They Do Understand, They Just Don’t Care

They Do Understand, They Just Don’t Care

When organizations tell me about the issues that make their business difficult, they present it as if they are very alone and their challenges are unique to their business. Occasionally, I run into a new business impediment that really allows me to exercise my problem-solving, creativity, and innovation but most companies share common problems. Frequently – especially in retail – the primary challenges lie in communication, inspiring & motivating, and offering relevant and relatable learning & development opportunities to all levels of team members through effectively and consistently delivering to them the information they need and want in a way they want and need it.

When executive or senior leadership begins the dialog around their business obstacles is when I surface the these needs and I focus on the inspiring and motivating piece. Almost without exception they, typically, default to talking about compensation. Either explaining why they can’t pay more or opining the “what if” around paying their people a higher/fairer wage. Here’s my response to that…if you are paying your people fairly that is great and, frankly, what you should be doing as companies with integrity do. Compensation isn’t the issue, usually. Conversely, however, if companies have the ability to pay more and don’t and they are deliberately choosing to be cheap and myopic when it comes to talent, no amount of culture focus is going to help improve the environment until their people process has dramatically improved.

Today’s talent generally prioritizes their workplace’s value in this way:

  • Provides Continuous Learning
  • Help Builds Conveyable/Future Marketability
  • Helps Them Make A Difference
  • Provides Constant Feedback [Real Time, Stay Interviews, Career Path Planning]
  • Helps Them Achieve Financial Independence
  • Listens Carefully and Offer Leadership Roles [Rotational Assignment, Stretch Assignments]
  • Allows Them To Bring Their Own Way [Constructing Their Day & Week] To Work & Finding New And Efficient Ways To Execute Their Responsibilities

7 Reasons Your People Just Don’t Care

There are some pretty consistent issues I see when I spend time assessing workplace culture, team dynamics, and individual performance – regardless of industry. Here are some of the most consistent I encounter:

THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE BUSINESS STRATEGY IS: We all like to feel a sense of being a part of something exciting and energizing with purpose. Striving to be worthy of phrases  like ” The best” or “The greatest” provides that sense of purpose and accomplishment. As a leader, letting people know what you want the business to achieve early, often, and in simple terms will help them help the company get to it’s goals and objectives. The best leadership confronts challenge proactively, with a plan, and an energizing communication style that can inspire action. When the heat is on, and pressure intense, strong leaders rally their troops through honest and courageous dialog, support and accessibility, eliminating processes that don’t add value to the business, efficiency to the day-to-day operations, and/or the effectiveness of the team members. If we don’t talk about these things we have people without direction and that leads to disengagement, quickly.

THEY DON’T HAVE GOALS [OR ONLY HAVE UNCLEAR GOALS]: When we assign work that doesn’t possess a clear and identifiable meaning & purpose to the vision, values, or business objectives it kills engagement. Goals are actually super fun. Smart talent is inherently competitive in a healthy way and they want to be successful. Clear goals create support a sense of purpose and add meaning to even the most boring or repetitive tasks.

WE CONSTRICT THEIR CREATIVITY & INDEPENDENCE: For the most part, this isn’t because leaders have a grudge against creativity. Since organizations don’t hire for creativity but for a job description that is a laundry list of to-dos that need to be executed – people that don’t possess a naturally high-affinity to the creative tend to get nervous or intimidated when it presents as a trait in people. There is a confusing paradigm in today’s workplaces which is that people/leaders can articulate the compelling value of new and useful ideas…however, the reality is that these innovative approaches and possibilities are undermined each day in organizations that favor and insist upon operational execution, such as checklists, time-wasting meetings, productivity measured by hours worked, and control. In today’s workplaces we have creative and driven talent bringing their own ways to work and finding new and efficient ways to execute their responsibilities and construct their day or week that no longer fits into a predictable or parochial traditional working relationship. But where I [and others] find value in that, it alarms those who feel most comfortable with the “but this is how we’ve always done it”, old-school approach. This is a dangerous and suffocating mentality to have in today’s workplaces.

THEY HAVE NO VOICE: For the most part, every single person I meet, regardless of business or status/level they hold inside the organization wants to contribute in a positive way. Your employee’s future marketability depends on their ability to up-skill and innovate at work – today – for best results. It’s the way we all grow and develop our competencies and technical skills. When the organization doesn’t listen to – or fails to solicit – feedback or suggestions from every single person who works inside the business – and insists they simply stick with their job description and not “rock the boat” – companies are just begging for people to become actively disengaged or, at best, complacent.

LACK OF CONSISTENCY: This is a HUGE one. All too often I have heard of the company “executives”, senior- and mid-level managers break people’s spirit by diminishing their value through blame and public embarrassment in an effort to make them feel as though no one else would want them and they aren’t worthy of anything better.  While politicking mediocrity who conforms in a desirable way [but couldn’t produce a great result to save their lives] is a “favorite”. Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding, kind of a jerk, and quick to criticize…as long as that “manager” treats every employee the same way. While it’s necessary to treat individuals differently, all employees must be treated fairly and objectively. Similar achievements should result in similar recognition and rewards. The key to maintaining consistency is to communicate with candor and in-the moment; the more people understand why a decision was made, the less likely they are to assume their boss is capricious and playing favorites.

