Chester On Point

5 Steps to Keep Your Employees in the Growth Zone

Growth ZoneRegardless how they obtain the skills they need for the job, employees worth their paycheck have the desire to get better at what they do. They want to acquire and develop new skills, talents, and abilities that will help them increase their value to their present employers and other prospective employers.

To ignore your employees’ need for continual skills development is akin to ignoring your garden’s need for frequent watering; the seeds you’ve planted are not going to grow, and your existing flowers are going to wilt.

It’s simple really. You want them to grow, and they want to grow. So let’s focus attention on a five-step how-to formula to ensure your employees remain in the growth and retention zone, which leads to long-time on-fire performance.

1. Agree on a growth agenda. One reason couples often cite for a failed marriage is that the husband and wife discovered over time that they each wanted different things that couldn’t both exist in a shared life. No matter how much they love each other, if one or the other is not getting what they really want, their future together is tenuous. The employment relationship works the same way—both parties have to be moving in the same direction. This sort of mutuality requires both parties to meet at the onset of the hire, as well as periodically discuss, agree to, and map out each of their future ambitions.

2. Establish the timetable. Just as both parties need to agree on what new skills and abilities the employee is going to be learning, they also need to establish and agree upon the time frame. Without a timetable in place, one or both parties are going to eventually disengage. Effectively applied, it sounds something like this: “Here’s where you are now. To get where you say you’d like to be, you’re going to need to acquire certifications A and B and gain experience doing C. This process typically takes three years, but we can cut some of that time off if you enroll in the classes for certification A next month.”

3. Individualize the learning methodology. As a former high school teacher, I can attest to the importance of figuring out how each student learns best. Hand some people a textbook and they’ve got it, while others require a lesson and Q&A. Others need a visual demonstration or a lab to grasp the concepts. Knowing how each employee learns and designing the learning agenda around what works best for them are the keys to ensuring that they stay on course.

4. Celebrate milestones and success. Many of us can recall when our parents charted our height on a doorway. They’d mark our height, and when we stepped back we could see how much taller we had grown since the last time they measured us.  Then if you had a father like mine, you were told that you’d grow even faster if you ate your vegetables and went to bed on time. Again, the same principles are at work here. It’s important to chart the growth progress of each employee and let them recognize how much they’re learning, how much experience they’re gaining, and how much more valued they are becoming to you in the process. The more significant the milestone (e.g., degrees earned or newly acquired certifications), the larger the celebration should be (e.g., office celebration with cake, article of congratulations in the company grapevine, or taking the employee and his or her spouse out for dinner).

5. Rinse and repeat. The old adage “You’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotten” is one that’s very much at play in your culture. Every employee, from your receptionist to your EVP, needs to be on a growth trajectory—and they need to understand and agree on that growth trajectory. Once they get where they want to be, they’re going to see a new future for themselves off in the horizon. That’s a good thing for them and for your organization.

Excerpted from “On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out” releasing nationwide Oct. 20th, 2015 

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The Transparency Advantage: Informed Employees are Engaged Employees

It’s astounding how often it happens…

You’re in a conversation with a sales person, service representative, or an associate of an organization and you ask a question or make a passing comment about something that’s happened within their company — something interesting that made the headlines or the evening news — and they look at you as confused as a Kardashian at a garage sale.  The communication within the company is so badly fractured that employees are the last to find out what’s happening within their own organization.

In today’s workplace, employee ignorance is anything but bliss. Keeping employees in the dark is actually a sure-fire way to disengage your people and create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust.

Transparency word magnifying glass searching for sincerity, clarity, openness, truth, accuracy, directness, fairness, honesty, believability and forthrightnessThere are three specific types of information that are controlled by management and that have the potential to flow through to employees at any level: What employees need to know, what employees should know, and what employees want to know.

1. What Employees Need to Know

Employees must have some information in order to do their jobs effectively (e.g., job training, safety precautions, mandated company rules and policies, and minimum performance expectations). In many cases, employers are legally bound to disclose this information, but even when they’re not it would be extremely foolish for management to withhold from employees anything that fits in this category.

2. What Employees Should Know

Employees should have a basic working knowledge of the company that employs them. This knowledge includes the company’s history, ownership structure, management hierarchy, basic product/service lines, and major competitors, as well as the company’s mission, goals, core values, and competitive advantages in the marketplace.

In addition, employees should know anything that Wall Street knows about the company, as well as anything that is being reported about the company by the media. Most importantly, this information should be made available to employees before it is released to the general public.

