Transforming Workers to Winners

Taking Your Workforce to Higher Levels of Performance

by Gregory P. Smith


Greg Smith is an inspirational speaker who focuses on the leadership skills and trends shaping the business world today. His extensive background and experience includes assignments as a human resource manager, hospital administrator, government executive, and now the President of the management consulting company, Chart Your Course International.

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Today’s workplace is different, diverse, and constantly changing. The typical employer/employee relationship of old has been turned upside down. The combination of almost limitless job opportunities and less reward for employee loyalty has created an environment where the business needs its employees more than the employees need the business—especially in Information Technology (IT).

Retaining and motivating IT workers requires special attention. They work best when kept informed and given independence, challenging assignments and additional responsibilities when possible. Occasionally, IT workers can be stubborn and demanding. They have a tendency to rebel against perceived trivial or meaningless tasks. Management must realize, however, that if its employees are dissatisfied, they can easily find employment elsewhere. Moreover, despite their faults, IT workers have helped fuel corporate profits in many organizations.

Management’s new challenge is to create a work environment that attracts, keeps, and motivates its IT workforce. Management by status quo or dictatorship can have disastrous results. The responsibility for creating the high performance workplace is not the sole responsibility of just the senior executives. In fact, managers and supervisors at all levels must step outside their traditional roles and comfort zones to look at new ways of working. They have to create a work environment where people enjoy what they do, feel like they have a purpose, have pride in what they do, and can reach their potential. It requires more time, more skill, and more managers who care about people. It takes true leadership.

Leadership is not a position, a job title or merely being the "Captain of the Ship." Leadership is not power, ego, and pride. Leadership is both science and art. Leadership is ever present, touching, motivating, talking, checking, barrier removing, training, preparing, breathing, activating and moving.

The tragic maiden voyage of the HMS Titanic was supposed to be Captain E. J. Smith’s retirement trip. All he had to do was get to New York. No one knows why he ignored the facts, why he ignored seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships. Responsibility can’t be delegated. Leadership is responsible for everything the organization does—or fails to do.

Technology is never a substitute for leadership. Someone said, "The danger is not that computers will replace us. The real danger is when we start acting like computers." When technology fails, leadership must prevail. Captain E. J. Smith said years before the Titanic’s voyage, "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that." Many businesses today have replaced their leaders with technicians, their brains with a hard drive. So, when disaster strikes your organization will your technology pull you under or will someone take the lead?

The Five-Step PRIDE Model

To navigate a sea of change, the workplace of today must place a high priority on human resources. A work environment that attracts, keeps and motivates its workforce is one that gives workers a sense of pride and purpose in what they do. The most successful businesses are those that provide motivating environments. Managers have the sole responsibility for creating this work environment. It is up to them to provide the leadership and set the tone for the rest of the organization. Managers can improve their leadership position and motivate individuals within their organizations by following the five-step PRIDE model:

Provide a Positive Working Environment

Happy employees make productive employees. One of the most important factors is the work environment itself–how employees "feel" about the company. The motivated worker is more committed to the job and to the customer. On the other hand, de-motivating jobs force workers to vote with their feet.

Another motivator is a comprehensive employee benefits program. Benefits have become just as important as the pay workers receive. William M. Mercer Inc. conducted a survey and asked 25,000 employees at nine large companies their opinions of 65 potential benefit programs, policies, and practices. Of those who said they would probably use or might use a particular benefit, here are the benefits identified as the most important for productivity.

1. Flex time: 90 percent

2. Clear sense of organizational purpose: 89 percent

3. Employee provided or subsidized office equipment for work at home: 87 percent

4. A comfortable, attractive workspace: 86 percent

5. Telecommuting: 84 percent

6. On-site fitness center or subsidized health-club membership: 78 percent

7. Work schedule compatible with school calendar: 75 percent

8. Career planning and appraisal: 74 percent

9. Child care center at or near work site: 73 percent

10. Job sharing: 72 percent

In addition to the above benefits, many businesses are going a step further by providing more family-friendly benefits. The Families and Work Institute released a study focusing on companies that employ 100 or more workers. This study is a benchmark to corporate work life policies and practices, and denotes the following trends in employer benefit offerings:

