Here are the ingredients you need for motivating your employees.

Growing teams, developing talent and creating an engaged workforce are concepts we frequently hear as crucial to success. While it helps to keep these in mind, it is more valuable to determine why employee matters are key to profitability. For eight years, I have had the opportunity to work for ClearVision Optical, a family-owned fashion eyewear distributor steeped in a rich history centered on making each day better for someone else.

With that as our driving force, I lead our Talent Management (HR) team to think about how we can provide outstanding internal customer service to our employees every day. My role is unique in that it allows me to innovate, inspire and collaborate in all matters related to the people of our organization, as well as our culture and philanthropy. We have been recognized as a Best Company to Work for in the state of New York for four consecutive years, an award largely determined by employee feedback. Some days we face a rollercoaster of challenges, but this honor reflects the fact that we are doing something right most of the time.

In difficult moments we are forced to question:
• What is the business case for instituting values?
• Why should I take the time to develop and groom talent?
• How can I make my team feel a sense of ownership?
• Who on earth should I hire?
• How do I keep the whole team marching in the same direction?
• When will investing in talent actually pay off?


A large part of the equation is in the hiring. There are elements of science, art and luck in the selection process. That said, there are ways to reduce variability and make a more informed hire. We avoid “shopping while hungry” as that may lead to a desperate hire rather than a great addition. Skills are important, but shared values and alignment with your culture are more impactful. With an individual who is open to learning, you can often teach the job, however it is nearly impossible to educate someone on being more compassionate. You know best what your customers need and how you want that delivered. The person selected should be equipped and energized to serve in that way. Our interview process is purposely robust to ensure we vet candidates from different vantage points (several interviews on different days, work samples, opportunities to shadow an employee, social interaction over lunch, sometimes a presentation). This affords us loyalty, low turnover and a diverse culture rallied behind our shared CVO mission.
Our existing employees want to grow and develop, which can be challenging in a business that favors being flat and entrepreneurial over leveled hierarchy. We encourage individuals to view growth as taking on new duties, attending new meetings, assuming exciting projects and creating more internal influence. We set expectations of what growth might look like and encourage active participation in our business and with our culture. Leadership can emerge in different ways and is not solely about overseeing people.

Countless research shows how profitability is directly linked to an engaged workforce. In the book The Culture Code, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle cites a recent Harvard study which found that having a strong culture can boost net revenue by 756% over a ten-year period!

Our employees are the frontline to our customers. If we help our team members feel like part of an internal community, support their skill development and ensure that they feel empowered to make great choices on our behalf, it translates to an excellent customer experience. We all know that a single interaction can easily determine how willing that customer is to come back, and if we throw in social media, to tell all of their friends.

We look to learn from the best to always keep innovating and improving. There are large companies known for leveraging great employee experiences in order to capitalize on top customer experiences: Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks and more. While it is fantastic to look to the big guys and adopt some of their inspiring ideas, I typically caution that it is more important to remain authentic to your culture and values.

We have embraced a concept coined by author, Bo Burlingham, in his book Small Giants. We are consciously not a huge corporation, but instead we are scaled to allow for a personal touch, a collegial atmosphere, a connection to our community and a robust team committed to winning together.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to participate in three different company cultures, and I have worked at companies ranging from big to small. Fortunately, each cared deeply about creating an engaged workforce because the leadership understood the value of human assets. At CVO, our recipe for success is simple, yet intentional, and the ingredients may be just what your business needs:

A. CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION AND FEEDBACK. When there are mechanisms in place to voice opinions, share ideas, identify concerns and offer input, issues are resolved more quickly, and folks feel heard. This can range from structured feedback by way of surveys or suggestion boxes to the more informal such as hallway conversations. We developed a Living Room Chat, a comfortable environment akin to a small focus group where a few team members voice ideas. In this safe space, there are no bad ideas and everyone is heard. A “raise-your-hand”
philosophy means at any level with any tenure your ideas are interesting and should be shared.

B. LEARNING AND INNOVATION. In business you never know which wave is coming next, but you always have to be prepared to surf! With this in mind, we nurture a culture filled with employees who favor saying “yes,” being flexible and experimenting. Helping individuals embrace change takes time, but if we collectively strive for it and celebrate progress, it sets an example. This is how we implemented 3D printing into our product development cycle, which has provided us with tremendous benefits in speed to market. This growth mindset requires training and patience to get everyone on board as well as tolerance for mistakes. You will be amazed how your business evolves when employees start to create new opportunities to meet the needs of your current customers.

C. A SHARED LANGUAGE. Getting everyone on the same page allows you to work quickly and efficiently. It also helps employees develop a shorthand so core concepts don’t have to be explained. At CVO, we talk about a “burnt toast morning” as one where you woke up and things just haven’t gone right. Our team understands that everyone experiences those days and we should support the person having one. However, this must be the exception rather than the norm. Each culture has customs and a language woven into its fiber, and through that, camaraderie is created. What are the key phrases that align your team with your business? Are those the ones you want them to rally behind?

D. WORKING HARD, PLAYING HARD. We often say that we spend more time at work than at home. It is our responsibility to create an environment where everyone wants to be. For us, that comes to life in our physical space being bright and inviting and implementing small things that make employees feel special, such as our fall festival, bake sale or chili cookoff (after all, food is family). We also encourage giving back by inspiring philanthropy (we completed 50 unique community initiatives in 2017!) and offering good old-fashioned fun (kickball, indoor s’mores, sandwich-making relay).

E. WHEN WE WIN, WE SHARE. Being part of a team ascribes a sense of belonging, and that translates to the idea that each individual’s contribution matters. If every employee takes accountability, they will creatively handle complex customer concerns. If they believe their input matters, they will effectively work together on a new product. When we pair that with recognizing them for going above and beyond, the “good stuff” is reinforced and they want to do more. At CVO, we have a “Kudos” program, where employees can recognize each other for doing something exceptional, helping out or living the values of the organization. We share these notes of appreciation and reward these positive behaviors as role models.

Our tool kit may sound like too much to endeavor for any small business. The reality is that leadership must believe in the importance of treating employees as esteemed members of the success recipe and the value of selecting the right individuals to participate in the company.

Whether you implement one or all of these tools, I hope you will take away a bit of inspiration and the understanding that an investment in quality employees is an investment in the future of your business.

Jennifer Trakhtenberg is senior talent leader of ClearVision Optical in Hauppauge, NY.

I have seen colleagues try to create a one-size-fits-all model for motivating employees. While that shortcut sounds fantastic, there are many factors to energize a team. I encourage you to:
• Try a few of these tips and right-size them to suit your company.
• Pilot a few small tweaks to see how they are received.
• Solicit input from those closest to the matter; this often yields the best approach because their direct insight is invaluable.
• Look to the companies that you admire for smart ideas and test them out.
• Embrace the journey of working with talented individuals and share your passion with them daily.

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