How to Attract (and Keep) Olympic-Caliber Employees

Tom Walter Care for people

By Thomas Walter with Molly Meyer

Tom Walter is a “serial entrepreneur” who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. He is the author of the forthcoming book, It’s My Company Too! This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur

In a previous post, we compared an entangled employee to an Olympian, versus an engaged employee, or collegiate athlete.
Just to recap, the engaged employee has risen to a level above most other employees. He has skills, commitment and dedication but doesn’t exhibit the same kind of care for the organization as if it were his own organization, or the coach perhaps, like the collegiate athlete. The entangled employee, or Olympian, however, lives for the organization… and he likes it.  His goals and dreams are synonymous with the organization’s, and he is constantly thinking about them and acting accordingly.  The entangled employee believes so much in the success of the organization that when the organization achieves something great, he feels fulfilled and happy.
Having a workforce full of entangled employees is like having a team of nonstop problem solvers, go-getters, self-starters and over-achievers. Employing Olympians means having a highly productive, highly motivated workforce that invests themselves whole-heartedly into each task at hand.
Employees don’t just become Olympians by accident.  They don’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to be an Olympian for my organization today.” They have a special combination of drive and determination mixed with a set of values and beliefs that perfectly match the organization’s values and beliefs.  And, they are cultivated in the right organizational culture and nurtured under the right leadership.
Populating your workforce with Olympians is neither easy nor instantaneous. The full journey is something that can’t be mapped out in a single blog post, but we will give you several ideas about the process so you can start planning your transition into the big leagues.
How to Hire an Olympian
As with hiring any employee, hiring an Olympian begins with the basics. Here are some tips to look for during the hiring process that might tip you off that this employee has Olympic potential:
  • Look for team activities on the applicant’s resume. Working successfully in a team is a crucial ingredient to any successful workplace.  Athletes and team competitors know how to motivate others, have leadership qualities and know how (and expect) to sacrifice for the good of the team. All of these qualities are priceless (and crucial) when it comes to Olympic potential.
  • Ask about volunteer roles. Volunteering shows passion, and it reveals that the applicant has the capability of feeling passionately about something.  Volunteers make the ultimate commitment—doing something completely for free, a characteristic of born Olympians.
  • Ask key questions related to culture  Learn what runs deeper than skills and knowledge with these questions: Describe the culture in which you are most productive and happy; Describe the leadership style that will bring forth your best work and effort; Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team; and, What would your former employees say about you? Potential Olympians will have good, honest answers to these questions, because they know how they work best and are always striving to improve themselves.
  • Note any questions asked of you. Applicants that ask questions of you—not just those that could have been answered by perusing your company website, but questions that dig deeper—prove they already have an interest in something more than a paycheck. Look especially for questions about the company’s vision and core values and how those core values are enacted throughout the organization. This shows they care about what your company is, what it can become, and how it will become that way, all indicators of potential entanglement.

How to Keep an Olympian

Hiring a potentially entangled employee is a great first step, but now you have to work on developing him into the Olympian that he can be.  Here are a few tips:

  • Clearly align the organization with a path and direction, and make both known to everyone. The more you exhibit your company’s clearly stated values, vision and mission, the higher you raise the expectation level for your employees. The more employees see the values, vision and mission, the more ownership they have over those aspects of the organization. The values, vision and mission become a part of your employees’ every day.  There is no guessing when it comes to behaviors and actions. “Will this help me reach my goals?” becomes “Will this help my company reach its goals?”
  • Find out employees’ goals and see if, and how, they match up with those of the organization. If the goals don’t align, that doesn’t mean this particular employee can’t reach Olympic status. It just means you might need to spend some time getting to know what is important to this employee. If there is something you or your organization can do to help bridge the gaps, then take action. Whatever you do will go miles in your employee’s eyes, bringing him or her closer to entanglement.
  • Give recognition and rewards. Publically and privately recognizing employees for things they’ve done well is the basis of positive reinforcement. Making the transition from engaged to entangled requires encouragement, and recognition and rewards are the two largest ways to encourage that an engaged employee to take his or her work to the next level.

How to Build your Olympic Workforce

You’ve built a nice foundation for an entangled organization.  But, just because you’ve built it, doesn’t mean others will come running.  There are some things you must continue to develop to spread entanglement throughout your company, including:
  • Applying for culture awards, like Best Places to Work and 101 Best and Brightest. Olympians like to surround themselves with other Olympians. Applying for (and wining!) culture awards will gather the attention of other like-minded people and potential employees.
  • Asking for employee feedback.  You don’t always have to go outside of your organization to search for Olympians.  You can help your existing employees entangle within the organization by asking for employee feedback.  Find out where improvements can be made, and start a discussion about the concept of entanglement and what it will take to get them there.
  • Doing something with your employee feedback. Act on this great information straight from your employees’ mouths! Tasty Catering formed a Leadership Team to address employee feedback and concerns. The Leadership Team is responsible for deciding where the company should go and what actions should be taken with regards to employee feedback.  Acting on employee suggestions is a huge step toward making employees feel valued and appreciated.
  • Praising and rewarding continued education and training. Tuition reimbursement and paid certifications are great ways to encourage betterment, for both the employee and the organization.  As long as the training or education is applicable to the company, rewarding that behavior will urge other employees to better themselves in their job roles and encourage entanglement.  Entangled employees are lifelong learners; they feel at their best when they can constantly improve themselves. 
Building an Olympic workforce is no easy task, but it’s one that makes both you and each member of your workforce happier.  When employees are committed to something, they love doing it, and work doesn’t seem like work.  When the organization and employees find that balance in give-and-take between the two parties, they become one whole being, that’s when entanglement really works.
For an extended definition as well as examples, exercises, and methods of achieving real life entanglement, reserve your copy of It’s My Company Too! scheduled for public release on October 23, 2012.
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