3. What Employees Want to Know

In the employee version of a utopian universe, employees would be privy to everything their CEO knows about their company. Naturally, this is not possible—or even plausible. Nor would it be wise for any company to share all of its information with every employee. But suffice it to say, engaged employees know what’s really happening, not only within their industry, but also regarding all of the developments, changes, and updates that are taking place within their company—especially those that can have any impact at all on their jobs and their future.

(Excerpted from Eric Chester’s new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out releasing Oct. 20th.) 


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LEADERS: If You Were Stripped of Your Title, Would People Still Follow You?

Guest Post by Mark Sanborn, Author of the NTY Bestseller, The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0

6546001_sOver the years, I’ve used several definitions of the term leadership. Here’s one I keep coming back to: Leadership is the ability to help people and organizations surpass themselves. Essentially, leaders enable others to be better than they’ve ever been, and take their organizations to places they’ve never been.The acid test of leadership: are your people and/or organization better as a result of your leadership?And here’s a question to test your leadership abilities: If you were stripped of your title as well as any ability to reward or punish the people who work for you, could you still get results with them?

• Managers have power over people; leaders have power with people.

• Management is a function of position, while leadership is a function of skill.

Before anyone can lead others, however, he or she must first master him- or herself.  Personal leadership, therefore, is the ability to surpass yourself–your previous performance and accomplishments.  It’s about getting better at what you do no matter how good you become.  Make positive change and growth–in yourself and others–your primary leadership objective.

First master self. Then achieve power with people.

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7 Crucial Questions That Employees Ponder About Your Workplace Atmosphere

Standing 726 feet high, and weighing more than 18 Empire State buildings combined, the Hoover Dam is a jaw-dropping wonder of the industrial world. It was built in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression by a consortium of six major tunnel, railroad, and highwhoover 2ay contractors that went by the name Six Companies. The promise of above-average wages (between 50 cents to $1.25 an hour) drew more than 42,000 men to the Nevada desert in search of work.

At any given time throughout its construction, approximately 3,500 workers were onsite, most working eight-hour days and seven-day weeks in temperatures ranging from freezing cold to 119-degree blazing heat.

Because unemployment during this economic crisis was at an all time high, the number of applicants heavily outnumbered the available job openings. With that much leverage over the workforce, Six Companies simply disregarded commonsense safety precautions in favor of getting the project done at breakneck speed. This forced beleaguered workers to move at a furious pace even when their health and safety were at extreme risk. Aside from the hundreds of serious injuries that occurred while building the dam, more than a hundred workers lost their lives in accidents ranging from dynamite blasting to drowning to falling off ledges and platforms to being trampled by the heavy construction equipment.

Understandably, an enjoyable workplace atmosphere was not a top-of-mind concern for the Hoover Dam workers who were desperate for a paycheck.  If you were a worker that was lucky enough to land one of those Dam jobs (pardon the pun), you’d better keep your head down, your mouth shut, and do that job to perfection. And if you became ill or, worse, got injured on the job, you had better not let anyone find out or you’d be replaced in the blink of an eye.

Here’s a video of the Hoover Dam workplace culture:

Of course, that was then and this is now. These days, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s now the employers who are doing the groveling. Skilled, experienced workers are in short supply and high demand, and the available talent pool seems to grow more shallow with each passing day.

That’s why the best people in your organization are perpetually pursued by headhunters, recruiters, and competing employers. The bait most commonly used to lure them away from you is a sizable bump in pay. But if money alone won’t get them to jump, an offer of a better workplace atmosphere is always a great trump card.

To survive and succeed in the workplace atmosphere race, you must know what questions are perpetually running through the minds of your existing talent pool as well as through the minds of those whom you are trying to recruit.

7 Crucial Workplace Atmosphere Questions Your People Ask Themselves

1. Is my employer doing everything possible to keep me safe?

2. Can I be my authentic self when I’m at work, or do I need to pretend I’m something I’m not?

3. Do I have everything I need to excel in this job? (e.g. tools, training, technology, etc?)

4. Do I like, respect, and trust my boss?

5. Do I genuinely like the people I work with day in and day out?

6. Does this environment energize me or make me want to find an escape hatch?

7. Is it just all work and no play around here, or are we permitted to have some fun while on the job?

Just knowing these 7 crucial questions is not enough. Your answers — or rather — their answers to these questions will determine whether your company is able to attract and retain the best possible talent, or if you’ll end up rummaging through the left-overs your competitors kick to the curb.

