any progress in increasing capacity is deadly for motivation. Now, there could be reasons you can’t fix a capacity issue quickly, but avoiding the dialogue with your employees will also be a lose-lose situation. So, call a meeting, explain the issues you as a group is running into, plot out actions, and set timelines.
Express sympathy and, if needed, be creative in rewarding people for the extra effort they are putting into things. Honesty is always a prerequisite and will go a long way. At one point, this honesty might not cut it anymore. There has to be something more for people to hang on to, to bring that little bit extra and accept being in the stretch at work.
As mentioned, identity is a huge part of creating a motivational environment in which your employees will thrive. And try to avoid stepping into the trap of figuring out a brand identity and values from behind your desk, or with a small group of people locked in a meeting room.
A good identity lives in the hearts and minds of the employees, and chances are they don’t even know it yet.
As soon as you accept that this identity comes from the people themselves, you can simply go get it. Interview people, find commonality, and bring stories forward. This can be in the shape of a company email where employees interview each other, or go super topical and do this via podcasts.
The key is that someone looks at all these stories and finds the common thread.
Seeing the commonality in others creates interconnections between employees, a sense of belonging, and a willingness to go the extra mile when needed. Telling people, they are already part of the company’s identity is a powerful way to create instant connections.
You can reinforce this commonality by adding artifacts into the mix. These are objects that remind people of the story you are trying to weave. For example, if a group of employees went through a fantastic period of winning business, maybe there was this one hiccup in a pitch they still won. Say that was one of the employees almost missing the pitch due to running a flat tire due to a nail puncture. Obviously, afterward, you can laugh about it, and it becomes a story to tell.
If you capture that story and link it to an object that then gets a prominent place in the office, you will have set all the right conditions to create a culture that people feel part of and want to be more integrated in. Someone might see a large nail framed on the wall, ask about its significance.
A story is told, by someone who wasn’t even there, about the hard work, the success and the obstacles they had to overcome. That story has now become part of the identity, and that nail is now an artifact. An artifact can be pretty much anything, as long as it powerful enough to tell a story.
You can even play with this concept by emulating this effect. For example, you can add a tire changing event to the annual company BBQ. You can go to The Pin Factory, and make sure you have some collector’s items that fit with the story.
Have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously. Successful company identities will have a multitude of stories and artifacts. Some will be relevant and discussed tone day and forgotten the next. The key is to take time to celebrate these stories and ensure employees that the stories are pretty much the fabric of the identity.
Your Employee’s Story
The next step is to tell people they can make their own story that can become part of the identity tapestry of the company. This is something people can work towards or at least aspire to. There is no definite way to accept and absorb a company’s identity than want to add to it. Provide this room, better yet, actively stimulate it.
As soon as people find themselves in the company, in the stories and artifacts, they will have a commitment to the company that goes beyond the paycheck. This will be a bond that goes to the very essence of being human. Feeling connected and having a sense of purpose. It is guaranteed a way to make sure people will give every day their best and work tirelessly to make the work environment the best they can.
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