The Finish Line

Eric Wallace had figured it out. In 2015, against the backdrop of big-beer conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch, InBev and MillerCoors scooping up smaller, independent craft breweries across the country, Wallace devised a way to foster an ownership mentality, enthusiasm and high level of buy-in among employees.

He made them owners—literally.

His company, Left Hand Brewing Co., developed an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) under which the craft brewery contributed stock to its ESOP trust, with each eligible employee receiving an annual allocation.

“Our intent is to reward employees and foster an ownership mentality, encouraging members to contribute to and participate in Left Hand’s long-term success,” said Wallace, co-founder and CEO of the Longmont, Colorado, company, upon announcing the ESOP.

The brewery established a vision statement and core values that incorporated the ESOP, asserting that it would help cultivate long-term service, promote responsibility and trust in all relationships, and create a sense of pride in the workplace.

“It’s not about maximizing immediate financial return,” Wallace says. “We have a longer view. Money is only a tool to serve our greater mission. Left Hand is about brewing great beer, giving back to our community and perpetuating a participative employee culture.”

Unpacking the contents of the “motivation-and-strategy” package can be complex, and includes multiple pieces that managers can combine to form a cohesive productivity puzzle.

Define the motivation

Left Hand’s ESOP and the resulting personal stake that employees were given in the company’s success represent one of the ways motivation can be established. Jono Bacon, a community and management strategy consultant, speaker and author of “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams,” says human beings are motivated by performing meaningful work.

As such, having a meaningful mission and results-oriented strategy can be a magical combination to keep people focused on potential while seeing that potential being delivered upon. “If a given project has real purpose and meaning, it can significantly amp up the level of motivation in the individual,” Bacon says. “The impact of this is that it can get people to think bigger and broader, which can result in a more adventurous strategy.”

“If a given project has real purpose and meaning,
it can significantly amp up the level of motivation in the individual.”
— Jono Bacon, author of “People Powered: How Communities Can
Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams”

Make no mistake about it—strategy is an important portion of this equation—one that some organizations don’t have the patience to establish and achieve. “For many organizations I’ve worked with, motivation has been such a strong driver that leaders forget to identify a strategy in the process,” says Jeff Fromm, an international speaker and authority on consumer trends, marketing and innovation, and author of “The Purpose Advantage.” “Organizations that are able to motivate not just for the outcome, but for the path to get to that outcome, tend to be more fluent in strategies, and overall more efficient and effective with how they win.”

The balancing act

Peter Topping believes there will always be tension between focusing on day-to-day operations and crafting strategy for the future. “High-performing organizations understand how to balance these two interdependent imperatives,” says Topping, associate professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta. “Focusing too much on either is a serious problem.”

Indeed, striking the balance between the present and the future is daunting, often resulting in “wasted work” if the drive to get things done does not fit into the broader strategic picture. Bacon, who has done community-management consulting for organizations such as Deutsche Bank, Intel, Samsung, IBM and Mozilla, says the “Big Rocks” methodology can be used to design a clear strategy of what needs to be accomplished and the key pieces of work that must be produced. The goal is to break the “rocks” down into individual tactics that can be delivered in smaller work increments.

For example, if the rock is delivering a website, then tasks could include identifying a platform, designing the site’s structure, creating core imagery and logos, producing core content, etc. These smaller tasks should be gratifying to deliver and help build momentum toward the broader goal, or rock.

“The idea here is that you tap into the motivation of your team by painting a picture that moves the needle in the project, but then each individual task sits neatly within a broader strategy,” Bacon says. “This will reduce the likelihood of wasted work and keep people excited about the project.”

Make no mistake about it—strategy is an important portion of this equation—
one that some organizations don’t have the patience to establish and achieve.

Fromm says devising a strategy requires patience and sacrifice, with both—at times—being the enemy of many leaders’ get-it-done philosophy. “To balance this, you have to make sure that you reinforce and compensate what ‘having a strategy’ actually provides you,” says Fromm, who has 25 years of experience consulting for brands such as Amazon, Dairy Queen, Wingstop and Gallo. “Clarity, focus and efficiency are sometimes the best indicators of having a strong strategy.”

The following are a few other tips for fostering motivation and keeping it in the context of a larger strategy:

  • Communicate effectively. Bacon differentiates between two types of phone calls between managers and employees: “Rambo” and “Ghandi” calls. The former strictly focuses on achieving business goals, while the latter is meant to provide moral support, especially in stressful times. “These calls should be designed to always keep the team focused on the bigger meaning and mission, and how they work directly makes it happen,” he says.
  • Focus on personal development. Some leaders rely on employees to be self-motivated to facilitate effective strategy. Fromm says while internal motivation is a strong contributor, it’s important to think introspectively rather than framing the motivation for the business. “I recommend focusing on personal development as a way to gather skills on the employee level that can elevate your strategic capabilities as an organization in total,” he says. “It’s rare that one person drives strategy; rather, it’s the combination of behaviors and decisions of the community of people you employ.”
  • Promote accountability and be a mentor. It’s important to create a culture of delivery. Your employees must be held accountable, Bacon says, and problems must be handled in a proactive way. If employees struggle with certain tasks, create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable sharing their challenges with peers who can help them surmount any obstacles.
  • Harness the power of consistent productivity. One way to do this is to create succession plans. “Roll certain responsibilities to lower-level employees, and engage those who have mastered areas of contribution to higher-order efforts and initiatives,” he says.

Bacon describes the workplace as a melting pot of minds, experiences and capabilities—true communities. That’s something to remember when trying to promote productivity therein.

“Build an internal community where your team can bring their expertise and insight to projects,” he says. “Create an open, collaborative internal environment with a solid set of guardrails to ensure you make decisions and get work done. This doesn’t just empower your team, which builds motivation, but it tends to generate happier, more fulfilling team members and, as such, longer retention and easier hiring.”