Recently, we highlighted Falken Tires president and CEO Richard Smallwood’s top strategies for employee engagement. The conclusion of this two-part series features ideas from Jill Elliott, R&R’s VP of people and culture. Jill’s impressive HR and organizational development background spans across multiple industries, including working with clients such as Disney, Expedia and Unilever. When one meets her for the first time, you instantly get her Bay Area tech vibe, coupled with an apparent passion for employer branding, and designing programs that build culture and employee engagement.
Jill and I sat down recently to discuss her strategies for creating a strong culture and putting people at the center of the organization. “Leaders should strive to cultivate a level of trust,” she remarked. “Having employees’ best interest at heart closely aligns with who we are and how we treat each other and our clients.” At R&R Partners, we use a specific language around the people and relationships who are at the core of what makes us great: “We value family and community above all.”It isn’t a bit ironic that my conversation with our ambassador of people and culture took place the day of the annual Media Tailgate. While we were talking about something Jill is obviously energetic about, teams of people were working together to put the final touches on our 11th annual event, which celebrates our employees and partnerships. One of the most enjoyable afternoons of the year, she was quick to point out that “all of our events are just ways to connect our people to the culture. These are not simply parties—they provide this important opportunity to connect.”
I asked Jill what she would do with an unlimited budget to drive even more employee engagement at R&R. Her response wasn’t what I expected, yet it makes total sense: “I would survey employees to ask them what they want.” Our discussion was interrupted slightly when a unicorn pool float came into Town Center during the Media Tailgate set up, yet after we had a Friday afternoon giggle, Jill impressed me with her final thought: “If you get the people part—the recruiting, the hiring, the development and the culture—right, everything else falls into place.”
Recently, Richard Smallwood, president and CEO of our client, Falken Tires, appeared in a Fast Company article highlighting the most creative people. Since then, we asked him, and our own VP of people and culture, Jill Elliott, to talk more about employee engagement. Richard, who is famous for taking top-performing employees anywhere in the world for dinner as a reward, shared his three top tips for engaging employees. The second part in this series will feature some of Jill’s thoughts on engagement, core values and culture.
When asked to share his strategy on engaging his employees, Richard shared these three tips:
“Create regular opportunities for your associates to provide unfiltered feedback to senior management.
One practice I enjoy using to gain insight on how things are working within the company is to take a small group of four or five associates to lunch and ask them for ideas on how to make their jobs more efficient. The reality is that most executives really don’t understand the unnecessary obstacles or distractions that prevent our teams from executing optimally and, more importantly, we generally can’t provide the best solutions. The people doing the jobs know the roadblocks, and they usually have the best and most practical solutions for removing them. From my experience, our teammates have really appreciated playing an active role in the improvement process.“
“Regularly remind your associates of the importance of their specific role in the success of the company.
It always bothers me when I hear one of our associates state that their role is not important to the success of the company. First, it tells me that we as a management team are doing a poor job of communicating to our teams what their roles are and how their performance can impact every other person in the organization. Secondly, it takes away the very important “pride of ownership” from that associate. Every human wants to feel that what they do is valued and appreciated by those around them. This is true with work, home, church and sports teams. How can we, as leaders, expect our associates to make the best contribution possible if they don’t believe that what they do is important?”
“Create a culture where associates want to achieve great results, not just in order to survive, but in order to please those affected.
This is often a tricky concept for me to explain, but it is a very important one for leaders to understand. In many work environments, the associate is driven to achieve the targeted result by avoiding failing and being fired for poor performance. This is performance driven by the fear of failure and the subsequent punishment. What I want to create in our environment is one in which the associate wants to achieve a great result, not in order to avoid being punished, but out of the desire to please those impacted by the result. A simple, likely politically incorrect, analogy would be that of a child proudly presenting their stick figure drawing to their parents and saying “look what I made for you.” This motivation is quite different.”