Editor's note: Portions of the 2021 Safety Leadership Conference can be viewed on-demand for the next 90 days. More information, including free registration, can be found here.
How did George Washington inspire a band of farmers and bricklayers to enlist their own boats and fight in the Battle of Trenton?
The answer is that they believed in the cause. And employees need to have this same faith. “How do you inspire your employees to buy into your mission?” asked Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, USA (Ret.). Honoré earned notoriety as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, and earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to come out of retirement to review security of the Jan. 6 attack at the United States Capitol. He delivered a keynote presentation at the Safety Leadership Conference and M&T Show, held in November in Cleveland.
"Every employee must know that if we achieve our objective, we will participate in the bounty of success. And it’s not just the C-suite that gets new Escalades. Everybody in the organization, when the mission is accomplished, benefits from the bounty of success. That’s how General Washington got the soldiers to go out in such miserable weather. When half of them were suffering from pneumonia and upper respiratory disease, they bought into the bounty of success—and that success would be freedom. How do we inspire our workers? By letting them know that if we meet our objective, they too will get a piece of stock."
Sharing the bounty has been a long-standing practice at some companies. For example, Lincoln Electric instituted a profit-sharing program back in 1914. Since 1934, Lincoln’s bonus has never dropped below 25% of base wages or salary. It has even topped 120% some years.
Another company, U.S. Steel, offered record profit-sharing bonuses after the company’s strong earnings in the second quarter of 2021. Many workers received more than $9,000 in profit-sharing.
The link between company financial prosperity and employee engagement is circular. Companies that provide a strong employee experience (EX), to use the current term for engaged employees, see improved financial performance. A 2019 analysis by Willis Towers Watson, which included close to 50 years of research and a total database of 250 million employees, found that companies demonstrating a strong EX, where employees reported feeling inspired by the company’s mission and purpose, performed stronger than competitors by a margin of 2 to 4 percentage points across key performance metrics, including return on assets and equity.
How can all companies achieve these goals? “The most significant change comes through a transformation of leadership mindset—inspiring your organization around your purpose, driving agility and innovation to be ahead of the market, helping your people achieve their potential and building a culture of leadership trust,” said Stephen Young, global practice leader, Employee Insights, Willis Towers Watson, in reporting the findings.
The sense of purpose is what many employees are searching for post-pandemic. It was also true pre-pandemic. A 2019 “Mission and Culture” survey, conducted by Glassdoor, found that 79% of adults across four countries (U.S, UK, France, Germany) would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying for a job. Furthermore, over half of the 5,000 respondents said that company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.
While current emphasis is on attracting employees, ensuring that current employees—and especially those that will be tapped for leadership positions—are engaged is critical. As companies face many “battles” in the current marketplace, it will be employee buy-in that will bring success.