Dov Baron on Developing Fiercely Driven Teams

loyalty level conceptual meter

Star players may walk out the door when scaling a business because they’ve lost something important – a sense of belonging. Why leadership must maintain those personal ties whether they’re Google or a startup operating out of someone’s garage. 

You might remember a time when you knew not only the names of everyone in your department or company, but details about their likes and and dislikes. You knew who hated coffee, who played in a jazz band and who was training for a marathon.

Nowadays, however, you’re lucky to remember an employee’s last name. Your department or company is growing and that means there are a lot more people on the payroll. You don’t have time to sit around chit-chatting with every employee, and why should you? Isn’t your time better spent ensuring the business is successful so they all have jobs?

The problem is that as you grow more distant, so do your workers. They begin to feel like you don’t care about them, so why should they care about you or the company? That soon leads to productivity slowing, competitiveness dwindling – and employees leaving.

“In order to get loyalty, you must give it,” says Dov Baron, a leadership expert and author of “Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent.” “The biggest mistake companies make is not understanding that.”

Current statistics show that employees are now changing careers every four years and the average millennial worker is staying put only 1.2 to 2.4 years. Baron says that when leaders can show more loyalty to their workers, employees are more likely to stay around for up to eight years. Since it can cost up to two times what a departing employee earns annually to replace him or her, it can add up to significant savings if employees stick around longer.

Baron says it’s possible to develop “fiercely loyal” teams that are more productive and competitive when scaling a business, but first it begins with dispelling the notion that a paycheck or bonuses are enough to keep workers loyal and focused on helping you grow the business. That loyalty, he emphasizes, comes from showing they’re more than a commodity that can be gotten rid of just as easily as tossing out the garbage.

Of course, many start-ups and even large companies argue they would never do such a thing, and claim they value every worker. They may hang posters on the workplace walls, proclaiming the company’s culture is focused on breaking down silos and valuing input from everyone. The truth, however, is that the leadership doesn’t really follow through, so silos still exist. It’s no surprise, Baron says, that employees aren’t loyal, get frustrated and leave.

If you’re starting to see greater turnover – and realize that in scaling the business you’ve lost touch with who employees really are – then it’s time to make some changes. While it may seem overwhelming to add one more thing to your “to do” list, Baron says it’s not that difficult to get started. For example, if you want to make a change this week, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Sit down. That’s right – take a load off. Disconnect from whatever devices are nearby and instead just connect with yourself. Why are you in the business? Why are you a leader? Why does this job or this company matter to you? This is where you think deeply about the real purpose behind why you do what you do.
  2. Think about challenges. What obstacles have you faced that made you realize that this is what you were meant to do? How is being at this company different than any other?
  3. Communicate. Whether you’re addressing 10 employees or thousands, make sure they all hear your message. It’s time for you to reveal what Baron refers to as your “full Monty” story. “You’re going to come off your high horse and reveal yourself,” he says. “You’re going to tell your employees about what really matters to you and the challenges you’ve faced.” For example, you may reveal to workers that as a child you struggled with dyslexia. The tech company where you now work could really have made it easier to read with its products if it had been available when you were a child. Such a truth exposes your vulnerability, but it also builds rapport with workers.
  4. Challenge. Once you reveal your story, then you ask each employee to let you personally know why they’re at the company, beyond the salary and the title. “You’re going to find some people who will discover they really don’t know why they’re there, and they will leave,” he says. “That’s OK.”

“Immediately upon doing this, you’re going to establish a connection with people,” he says. “That’s critical, because it’s all about relationships.”

While Baron has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter, he says that leaders can’t fool themselves into thinking acquaintances gained through such encounters are the same as the deeper relationships he encourages with employees. Without those more meaningful worker connections, leaders can’t expect to find the kind of bone-deep competitiveness from employees they need for a company’s survival.

“Think about someone you love, care about and trust. Then, think about an acquaintance. Now, who do you think would go to bat for you, would fight tooth and nail for you? Is that going to be acquaintance? No – it’s going to be people you care about, and who care about you,” he says.

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