Researchers tell us that a happy workforce is a productive workforce. They also tell us that good management practices are critical to creating such an environment conducive to employee satisfaction and company success.
In brief, treat employees well, and they will not only get the job done, they will realize personal and professional fulfillment in the process.
“Healthy and satisfying relationships in the workplace are at the intersection of performance and dignity,” said Kevin Twomey, principal consultant for The Table Group and an expert on organizational health.
When dignity is not valued and performance is emphasized, employees can feel managed through control and fear, resulting in massive stress and burnout, Twomey explained. And excess emphasis on dignity without regard to performance may leave employees tolerated and protected but leads to mediocrity and stunted progress.
But “with performance and dignity together, leaders are calling their people to be the best versions of themselves,” Twomey affirmed. “To get to this intersection though, leaders must develop trusting relationships with their employees so that everyone understands that the leader has their best interest in mind.” Legate business leaders often find it effective to lead through values gleaned from faith.
Vern Dosch rose through the ranks to become CEO of National Information Solutions Cooperative, a 50-year-old technology business providing electricity and broadband to rural, difficult-to-reach communities. The company is built on the cooperative model: it is customer-owned, and so NISC employees and board members are highly engaged not only with the organization itself but also with seeking the customers’ best interests first.
“It is our job to serve others and improve quality of life and economic opportunities for rural America,” said Dosch, a Bismarck legate.
Many business leaders feel they must “always be the smartest person in the room, the center of attention, the one with all answers,” he added. “They feel that their position on the organizational chart grants them certain privileges and status.”
That’s not the best model for ensuring happiness and productivity among the workforce, however
The real answer, Dosch believes, is servant leadership. He has co-authored a book on the topic: Wired Differently: How to Spark Better Results with a Cooperative Business Model, Servant Leadership and Shared Values, published in 2017 by Milner & Associates.
For Dosch, servant leadership “includes a sense of humility, acknowledging that my job is to serve your employees, to create an environment and a culture of respect — not intimidation, an environment that allows them to grow.” A servant leader’s job “is to guide, mentor, counsel, creating a consistent example so that each employee has an opportunity to reach his full potential.”
The technology, utility, and telecommunications industries are some of the fastest moving and evolving segments of the U.S. economy. “We literally have to reinvent our organization and retrain our employees about every five years,” Dosch explained. “That pace of change can create stress and volatility.”
But what doesn’t shift despite changing times are the cooperative’s core principles. These are embodied in NISC’s “Statement of Shared Values,” which was developed by employees from every division of the company. These values – integrity, relationships, innovation, teamwork, empowerment, and personal development – provide inspiration and guidance for how the business of the organization is carried out.
“We asked [the employees] to identify values that would make them proud to work for NISC,” said Dosch. “That statement has been our compass, unchanged since the day they were developed, providing consistency and stability for our employee base.”
The shared values become a form of mutual accountability and are reflected in customer relations, annual performance reviews, and NISC’s ethics program.
“A guiding principle of our organization is to ‘do the right thing, always,’” Dosch said. “We use that phrase as a way to guide our decision-making process.”
Although it is a simple phrase, as a lived principle it creates “an ethical, consistent, and predictable decision-making process with ethical, consistent, and predictable outcomes,” he added.
Leading by example
For Joe Micatrotto Sr., successful business management is all about living the Golden Rule. Founder and former president/CEO of the Buca di Beppo chain of Italian restaurants, he is also a co-founder of MRG Marketing & Management, franchise partner for Raising Cane’s restaurants in Nevada and Arizona.
“Building relationships in the workplace is no different than in your life,” Micatrotto said. Leaders must realize that while company policies can be universal, people have differing skill sets and must be treated as individuals. To allow employees to make use of their unique talents and gifts within their role constitutes a “win,” said the Las Vegas Legate.
The key to a harmonious, healthy, and productive workforce, he stressed, is motivation. And that’s up to the business leader to generate: he or she must affect employees’ outlook in order to shape their attitude.
True faith-based values are infused into the work environment through the leaders’ example, he stated.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” Micatrotto said. “As a leader you must walk daily in the Faith to which you entrust your eternity.”
Although he never planned for his sons to enter the restaurant industry, both Joseph, Jr. and Justin did exactly that. They co-founded MRG along with Joe Sr. and his wife, Connie. He believes his own example and consistent values may have inspired his sons. “They witnessed a happy and fulfilled person that so many wanted to be aligned with, and that was and is a huge appeal,” he said.
Joe Jr. has referred to his father as his “mentor” for instilling within him “the values of leadership and community service.” Such outreach also serves as a means to bond coworkers in a worthy cause.
“We believed in the three C’s – charity, cash, and corporation,” Joe Sr. said. They mobilize employees to use both paid work and free time to assist in such works as distributing meals and clothing through Catholic Charities and other assistance centers. “We ask our team to tell us where we should be assisting and why,” he said.
It all goes back to leading by example – just as Christ did. “The example of Jesus’ life needed few words for His followers,” Micatrotto said. “I believe the example of His quiet, contemplative moments were the loudest examples we have.”
Chaplain at work
Tulsa Legate Greg Kach has taken the introduction of faith into the workplace to another level. He keeps a corporate chaplain on staff to meet the spiritual, emotional, and mental wellness needs of some 250 team members serving his three area Jackie Cooper Imports auto dealerships.
“We’re trying to create some balance in life,” Kach told Tulsa World when he instituted the workplace chaplaincy several years ago.
He compared the program to other employee benefits companies offer, such as health plans or gym memberships. “We thought maybe the next step should be to help people spiritually,” he said. “Everyone has problems in life, deaths in the family, problems with their children, their marriage.”
Tim Sullivan, a permanent deacon of the Tulsa Diocese and former executive director of Catholic Charities in Tulsa, was the first corporate chaplain at the dealerships. Kach said Sullivan was a nice fit for the company. “We made it really clear from the beginning that his job is not to try to convert people, but just to be there for them when they need it,” he said.
Sullivan left last year to assume a full-time ministry position at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Tulsa. Succeeding him is Peter White, who now facilitates the monthly newhire orientation to introduce employees to the company culture.
Kach also has fostered strong workplace relationships through company-funded social events, hiring qualified friends and family of current employees, and encouraging friendships among co-workers.
“Our philosophy is that employee turnover is a bad thing, and the way to combat it is to make people look forward to coming into work here,” he said in an interview. “You’ll look forward to coming into work every day if your friends and family are there.”
A mission focus
Organizational health consultant Twomey agrees that the application of faith-based principles and servant leadership are assets in nurturing a happy and productive workforce.
“We must love our employees,” said Twomey. “For leaders to reach the hearts of their employees, they must first be vulnerable with their employees and reveal their true humanity.”
Paradoxically, he added, leaders must create a vision in which employees readily see themselves as valued contributors, as collaborators in “something bigger.”
After all, in the Catholic tradition, “every single saint was called to fulfill a mission,” he pointed out.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.