Learn from the “Blue Team” how to inspire and motivate employees.

For the past month I’ve been sitting at my home in Sacramento, CA, nursing a banged-up knee. All you folks who ride motorcycles and ATVs, be careful. The suckers can throw you in a heartbeat! My accident was riding a quad down by our home in the Baja of Mexico. I’m a serious Type A - not a sitting around type of boy! This past month - and the next two months - will be a test for this old guy!

But, fortunately, I love to write. My dog Skidder and I wrote a book on her many adventures during her 14 years. Several of my consulting clients have put me to work and I’ve had my two monthly articles for trade magazines to write. And, my wife, kids and many friends have been taking good care of me.

Last evening, one of my consulting clients, my wife and I were relaxing after a busy day of helping my client put together a three-year business plan for his showroom business. My client is in charge of several showrooms for a large family wholesaler business. While sipping a glass of wine, I mentioned that my Supply House Times article was due in a few days and did they have any ideas for an article topic. For the next hour we brainstormed several ideas before we settled on the topic for this column.

Our client friend asked, “How do you get all your showroom employees to take pride and ownership in the showroom?” Her company has spent a lot of money building out great-looking showrooms. The company does a good job training showroom personnel. These folks are well compensated, but only half (if that) of the employees really take pride in wanting to maintain the showrooms in a first-class manner. Only some of the people really try their hardest to render the very best customer service possible. And only a portion of the employees are really team players. For too many folks it’s “just a job.” They arrive at work exactly on time (hopefully) and leave at the stroke of five o’clock. There’s no extra effort.

Oh, how well I remember the challenge of trying to motivate folks to buy into taking pride of ownership in the showroom and the company. How hard it was to get our employees to go the extra mile with customers and fellow employees and help maintain the showrooms in that first-class condition that we - and our clients - expected.

I’m sure there is no one set of answers to the challenge. The three of us agreed that it’s a whole series of things (some larger than others) that when all added together help develop that all-important feeling of pride, respect, caring and ownership. We also agreed that you’ll probably never be able to achieve a 100% buy-in. Some folks will give 110%, others 90%, and a few something less than that.

Owners and top management naturally have very high expectations. Plus, their rewards are greater. For many employees, the job is just that - a job. They’re doing it because they have to work. “The job” is not the most important thing in their lives. Their families and everything they do outside of work is more important. I understand this. But (always a “but”), I also believe that if you are an employee and you’re going to put in your 40+/- hours a week, that you should give it your all - all the time.

I’ve tried to reach back into my memory bank and identify which one of my many consulting clients has done the very best job at building a team, esprit de corps, camaraderie and pride of ownership in his or her company. The hands-down winner is a family-owned wholesaler that has 16 branches and several product divisions. They’ve just opened their fifth showroom. The company is pretty darn humble and they don’t like a lot of publicity. But when I say they call themselves the “Blue Team,” a number of people will know who I’m referring to.

Every member of the “Blue Team” wears a company shirt (blue, of course) except the showroom folks, who wear professional business attire. The owners of the company for the past 40 years have built a sense of pride and hustle that starts at the top and filters all the way down. There are a number of keys to this company’s success and I will incorporate them in my list of bullet point items that each of you can (should) do to help build your very own “Blue Team.”

One of the moments that I’m very proud of is when, after working with the “Blue Team” as a consultant for three or four years, I was presented with my very own blue shirt and made a permanent member of the team!

Following is a list of things that you can do that in my opinion will help you develop in your staff that all-important pride of ownership that I’ve been talking about. These are not listed in any order of importance because they will be different for each of you.

  • Great communications. This goes both ways, from management down and employee up!


  • Job descriptions. Every employee deserves to know exactly what their job entails and what is expected of them.


  • Job performance evaluations. Every employee also deserves to know exactly how they’re performing their duties. Honest and open two-way discussions twice a year.


  • Open door policy. Managers should always be accessible to all employees.


  • Regularly scheduled staff meetings. There should always be an agenda and a strong facilitator. This is part of good communications.

    A company long-range plan (3-5 years). This plan should be communicated to everyone. Your employees need to know in what direction the company is moving. No surprises.


  • State of the company meetings. This meeting should inform all the employees how the company is doing. I recommend twice-a-year meetings. These meetings are done in good times and bad.

    Great hiring skills and practices. This includes learning how to hire the right people the first time.


  • Minimize employee turnover. It’s management’s job to help employees earn longevity with the company.


  • Comprehensive training program. All areas of expertise should be covered. This includes computers, product knowledge, company policies and procedures, etc.


  • A written policy and procedures manual. This is the playbook that puts all employees on an even playing field.


  • Monthly and yearly goals for the employees. Your employees need to know what their goals are and should receive a monthly report card telling them how they are performing.


  • Incentives. Set incentives for your employees for outstanding performance. This might include such things as a yearly bonus, monthly commissions and spiff programs.


  • Recognize and reward employees. This includes things like a pat on the back for a “job well done,” an e-mail acknowledging extra effort, a letter in their personnel file, a dinner out, etc.


  • Assign responsibilities and then empower employees to do their jobs. Allow employees to take ownership for their actions.


  • Managers learn to be great motivators. Each employee is different. The old cliché of “different strokes for different folks” is so true!


  • Have a well-thought-out compensation strategy and philosophy. Your goal should be to try and be the best-paying (the total package) company in your market place. Then expect the best-performing employees who give you loyalty and the extra effort in performance.


  • Encourage new ideas. If new ideas are offered and they make sense, implement them in a timely manner.


  • Learn team building. Take your individual employees and create a “team” that will go the extra step for the clients and the company.


  • Be aware of “crisis” situations. When you see something brewing, respond to it immediately. Be caring - it’s contagious.


  • Management should recognize and encourage total balance in employees’ lives. Recognize that family, good health, hobbies and having well-rounded employees is a good thing.


  • Sponsor functions, events and outings for the employees and their families. This is a big part of team building.


  • It all starts at the top. Owners and managers must set the example for the rest of the team.


  • Managers have to learn to be great mentors and coaches. Some folks will need more coaching than others. This is a never-ending, ongoing exercise.


  • Everyone likes a winner. Your customers, vendors and employees will become winners when the business becomes one.


  • Get rid of the bad apples. Your team will only ever be as strong as your weakest employee. One bad apple can ruin a bushel of apples!


  • Create an environment that demands pride of ownership. The environment is the showroom itself. This includes employee workstations, the break room, restrooms, how management treats their employees and how the employees treat each other.


  • Do what you say you’re going to do - always! This is manager to employee (and vice versa), employees to customers and vendors, and employee to employee.

  • The list could go on and on. My favorite place to shop is Nordstrom’s. I have had several wonderful experiences with this company. Their people do have a pride of ownership. They are empowered to take care of their customers. They bend over backwards to please. A couple of years ago I asked a salesperson in the shoe department how this wonderful, contagious attitude was taught. His response was, “It all starts at the top.” This person also said, “If you’ve worked for Nordstrom, you would never be happy working for any other retailer.” Wow, what a great testimonial.

    Your charge as owners, managers and employees is to be the very best you can be - all of the time. Good selling - and be happy!