Recognize, Reinforce and Reward Everyone's Efforts

Money may attract people to the front door, but something else has to keep them from going out the back. Statistics show that the number one reason people quit their jobs is a lack of recognition and praise. It was Mark Twain who once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

The Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s office, located in Lawrenceville, Ga., has developed a motivation program called "Shining Stars." Workers have an unlimited supply of "Shining Star" forms to hand-write a little note about the good job their co-workers did. They can either hand it directly to co-worker, or send it through distribution to the person. Katherine Sherrington, the Tax Commissioner, realizes that employees themselves know who works hard and deserves recognition. Managers can’t be everywhere all the time. Therefore, the employees are in the best position to catch people doing the right things. With Shining Stars, good jobs are instantly rewarded and recognized.

For added recognition, the office formally recognizes the employee who received the highest number of forms at the end of each month. That person receives a special gift from the commissioner. Then all the forms given out during the month are put into a basket and names are randomly drawn for additional prizes.

The forms are read aloud and recognition given to both the awardee, as well as the person submitting the form.

Building a motivating reward and recognition program such as the one in Gwinnett County follows the FAST-FUN formula:

Involve Everyone

Studies show that having workers involved at all levels has a major impact on improving morale and motivation. The best way to involve workers is the use of teams and teamwork. Businesses have found that teams improve productivity, increase morale, and empower workers.

Johnsonville Foods located in Sheboygan Falls, Wisc., has been a flagship of productivity improvement. Almost 90 percent of the workforce belongs to some type of team. The team, not management, decides who is hired, who is fired, and who gets a pay raise. Johnsonville CEO Ralph Stayer reports that since going to a team style of management, his company's productivity has risen by at least 50 percent.

TD Industries in Dallas, Tex., has a unique way of making its employees feel valued and involved. One wall in the company has the photographs of all employees who have been with the company more than five years. This "equality" program goes beyond the typical slogans, posters, and HR policies. There are no reserved parking spaces for executives. Everyone uses the same bathrooms and the same water fountains. Everyone is an equal. Maybe that’s why TD Industries was listed last year by Fortune magazine as one of the Top 100 Best Companies.

Despite these success stories, most businesses do a poor job listening to and involving their employees. A Towers Perrin survey of 3,300 employees showed an increase from 25 percent to 30 percent last year of employees who say supervisors have ignored their interests when making decisions that affect them.

Managers need to empower their employees and give them more control over their jobs. By increasing the level of responsibility, workers will take more pride in their jobs. Expanded responsibilities mean less time spent on menial tasks. Empowered workers need less supervision and fewer supervisors.

Develop the Potential of Your Workforce

Well-trained employees are more capable and willing to assume greater control over their jobs. They need less supervision, which frees management for other tasks. Employees are more capable of taking care of customers, which builds stronger customer loyalty. All this leads to better management-employee relationships.

When former Intel executive David House became CEO of Bay Networks, he realized the troubled computer manufacturer’s problems involved fundamental business decision-making. To solve the problem, he attempted to create a new culture. "Culture is what people fall back on when there are no instructions," House explained. "It gives you rules for when there are no rules and it provides a common language for moving forward."

House created four courses to teach the practices that he’d set in place at Intel: Decision-Making, Straight Talk, Managing for Results, and Effective Meetings. He taught the courses to Bay’s 120 highest-ranking executives who, in turn, taught the same courses to the other 6,000 employees.

Despite chaos for a couple of weeks, House’s teachings instantly hit home and produced results. Bay reversed a $285 million loss in fiscal 1987 with $89 million in profits the first six months of fiscal 1998. Final proof was Bay’s sale for $9 billion last year to Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel.

Dell Computer Corp. also has innovative work practices. Every Dell employee’s job responsibility includes finding and developing their successor–not just when they are ready to move into a new role, but as an ongoing part of their performance plan.

Additionally, when Dell promotes employees, they are given fewer responsibilities, not more. "When a business is growing quickly, many jobs grow laterally in responsibility, becoming too big and complex for even the most ambitious, hardest working person to handle without sacrificing personal career development or becoming burned out," Chairman and CEO Michael Dell wrote in his book, Direct from Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized an Industry.

