People Will Run Into Burning Buildings For You

 Would your employees follow you into a burning building? Seriously. Would they risk their lives to go into an inferno with you? As far fetched as that sounds, it happens all the time.

Volunteer fire fighters do it. They put their safety at risk every day—and they receive little or no pay for their efforts. They do it because they believe in what they are doing. They understand the value of their work. They do it because in a time of crisis, they do whatever the Chief demands.

I’m struck by their level of commitment, the cohesiveness of the crews, and their allegiance to their leadership. Talk to a volunteer. You will understand what motivates them to get out of their comfortable beds in the middle of the night, leaving the safety of their homes, not knowing if they’ll safely return, to put out a fire in a stranger’s home. You’ll hear them speak about commitment to community, service, a love of their fellow volunteers. You’ll also understand the impact of duty and the tradition of volunteering—for volunteering is often done within families, generation after generation.

What motivates these men and women is a belief—a belief in what they are doing and a belief in their leader. Fortunately, few jobs require you to put your life at risk, but all jobs need employees who believe and managers who inspire their people to follow.

Surveys consistently show that the relationship between supervision and workers can make or break an organization. In fact, strong front-line supervisors, more than the CEO or other top level managers, are the most critical factor in engaging their workforce.

Organizations that have an engaged workforce that comes to work every day, are productive, make fewer mistakes, and rarely have injuries in the workplace. The Gallop Organization, which regularly surveys American organizations, has found that those firms that have a highly engaged workforce consistently outperform those organizations whose employees are disengaged. In fact, Gallop reports that the better organizations have:

  • 86% higher customer ratings
  • 70% more success in lowering turnover
  • 70% higher productivity
  • 44% higher profitability
  • 78% better safety records

It just makes sense from an economic standpoint that every manager should make fostering an engaged workforce a high priority. Yet many do not, often because they don’t know how. Gallop found that seventy-five percent of the American workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Why? And how can you tell if your workforce is engaged? A disengaged workforce has increased absenteeism and tardiness; workers who are simply going through the motions; and at the extremes, individuals who are out right negative or hostile. It is clear, managers must take immediate steps to turn things around in these organizations—they must reengage their workers or suffer the consequences.

The good news is that these situations are not hopeless. Employers can take control and the first thing they can do is find out why their workers are turned off by their workplace. The simple act of asking an employee “How are things going?” if sincerely done can often be the first step in the reengagement process. Employees want to know that their boss cares about them. When I have analyzed responses to exit interviews and comments made by workers on employee satisfaction surveys, I have often found a disconnect between employees and their immediate supervisor—and that came with a big cost to the company. Supervisors and employees were not working in concert. There was no cohesiveness—they did not have common or shared goals.

So what should you do if faced with similar circumstances? In most cases, reengaging your workforce requires credible supervisors who inspire worker’s trust; supervisors who genuinely care about their employees. When employees believe that their boss cares deeply about their well being, then an engaged workforce begins to emerge—and good things follow.

(This post was excerpted from Rick Dacri’s forthcoming book Uncomplicating Management: Focus on Your Stars & Your Company Will Soar.  The book is available at

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