Every leader and company wants loyal employees. But what exactly is a loyal employee? The ultimate description is, “An employee who would take a bullet for the leader.” I’m not necessarily talking about a gunshot, as there are plenty of other ways employees sacrifice themselves for the leaders and companies they fiercely believe in. They work insanely long hours. They take on all the “dirty” jobs no one else wants—not even the leader. They clean up the messes their leaders make. They fight along side their leader in the best and worst of times. Employees like this make great leaders appear even greater.
Loyal employees make you feel strong and confident to push through the toughest situations towards that next level. You know they have your back. You trust they have your back. But when loyalty is compromised, feelings of deceit and distrust can take over. I’ve worked with many leaders that find it difficult to trust otherwise loyal employees because they were deceptively burned so badly.
Too often, leaders view employee loyalty as an expectation instead of an outcome. When viewed as an outcome, leaders shift their attention to the elements that ultimately lead to employee loyalty.
Here are the five critical elements no-compromise leaders must focus on:
- It’s not the money: Chances are, you’ve already blown through a fortune hiring high-priced talent or getting stuck in crazy expensive pay arrangements with existing employees. When the key element to an employee relationship is centered on the money, the loyalty factor is compromised. There is a measurable difference in the performance and contribution of a loyal employee versus an employee who stays because of the money. The money quickly morphs into an entitlement as the buzz from the pay deal wears off. In such cases, “loyalty” goes to the highest bidder. Your best strategy may be to let the superstar drain your competition’s cash flow dry. True loyalty is an emotional bond that cannot be bought.
- Pride and ownership: Fiercely loyal employees and coaches have always surrounded me. This is one statement that I am grateful to hear on a regular basis, “I love my job.” I often write, “It’s always about the dream, the vision.” Employees don’t really work for you; they work to be part of your dream. You’re simply the visionary and their guide to achieve something extraordinary. There is an inherent sense of pride to be part of something extraordinary. It doesn’t matter if you make bagels, sell carpeting, manufacture surgical instruments or cut hair, if you can’t articulate and inspire others with your dream, it’s hard to create pride in one’s work. Ownership in achieving the right outcomes comes with pride. Together, they fill the emotional elements of loyalty.
- Respect and gratitude: The only time I’ve had issues with loyalty is when I compromised as their leader. (Hey, even the guy who wrote No-Compromise Leadership slips up every now and then.) I took a call this week from a person seeking my counsel on a career change. This leader had been with the company for ten years. He had enough of cleaning up the owner’s messes and taking blame for everything that went wrong. More importantly, he felt taken for granted and the last be acknowledged for a job well done, if acknowledged at all. Respect and gratitude balance out and polish the rough edges that exist in every employee/employer relationship. Respect and gratitude can move a mountain simply because it needs to be done. In the absence of respect and gratitude you get, “Why should I bother? What’s in it for me?”
- Company attitude: I prefer to use the term “attitude” instead of “culture.” Everyone talks about creating great cultures, but fall short on defining what that great culture is all about. In contrast, you can walk into a company and feel its attitude. I took a tour of Zappos's corporate offices in Las Vegas. The company’s infamous “happiness” culture was everywhere. You could feel it in the environment, hear it in their voices and see it on their faces. Those employees were over-the-top happy. Happiness is Zappos's company attitude. Now, what attitude do you feel, what do your employees feel, and what do your customers feel when they walk into or interact with your company? The right company attitude has everything to do with employee loyalty. Work on it.
- Authenticity: In my no-compromise leadership presentations, I always get asked, “But what do you do when your leader is the one that’s compromising?” Leaders are notorious for having inflated egos, being masters of double standards and casting blame in all directions except where it belongs. The phrase, Employees quit leaders not companies, speaks volumes on the importance of being an authentic leader. It means being dependable, trustworthy and genuine. It means that employees can respectfully call you on your own nonsense and trust that you will listen and they will be heard.
These five elements are massive topics that deserve attention and dialog in your company beyond the casual reading of this blog post.
Consider having your employees score you and members of your leadership on each of the five elements. Make it interesting by using a rubric scoring system of five, four, two and one. A five is excellent, four is above average, two is below average and a one is poor. The scoring system eliminates the ever-popular “average.”