Keeping people engaged and energetic for the entire year, or an entire decade, is like auto maintenance. The dials, gauges and steering wheel are there for a reason.
People quit being engaged, and rapidly thereafter quit being energetic, when stressed. As a leader or a CEO, one of your jobs is to watch for imbalances which cause stress. This is not unlike checking the tire pressure on your car. Not so long ago, you had to remember to check your tire pressure on a regular basis, otherwise your tires would wear out prematurely. Today’s automobiles monitor tire pressure and report when one or another tire is low on air (sadly they have not yet invented a system that automatically fills your tires).
Employees come under pressure and can deflate as well. You need to create systems that regularly check for stresses within your company. If you’re not constantly monitoring the pressure within the organization, employees may erect silos. They build walls around their departments, teams or even themselves, and as a result intracompany relationships will suffer—communication will all but stop. This is natural for people. Stress is unpleasant, and silos are a defense mechanism—they protect against adversarial relationships.
To keep silos from being built, focus on people and how they interact. How people perceive one another goes a long way toward how they deal with one another.
There is an old story about a family that moved to a new city. The husband and wife wanted to find a good neighborhood in which to buy a house, and they decided to ask an elderly gentleman at the edge of town about the local community. The old gent asked the young couple, “How was the community where you came from?” “Oh, they were terrible people. They were just nosy, busybodies, didn’t talk well about each other, and were difficult neighbors.” The elderly man said to them, “This community is the same way. We have the same kind of people.” This bothered the couple and they decided to look elsewhere to live.
Another young couple were also relocating and found the same old man. “How was the community where you have been living,” the aged fellow asked. “Oh, they were wonderful people. They were great neighbors. They helped each other. It was a solid community. We enjoyed it very much.” The elderly gentleman said, “Yes, and this community is the same way.” So the second young couple moved in immediately.
The point in this story is that how people perceive others, either individually or as groups, determines how they want to interact or avoid interacting. If the engineering group thinks poorly of the operations team, critical communications concerning product design will not occur and will lead to poor customer satisfaction, and also to tired and isolated employees. Yet if you, as a leader, monitored the stress within this organization, recognized the growing problem and proactively engaged the two groups, the internal stress would go away, the channels of communication would open up, the silos would crumble and the organization would flourish.
The story above also relates to hiring. Imagine both young couples as prospective new employees. The first couple who saw all the negatives in their old community are like a job candidate who has nothing nice to say about his or her former co-workers. By seeing only the shortcomings of other employees, they would enter your company ready to build their own silos. Since your job is to tear down silos, your work becomes easier when you avoid hiring silo builders.
Without silos, and with clear corporate-wide missions, employees remain engaged and energized. Another thing that stimulates and keeps employees motivated for the long run is a strong culture. By definition, culture binds people. Without a strong culture, people are not bound to common objectives. Once defocused, they travel in different directions, which in turn causes stresses and encourages silo building. At Micrel, the Silicon Valley semiconductor company I founded and led for 37 years, we had a culture based on honesty, integrity, the dignity of every individual and doing whatever it takes, no excuses. We took the dignity element as far as banning foul and condescending language, since this causes stress and can even harm interdepartmental relationships.
Maintaining momentum and keeping employees energized begins with tearing down silos. Start with a solid culture built on cooperation and respect, monitor for stresses constantly, and shatter any silos that start to form. Your employees will not only get through this year fully charged, but will stay electrified until retirement.