Grow your business, by building effective teams

How a Senior Manager at Amazon mitigates unhealthy attrition by establishing a team culture based on five key principles.

Products are ultimately only as successful as the people who power them. In order to maximize the value of what you deliver to your customer, start by realizing the potential of your teams and creating a culture of engagement.

According to the 2019 ADP Research Institute’s Global Study of Engagement, “84% of workers are just ‘Coming to Work’ instead of contributing all they could to their organizations.” In contrast, a US Gallup report found that “highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer ratings and a 20% increase in sales” by driving positive customer experiences. The report also found that “highly engaged business units achieve 59% less turnover.”

While it is healthy for an employee to move on when growth opportunities outside of the company outweigh internal ones, the desire to move on often happens long before the employee has left a lasting mark. The challenge with so much rapid turnover is that it creates a cycle of knowledge drain and retrain. Your best employees move on just as they start to hit their stride, and you are hamstrung by the never-ending process of ramping up new employees.

So how can an organization foster an environment of stability in an era of continuous change? It starts with effective leadership.

A worker is 12 times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she trusts the team leader.

ADP Research Institute

Set the standard

A leader should act as a role model. You want to set a high bar for your team to follow, because, ultimately, your objective is to encourage them to become leaders in their own right. As it’s explained in Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (Liz Wiseman, Greg McKeown), the best leaders, referred to as Multipliers, maximize the potential of individuals.

This concept is sometimes confused with overworking and pushing your team aggressively to meet impossible standards. You should apply a high standard, of course, but focus on fostering a marathon culture, rather than driving a mad dash that leads to burnout. For example, as a leader, you shouldn’t be the last person to leave, otherwise you’re sending a message that life starts and stops with work.

The best way to set a quality standard is to set an appropriately high bar for yourself, and to work with the team to find that bar for themselves. In doing so, you create a culture of accountability, where each individual knows that the most important person judging the quality of their work is not their manager, but him or herself. As described in Multipliers, one signal of effective leadership is when the Multiplier’s “expectations turn into an unrelenting presence, driving people to hold themselves and each other accountable, often to higher standards and without the direct intervention of the Multiplier.”

Character counts

Leaders must have strong character. While this is a bit of an obvious statement, it’s worth repeating, since developing strong character isn’t easy to achieve, or maintain. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advocates for first establishing private, or internal, victories before seeking to influence others. On your path to strong leadership, you need to demonstrate patience, authenticity, and responsibility. There are no tricks or shortcuts to building character.

As Covey describes, “If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other—while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity—then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do [...] will be perceived as manipulative.” Once you create that foundation of character, do everything you can to preserve it. Your team’s trust in you as a leader depends on your ongoing demonstration of integrity.

Trust is hard-earned, easily lost.

Jeff Bezos

Build a culture of positivity

Enjoy your job. If you aren’t enthusiastic about coming into work why should your employees be? Remember you need to be sincere. If you try to fake this vibe, it won’t work. Unfortunately landing your dream job as an astronaut isn’t realistic. Back on Earth, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that your job isn’t going to be perfect. Instead, focus on making sure it is well aligned with your passion and your career objectives. Good? OK, now go create that culture of positivity in your work environment. It’s not going to happen on its own. Crack some (work-appropriate) jokes. Laugh through successes, and cheer up the team during moments of failure. Realize this endeavor is going to be full of imperfection, but that the team is in it together.

Make it safe to fail

Create an environment that doesn’t bruise egos over missteps. For example, avoid calling out an employee’s mistakes in front of his or her peers. Find a way to provide constructive feedback in a private setting.

Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong, we only destroy ego by causing someone to lose face.

Dale Carnegie

Ensure that failure is a step on a developmental journey for that individual and for your business. In Jeff Bezos’ 2018 letter to shareholders, he mentions “As a company grows, everything needs to scale, including the size of your failed experiments. If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle. Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures.”

Remember recognition

Have you ever held the door open for someone, and they didn’t acknowledge this small kindness? While this small social exchange shouldn’t catch your attention, it stings a bit to be taken for granted.

How often do we ask something from our employees? Do we take the time to acknowledge their work, or do we just move on to the next task? While there are many ways to implement formal recognition programs, these tools are typically reserved for larger and less frequent wins. Make sure to also touch base on a regular basis, telling your employee what you appreciate about their work.

To avoid making this a superficial exchange, ask employees for more details about the nature of their win. “By asking for, and listening intently to, the story behind an accomplishment, you acknowledge that the contribution is an extension of its contributor and help them feel that they, and their work, really matter.” (Harvard Business Review, Ron Carucci) Remember to celebrate the successes, big and small.

When you sincerely care about the success of your employees, they will sincerely care, as well. They will care about the customer, the team, the business, and will trust you as their leader. While your employees will eventually move on, ensure that before they do, they leave a positive mark on the customer, the company, and themselves.