Heating The Spirits Of Your Employees

“We do not know the meaning of the phrase ‘it can’t be done’.” August Busch

When I was on CNN, the news anchor asked me how negativity in the workplace could be eliminated. I told him — and the millions of people who watched the program — that it’s all about capturing the employees’ hearts. When you fire them up and capture their hearts, the negativity disappears, and you can do just about anything.

I remember talking to the foreman in charge of a huge crucible of molten brass. It was heated to 2200 degrees while waves of heat were coming from it. The foreman put a shield over his face and hands, seized a huge sledge, and said “want to see something.?”

He swung with all of his might, beating against the crucible. It didn’t even faze it. He made a small dent at most.

Of course, I asked the obvious questions, “Why can’t you break it?” He said “because it’s hot and that makes it tougher. But come with me.”

He showed me another crucible. It was exactly the same except this one was cold. He took a little hammer and gave the crucible a small tap. The crucible broke into a hundred pieces.

“Why did it break?” He answered “because it is cold and the cohesive strength has gone out of it.”

What is true of this crucible is true of people. When you keep them fired up, when you capture their hearts, they absorb the blows that come about in any organization. But if you let the spirit grow cold in your employees, even little blows will crack them.

Unfortunately, most team leaders, supervisors, and managers don’t know how to keep their people fired up. They don’t know how to get an emotional commitment from their coworkers.

In fact, many “leaders” do little more than pay someone to do something … because that’s all they know how to do. They buy their employee’s physical energy. After all, that’s up for sale. That’s what money is for. But you cannot buy people’s hearts, and you can’t pay people to make the emotional commitment to give their very best.

That requires a different approach. Emotional commitment … or heart and soul … comes from a combination of 8 different ingredients. Let me give you three of them. The others you can pick up in my program entitled, “Staying Up In A Negative World: 8 Keys To A Positive Work Environment.”


The first thing you must do is create an emotionally exciting vision. Numbers don’t cut it. As Motorola says, the cry of “Shareholder equity! Rah! Rah! Rah!” just doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. But a compelling vision does!

One way you do that is help your employees visualize greatness. The Saturn Corporation, the car makers, said “We are going to help make America great again!” Or Service Master talks about “honoring God in all we do.” It’s exciting to work with a company that cares enough, indeed dares enough, to have such a vision of greatness.

It also helps to recruit people who want to become the best. At Ritz Carlton, CEO Horst Schulze asks every employee in every department two questions: “In six months, what do you want your department to become?” and “In six months, what do you want to become?” He has found the same answer to both questions all around the world — “to be the best!”

What’s the lesson? You can resurrect or reconstruct a damaged heart, but it’s a lot easier if you hire a good heart in the first place. If that seems too difficult or even impossible in today’s labor market, go to the second strategy.


Employees are under incredible pressure to get results on and off the job. Companies that capture employee hearts find creative, low cost ways to help their employees balance their need for a life that works and a job that produces results.

Start by making it official. The Marriott Corporation was one of the first large companies to create a Department of Work and Family Life. And I know forward-thinking managers at 3M who order their employees to get out of the office, go home, and spend some time with their spouse and kids.

Put some money into your balance initiatives. The Coors Brewery Company gives a free car seat to the families of all employees with a newborn child. It’s a great way to show the employees that their families are valued.

The John Nuveen Company goes even further. They pay the college tuition of all children of employees with more than five years of service. What a marvelous retention device. As CEO Richard Franks says, “If we take away the worry of paying for college, employees will contribute more and be more productive.” Would that encourage employees to give their best, to stay on the payroll? Absolutely!

Help them donate to charity. Employees don’t seem to have much extra money, and people don’t even have time to knock on a few doors to collect money for a charity. Yet, most people care. They just don’t know what they can do to make a difference. At McCormick, they open their plant one Saturday each year for what’s called “Charity Day.” Employees voluntarily work their normal shift, and McCormick donates double their daily wages to a charity of the employees’ choice. It’s a win-win for everyone.

=> 3. HAVE FUN

Finally, you capture the employees’ hearts by having fun. No one ever said work couldn’t be fun or shouldn’t be fun. Quite the opposite, there’s lots of evidence that spirit-filled organizations are fun and joy-filled organizations.

Start by doing some things just for the fun of it. Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is the self-proclaimed “Master of Joy.” His mission is “the relentless pursuit of joy in the workplace.” Whether it’s a “Clash Dressing Day” or a “Third Shift Italian Meal and Music” event, they’re going to have fun, and they’re going to make money. Not a bad combination.

Loosen up. Use your creativity. Break up the monotony. At Dahlin Smith White, each employee gets a small budget to decorate their offices. But they have one rule, you must do something wild. Or many organizations are opening a place where employees can come into a festive, decorated room for a few minutes, relax, socialize, and have a few treats.

Sometimes managers are guilty of saying such things as “Okay, we’ve had enough fun around here. It’s time to get back to work.” I’m not advocating the wasting of hours and hours on frivolous activities. But vision, balance, and fun are not frivolous. In today’s work world where recruitment and retention are major problems, vision, balance, and fun are some of the ways you win with your workforce.

Some thirty years of experience tells me that any work environment can be turned into a positive, exciting, motivating work place where people want to work, want to stay, and want to be excellent in everything they do.

So don’t settle for anything less than that. As author C.S. Louis noted, “When mediocrity is the norm, it is not long before mediocrity becomes the ideal.”

And if you’re looking for a little help in building that kind of workplace in your organization, give me a call.

Action:  List the 5 major “downers” in your organization. In other words, what are the 5 things that have the most negative impact on your work environment?

Then list one thing you can do in each of the 3 categories above. What’s one thing you can do to reinforce VISION? To BALANCE WORK AND LIFE? To HAVE FUN?