Bay and Dell each developed successful workplace programs. Some tips for setting up your own processes to help develop the potential of your employees follow:

Evaluate and Measure Continuously

Continuous evaluation and never-ending improvement is the final step of the PRIDE model. Evaluation is a nonstop activity that includes specific steps. The primary purpose of evaluation is to measure progress and determine what needs improving. Continuous evaluation includes, but is not limited to, the measurement of attitudes, morale, and motivation of the workforce.

Businesses have searched widely for the competitive advantage, the best equipment, robotics or the latest business technique. These devices provide only temporary solutions. The true competitive advantage is motivated people proudly working together, contributing vitality and energy toward the goals of the enterprise.

The American Management Association recently completed a survey showing that 29 percent of American companies are conducting personality assessments on all job applicants–up from 19 percent from the previous year. These assessments indicate if the person is reliable, has a good work ethic and provides good customer service.

One bank using this assessment selected people who went on to sell $60,000 more services and products annually over the average employee. A manufacturing company, using the assessment, hired people who generated $21,600 more per year than the company average, and $42,000 more than those who received failing scores with the assessment. Ritz-Carlton was able to help reduce employee turnover from more than 100 percent to less than 30 percent by using a version of the personality assessment.

Not only do managers need to be more careful about whom they select, but they also need to evaluate why good employees leave for another job. Tom Daraude, the regional senior vice president of USAA in Tampa conducts an exit interview with each and every employee who leaves his 1,700-person company. His conversations follow a strict path:

  1. He sincerely thanks them for working at USAA.
  2. He tells them they are welcome to come back, no questions asked.
  3. He asks them why they are leaving.

Daraude says, his second statement brings tears of thankfulness to some employee’s eyes. Many employees actually do return when they realize that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.

Change or Be Changed

Winston Churchill said, "America always does the right thing, after they try everything else first." Organizations don’t have to try everything before learning how to improve the workplace, however. Transforming workers to winners isn’t about magic, nor is it only about money. It’s about creating a work environment where people enjoy what they do, feel like they have a purpose, and feel they are reaching their potential. It requires more time, more skills and managers who care about people. It requires true leadership.

Advanced technology can provide a competitive edge, but it only empowers people. True productivity is advanced by people. People who are motivated work together toward the particular goal or goals of the enterprise. The catalyst for that motivation is quality leadership.

A motivated worker will contribute vitality and energy to the organization, infusing the organization with tremendous productivity and a competitive edge—all the while providing a valuable service or product for the business and its customers. Organizations that decide to become proactive in transforming their work environments into employee-friendly places will likely sail toward a rewarding future. For those who refuse to change, thinking their organizations are too sound to run aground, disaster may not be far off.


Gregory P. Smith

From 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel, Greg built his career on the front-line as a U.S. Army Officer. When the Berlin Wall fell, he was the Director of Innovation, Quality and Strategic Planning for the U.S. Army Medical Department. He was a management consultant to military generals and played a key role in the largest organizational transformation in U.S. history. Years later, his direct involvement with "Reinventing the Government" efforts spearheaded by the Vice President of the United States and the Army Surgeon General helped transform the military into a smaller, more innovative organization.

Greg is listed in Harvard University's, Profiles in Business and Management: An International Directory of Scholars and Their Research. Human Resource Executive Magazine selected him as one of the Top Ten "Rising Stars" in Human Resource Management, and he is listed in Who's Who of Professional Speaking. Greg’s other awards include the Legion of Merit from the U.S. Army, the Order of Military Medical Merit and an Eagle Scout ranking from Boy Scouts of America. He has a B.A. in Criminology, Sociology, and Psychology from North Georgia College and a M.S. in Human Resources Management from Troy State University. Greg has written numerous publications including two books and more than 300 articles on business management. The title of his books include, The New Leader: Bringing Creativity and Innovation to the Workplace and How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce. He also is a syndicated newspaper columnist and a regular contributor to many journals and trade magazines.

If you would like a free subscription to Greg Smith’s Navigator newsletter please fax your letterhead to 770-760-0581 or e-mail him at

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