THEY AREN’T PEOPLE WITH LIVES OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING: While some organizations [*cough* – lots of retailers – *cough*] are committed to hiring compliant sheeple so they can manipulate them – GREAT organizations hire smart, ambitious, driven, diverse talent at all levels. Yes, people work for a paycheck but talented and passionate people want to work for someone that will treat them as an individual and who actually cares about them as a complete and whole person with personal and professional goals, families, hobbies, interests, etc.. Person-to-person interactions are much more important than meetings or “where are you at” check-ins. Everyone want to be seen as an interesting individual, not a number. Numbers and optics around data don’t care in a human way. People care – especially when you genuinely care about them first.

THERE’S NO “NEXT”: Every job should come with a potential to lead to something better or greater for people, either inside or outside the organization. Everyone that you bring onto your team – hopefully – possesses some ambition. Ambition is a major catalyst for personal and professional growth & development. People who wish to be more, know more, accomplish more, and/or have more, have a compelling and powerful purpose and drive that leads them to think bigger and go further and if you can support this – it is an amazing partnership. Ambition drives them to advance and accomplish goals & objectives. Well-aimed and supported by leadership and organizational values, ambition reflects a healthy self-esteem and higher power of mindfulness, self-awareness, and the ability to visualize and shape the future. When you care about your people, your people will absolutely care about the business.


Make EVERY Job Important: Recently I worked with an organization on culture reinvention. We spoke about their Store Manager Meeting which was held in Las Vegas. It was a dazzling, lavish, and exciting event for the Store Managers to have some fun, learn some stuff, network with each other [which is where most of the actual learning happens], and experience Vegas. When I asked how they brought back the meeting to their teams, I was told that each store had a budget of $50 and they did it on a Sunday morning/evening in the store before opening or after closing. Hmmm…so the teams that delivered approximately 90% of the business for the year get a two hour meeting on what is probably their day off – with bagels and coffee while sitting on the selling floor, tills, and/or fixtures – because there aren’t enough chairs for everyone to be comfortable – and thumbed through a mundane PowerPoint deck. Seriously? Does any of that communicate their value to the business? Does it communicate appreciation to the people who delivered business and an experience to the customers? When we appreciate and recognize the efforts of each person who delivered greatness and the teams they represent fairly, the return is huge in engagement and productivity. To put it into context, according to HBR, at Best Buy the value of a 0.1% increase in employee engagement in a singular store is $100,000 in added revenue.

Communicate – Daily – The Company Vision, Values, and Strategy: Frequently in the busy day-to-day grind of most workplaces, we lose focus on our objectives. So much so that, research suggests that only 30% of organizations and team’s execute their strategies effectively, meaning that 70% of projects are NOT executed well. Why is this? Because…

  • 95% of leaders/managers within an organization say they do not fully understand what the strategy is;
  • 75% of leaders/managers do not have any stake in the success of the strategy;
  • 85% of leaders spend less than one hour a month talking about strategy.

70% of of an employee’s level of engagement or excitement about the job or the company they work with is in direct relation to their immediate supervisor. We have a great responsibility to our people to be available for them and to keep them excited and on-track. It is also important to keep them up-to-date on how the company is doing, the status of projects, and/or any adjustments to the current vision.

Allow For Failure: Consistently, when I type or speak this statement I know how profoundly counter-intuitive it seems but – there is SO much anxiety and caution – in most workplaces – around failure and errors that we have to encourage a safe space for innovative and ideas without knowing exactly what the result may be. When you remove the fear of failure you make people feel inherently safe. As a result, team members understand they have more latitude and are, therefore, more inclined to contribute and experiment. Knowing that they have creative space to learn from their mistakes rather than being punished for or embarrassed by them builds their confidence and eliminates a large portion of negative energy and apprehension. Essentially, you free people up to pursue the path that will support reaching their objectives [and, ultimately, the organization’s as well].

Appreciate & Reward Effort & Accomplishment: 70% of employees quit their jobs everyday [but they still keep showing up to work]. It’s easy to show up for work – people do it every day but they don’t truly “show up” and participate. Far too many people fail to contribute to a productive and collaborative workplace. As stated above, we need to appreciate and recognize people when they make a difference and show an authentic effort that pushes the company closer to it’s goals and objectives. A genuine acknowledgment and appreciation of a person’s intention, sweat, sometimes tears, hard work, and their result. Research shows that when efforts and results are recognized, employees report:

  • An increased confidence in their skills;
  • An understanding that they are on track and in good standing;
  • It creates an improved relationship with their leader.

When we celebrate people who drive results and accomplish work that aligns with the vision and values of the organization we inspire them to continue doing so and we inspire others to follow in their footsteps.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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