Encouraging high performance

By Adam Keane, NTEA President
Executive Vice-President, Allied Body Works Inc. (Seattle, Washington)

This article was published in the July 2017 edition of NTEA News

The summer months at Allied Body Works are busy, as I’m sure they are for many NTEA member companies. In fact, it seems even more eventful than normal due to our consistent sales, nice weather, staff on vacation and distractions in general. During the rainy season in Seattle, it’s easy to focus on work. When you’re constantly thinking about the next family barbeque, baseball tournament, camping opportunity or summer getaway destination, it’s a challenge to stay motivated at work, and it’s easy to forget how your attitude affects others.

I’ve been asked how we motivate employees to perform at a high level, and it caught me off guard (I was in summer mode myself). For me, when considering the important aspects of business, the number-one factor is people. 

I believe the first thing you need to inspire employees is trust. This year, I’m grateful to coach my son’s Little League team again — a volunteer opportunity I find highly rewarding. Sharing my baseball knowledge with a group of 8–11-year-old kids is so much fun. However, it gets competitive. We’re there to cheer for them and teach them how to improve. As coaches, we spend the first part of the season ensuring the kids understand their roles on the field, and we’re stern with them when they don’t move in sync. Being hard on these young boys can lead to a demotivating situation. It’s tough to balance teaching the skills and discipline needed to win, while at the same time keeping their spirits up and letting them have a good time.

It’s interesting how similar coaching baseball is to managing a workforce. I’ve heard people say you learn everything necessary to succeed in life during kindergarten, and, in large part, it’s true. We need to hold staff members accountable. They should discipline themselves to do the work correctly — whether in front of a computer, talking to customers, displaying our products, or fabricating and installing in the shop. Managing people can get serious — and it should. At Allied Body Works, we have difficult conversations and constant reminders and check-ins.

Our group of baseball players has had a season filled with reminders — some louder than others. Going into playoffs, we knew it was time to let the kids know how much they’ve grown throughout the season and communicate our pride. During a team meeting, we told them we care about and trust them — and the kids chimed in, saying they trusted each other. Before taking the field for the next game, our cheer was a loud Trust, and the players, coaches and fans all believed it. We took the time to get to know the kids on a personal level, learning what motivates and tears down. We understood their strengths and weaknesses, and they shared this awareness with each other. 

I’ve found tremendous parallels between inspiring employees and motivating my son’s baseball team. You have to know your people. From my perspective, without knowing the factors important to individuals, it’s hard to make a difference. At Allied Body Works, I set up one-on-one meetings with our employees to enhance my awareness of their likes and dislikes as well as get a feel for their ambitions. During these conversations, I ask the same questions, regardless of their department. Similar to an interview, it goes beyond work-related topics, exploring their goals, dreams and hobbies. Though it’s a little like speed dating, figuring out what makes our people tick enables us to better connect. I wouldn’t go so far as to say our company-wide cheer is Trust, but giving our workers the chance to talk and actively listening definitely promote the theme.

Another relevant principle which we emphasized to our Little League team during playoffs is: Even though you know what to do, the outcome may not go your way — despite your best efforts. To drive home this point and remind the kids to stay positive, we hung a smiley face emoji in the dugout and told them to touch it every time they came on or off the field. 

I’m not ready to hang an emoji in our front office or on the shop floor, but keeping a positive attitude is important no matter what you do in life. Having a reminder (like the emoji in the dugout) helps keep us on track when difficult tasks start to take us in a different direction. Throughout history, there have been countless motivational figures who have demonstrated perseverance and a great attitude. At Allied Body Works, we feature a motivational quote and include a brief description of the person who made the insightful comment. It’s amazing how such a simple reminder can boost the team’s spirit and outlook.

I’m a firm believer that discipline and encouragement are both necessary for success in baseball, business and life in general. 

For more employee and professional development information and resources, visit ntea.com/workforcedevelopment.