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Employee Engagement is Not the Goal; It’s the Starting Point



Roy and Beth have been dating for a year. One night after a romantic dinner in a posh restaurant, Roy pretends to drop a napkin on the floor. While reaching down to get it, he falls to one knee, pulls a big, shiny ring out of his coat pocket, and proposes to Beth.

Totally caught off guard and beaming with joy, Beth tearfully accepts.

The two are now engaged.

Six months later, Roy and Beth’s engagement comes to a screeching halt.

What happened?

They got married. The engagement ended the moment the marriage began.

The moral of this story? Engagement is not the finish line where the race ends. It’s just the starting line where the real race begins.


If you search for books on employee engagement on Amazon, you’ll get more than 7200 results.  It’s as if mere engagement is the end-all, be-all “holy grail” that employers are striving to achieve. But as this 14- year-old kid on his very first day of his very first job clearly demonstrates, most employees arrive to the job on day #1 fully engaged, which is to say they have a vested interest in meeting or even exceeding your expectations. Like you, they’re optimistic about the opportunities of the job and they want to put their best face forward and make a strong first impression to gain your trust and be perceived as a great fit with promising long-term prospects.

The challenge facing employers isn’t how to engage employees. It’s how to keep the fires of passion burning once the honeymoon period is over.  Too often the focus is all about sweeping people off their feet with a sexy job posting, romancing them throughout the interview process, and then proposing to them with a pie-in-the-sky offer of a rosy future. When the desired candidate says, “I do,” the employer chalks that up to a victory and goes in search of the next proposal.


Today, those companies that are attracting and retaining the top talent in their respective industries have their sights set on more than just “I do.”  They concentrate heavily on inspiring an ever-increasing level of performance and productivity that continues to blossom as the employment relationship matures. And to achieve that result, they know that they have to keep the romance alive long after the honeymoon phase has ended.

In a search to find out how today’s top employers have been able to burst through this ‘engagement ceiling’ to create cultures where employees are on fire for their jobs and consistently perform as if they own the company, I’ve found seven cultural pillars that are common to the truly great companies. I’ve interviewed the founders, presidents, and CEO’s of those celebrated companies and have provided their insights and strategies in my new book, On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Outreleasing this fall.

ON POINT: Why set your sights on merely having your people engaged in their jobs and your business? Aim higher.  Invest your time, money, and resources in making your company the best possible place anyone could want to work for, and you’ll draw the top talent to you without investing heavily in high-end recruiting tactics.


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Eradicate Micromanagement: 4 Steps to Creating a Culture of Autonomy

On-fire employees—the kind you’re perpetually attempting to hire, develop, and retain—need some latitude to make decisions in the workplace. The companies that are known for being the best places to work in their respective industries train, trust and empower their people to think and act on their own.

In its 2014 Employee Satisfaction and Job Engagement survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 47 percent of employees feel that autonomy and independence contribute greatly to job satisfaction. Put another way, roughly half of your workforce has dreams of being their own boss. Micromanage them, and they’re going to disengage, underperform, and likely quit on you.

To some employees, autonomy means setting their own hours, while others may see it as the freedom to perform a task their own way—to decide what they do and how and when they do it. But whatever it means to the people in your organization, this is one intangible that’s too important to leave to chance.

Here is a 4-step approach for building a culture of autonomy:

5 Steps to Autonomy

1. Hire Talented People of High Character: Trust is the foundation of autonomy. So, while you want talented people on your team, if you’re forced to choose between someone who has the skills and someone you’re certain you can trust, choose the latter. Go to great lengths in the hiring process to make certain you’re bringing on people who have unquestionable ethics and character.

2. Clarify Goals and Objectives: Cultures that promote autonomy need employees to work toward targeted, concrete objectives—priorities and deadlines set by their manager. Think of it like establishing the rules of the game before the players take the field. The employees have the opportunity to use their strategic skills and creativity to score more points, but they must know what victory looks like.

3. Train Process and Procedure: The confidence to correctly make difficult decisions stems from the training an employee receives. That’s why great companies are relentless in their training processes. The Container Store ensures that all new hires receive hundreds of hours of training before they ever set foot on the sales floor. At Marriott Hotels, every employee is cross-trained to do just about any job in the hotel just in case they need to fill in for someone at a moment’s notice. At Wegmans, the deli worker can tell you the reason that a particular type of prosciutto costs $90 per pound is that it came from an Iberian pig that was hand-fed acorns from an organic forest in Brazil. Great companies know that training doesn’t just make a difference; it IS the difference.

