While watching many of his employees grow and evolve, Marty Grunder noticed that one of his long-time team members seemed to be losing his spark.
Marty is President and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co., a business he started in 1984 with a lawnmower he bought at a garage sale. Today, some 34 years later, Grunder is one of the most respected full-service landscaping companies in Ohio.
Concerned about the drop in his employee’s energy, Marty met with him, a number of times, to talk about how he seemed to have lost his enthusiasm for the work and the company. “It was becoming painfully obvious we were not on the same page anymore,” says Marty. As any business owner knows, these kind of conversations can be challenging. “We were no longer getting out of him what we needed to get out of him, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.”
Marty asked the employee if he would be willing to change and adapt. After all, this is someone who had been on the team for years, and Marty didn’t want to see him leave.
But the employee was no longer happy in his role, or where he saw his role headed. Admitting this out loud, he decided it was time to move on.
Marty’s story can bring up a question that many business owners grapple with: what happens when you see someone on your team consistently not doing their best work?
Hiring People Who Know How to Manage Their Energy
“It really begins before that person even comes in,” says Stacy Sheldon, Managing Partner of POMIET, a company that provides customized web and mobile solutions in the healthcare space. “For us, trying to maintain the positive energy levels that we need starts with how we define who we are looking for, and the screening process that we use to get to know what trends [they’ve had] in their career to date,” she says.
When recruiting and hiring, POMIET looks for certain proficiencies in self-leadership before looking for specific skillsets. This can include addressing the following questions:
- How does the person frame problems?
- How does the person approach—and lead through—problem-solving?
- How does this person react when a situation is complex or complicated?
- What are intrinsic motivators for this person?
“A lot of work involves people bringing their own energy levels that you have to refill and replenish every day, every week, every month,” explains Stacy.
It’s Easier to Channel Energy Than to Create Energy From Nothing
Marty agrees that this kind of evaluation can help from the start. “It’s been my experience in leading people that it’s easier to throttle somebody back, than it is to light a fire under them,” he says.
Many business owners want to see the best in people, but it’s very hard to be able to change someone’s intrinsic motivation.
“As business owners, we’re used to creating something out of nothing,” Marty says. “We see an employee who’s not very energetic and we think, ‘I’ll get him motivated.’ Or we think, ‘Her past employer said she takes too long, but I’ll get her to move fast.’ But the truth is you’re far better off trying to hire the people who already possess the attributes you’re looking for, rather than trying to change who people intrinsically are.”
Lessons From Outside the Business World
Part of this lesson for Marty didn’t come from the business world; it came from coaching his daughter’s grade-school basketball team.
It was energy that mattered most at that level, not pure skill or athleticism. For example, one player on the team was naturally gifted but she didn’t seem to be passionate about basketball. “I was constantly trying to motivate her and make it fun for her. But mentally she often wasn’t in the game and I had to take her out.”
A smaller, scrappier player who had a lot of energy and could play defense would take her place, showing Marty how energy, rather than pure skill, could result in greater team performance when combined with the necessary coaching. “I could get them to hustle. I could get them to play defense. We won a lot of games we probably shouldn’t have won because we had passion and we just worked hard,” says Marty.
It’s similar in business, argues Marty, where there is only so much you can do to inspire some employees. “You have to paint your team a vivid picture so they can clearly see what’s in it for them. You’ve got to figure out how to fill up their emotional bank accounts with the work you’re giving them. But the rest is often going to be up to them.”
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