Tree Fartistry: Disengaged employees harm their company brands.

tree fartistry

If you were to assess Tree Artistry, a local company in my town, by their website or their vehicles you’d conclude that they are professional, customer-centric, and proud.  My daughter and I were puttering around last week and noticed their crew trimming trees near our home.  The crew placed this sign near the job site.  Did the crew modify the sign (it IS sort of funny)?  Did a neighborhood kid do it?  Is doesn’t matter all that much.  There it was: front and center for any passerby to see.  The company isn’t as professional as they’d like us to think.  The dissonance between the marketed image and the modified sign tells us something about the things that happen when disengaged employees manage their employer’s brand.  From a business owner’s perspective it begs the questions:

“What do my teams tell others about my company?”

“How do my teams manage my company brand through their appearance, actions, conversations, and interactions with other team members, customers, friends?”

“Is  my belief about our culture actually enhanced by my team or are there detractors that have become tolerated fixtures?  At what cost?”

From an employee’s perspective it begs another set of questions;

“Do I actually know what my company culture is?”

“Even if I know what my company is do I care about it?”

“Do I feel a sense of ownership regarding this culture and brand”

“Have I ever behaved in a manner that is contrary to what the company stands for?”

“Have I ever tolerated disparaging behaviors from my colleagues?”

“How engaged am I in living the company brand and culture every day?”

Gallup’s recent “State of the American Workforce” provides disheartening evidence: More than one-third of American employees described themselves as “actively disengaged” while more than half of American employees say they are “actively looking for a new job.”  This, despite the well-inteded team-building efforts that employers pay for on a regular basis.  Breakfast for installers, birthday recognitions, after-work paint-balling . . . they don’t improve employee engagement.  Disengaged employees will manage their company brand as disengaged individuals manage anything: lackluster, unenthusiastic, occasionally negative.  But if the 50th employee appreciation potluck doesn’t work then what does?

First, research indicates that people want to do a job that they’re best at.  Asking a person who doesn’t like working with people to perform customer service functions is a recipe for disaster (and irresponsible hiring).  The employee may put his best foot forward at first but when the halo period wears off then the disengagement begins (and becomes an example for others as to what they can get away with).  Asking a person who loves data to generate reports, however, will likely extract the very best from the individual.  Engaging employees (and keeping them engaged) starts with hiring and training people for positions that they’re good at or one in which they have a natural aptitude or interest.

Second, employees want a greater work-life balance or to work for a company that improves their personal well-being.  That may include flexible scheduling, working remotely, sponsored health and wellness programs.  Lunch walks, morning yoga, anti-smoking incentives, and things along these lines help engaged employees feel that their employer cares about them beyond their vocational abilities.  Bear in mind, this isn’t about open office concepts or ping-pong tables in the break room.  Silicon valley learned the hard way on that one.  Rather, it’s about demonstrating a holistic commitment to the employees life in and out of the office.

Stability matters to engaged employees.  When another month of crummy sales results rolls out people get nervous.  When the boss says that he’s going to be evaluting the necessity of all the positions in his company people feel scared (and in some cases that might be ok).  Engaged employees increase their level of engagement when they feel stability and security.  It’s probably human nature as much as anything else–we all want to feel safe.

Fourth, employees look for a significant increase in income.  “Significant” is relative.  For some it might be a few more dollars an hour.  Others may look for much larger increases.  Gallup reports that even engaged employees are looking for significant wage increases.  In blunt terms: if an employee feels underpaid then she’ll disengage fairly quickly.

People take pride in who they work for IF the company that they work for has a great brand and reputation.  People love to tell you that they work for Google.  Or Tesla.  Or Apple.  Engaged employees want to work for a company that is respected and has a respected brand. That’s a cultural outcome that leadership is responsible for generating and living.  It can’t be outsourced.

I wonder how the owner of Tree Artistry would feel if he knew (and I hope he does by now) that his crews were making fun of his company and were eroding the brand.  How would he feel if he went “Undercover Boss” out there?  Embarrassed?  Disappointed?  His crew probably doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong, and that’s the problem.  They cash their checks every other week while  biting the hand that feeds them.

I hear it all the time:  “I can’t find good people” or “People get hired and then they quit” or “You can’t find anyone with a work ethic that doesn’t want X per hour.”  These complaints may be true.  But they may also indicate that the employer needs to ask him or herself: Am I running a company built for long-term engagement?


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