4. Empower Your People: The key to ‘letting go’ is to begin empowering people to make small decisions and work their way up. Use those occasions when your employees approach you for help as opportunities to empower them to make the decision.

We’re out of printing paper? Here’s the number for the supply company. Can you order 50 boxes?

The new hire needs to learn the system. Why don’t you spend the afternoon walking him through it?

The customer wasn’t happy with the food? Next time that happens, use your judgment and decide if you should give her a discount.

The idea is to trust them make a decision and encourage them regardless of how it plays out.  However, be sure to hold them accountable for the outcomes as it will motivate them to carefully think things through and take responsibility for the results. That’s essential for building leadership skills.

Evaluate: In the end, the results will always speak for themselves. If the employee demonstrates the ability to make good decisions, they should be granted more trust and more independent decision-making latitude. But if things go awry, take it as a sign that they need more support from you. And scolding them for a bad result or micromanaging them to the ‘inth degree is not what is implied by the term support. It simply means that they may need a more clearly defined goal, more training, or even more confidence. And that will come from your trusting them again.

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Employee Sales Contests that Demotivate Performance and Destroy the Culture

Steak Knives“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is…you’re fired.”

In the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake—famously portrayed by Alec Baldwin—issues this decree, exposing an artful display of insult and injury in the guise of a motivational speech to the troops.

Many who’ve seen this film probably think this scenario is as far fetched as Jurrasic World. Those, like myself, who’ve experienced a high pressure sales environment know it’s as real as the air we breathe, and it’s a lot more terrifying than any fiction writer could possibly imagine.

Sadly, the old school Glengarry Glen Ross cultural mindset is not extinct; in fact, it’s still very much alive.

Though they may not have a commander like Blake, there are still many companies that try to incentivize performance by staging periodic contests that essentially pit one employee against the other. This approach always leaves a few employees feeling like winners, while the majority are left feeling like losers.


Beth, a longtime friend of mine, is a sales rep for a large pharmaceutical company. She lives in Boulder and covers a five state territory. Like most competitors in this industry, Beth’s company promotes an annual Winner’s Circle incentive trip to an exotic destination for only the top 5 producers among a staff of 48 sales reps in her division. The rules and metrics of the competition change slightly from year to year, but it’s based primarily on exceeding a sales quota determined somewhat arbitrarily by the VP of Sales in the corporate office in Chicago. As you might imagine, Beth spends a great portion of her time traveling to and from accounts; from Omaha to Salt Lake, and from Albuquerque to Casper. The sales rep that beat her out for the fifth and final spot this past year covers only the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. To add insult to injury, Beth exceeded her pre-established quota by more than $220,000, but still lost out on the all-expense paid trip to the Grand Caymans because her counterpart in Dallas beat his much lower quota by a mere $317 more than Beth exceeded hers.


A neighbor of mine, Tony, sells windows and siding for a large big box retailer. His company’s incentive trip is set up with a completely different new school mindset. Every sales rep in his company whose annual sales exceed one million dollars gets to go on an all expense paid luxury cruise tabbed “The Million Dollar Boat.” There’s no fluctuating quota established by some wizard hiding behind the company curtain. Rather, this is a very transparent and defined sales goal.  Granted, it’s not easy to get on that boat, but any third-grader could understand the rules. And there are no managerial politics involved in deciding who goes.  Tony has been on this trip five years in a row and he says it’s one reason he loves his job and has no desire to work anywhere else.


When Tony has an idea or learns a technique that helps him increase his sales, he eagerly shares it with all his associates. After all, Tony wants all of his coworkers to ‘win’ and get on the boat with him; e.g. “the more, the merrier!”  His company fosters a culture of collaboration and celebration that inspires everyone to work harder, perform better, and stay longer.

When Beth has an idea or learns a technique that helps her increase her sales, she’s motivated to keep it a secret. After all, why would she want to help a coworker increase their sales if it puts them in the Winner’s Circle and leaves her out?  For the second year in a row, Beth had a record-breaking year and was her company’s 6th top producing sales rep, and she didn’t even get a set of steak knives.

Did this result motivate Beth to work harder next year?  Hardly. It did, however, motivate her to begin circulating her resume’ and start returning the multitude of calls she’s been getting from headhunters.



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