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Let’s Be Clear

by Julie Miles / January 25, 2022

‘At what point did you realize that the world needs you?’ ~ Kevin “Doc” Klein

In a time when the world seems to be spinning in so many directions at once – where vast change and stagnation from the pandemic go hand-in-hand – clarity is a must. While there lies a huge opportunity to grow from all that we’ve learned, we must first begin by assessing where we are, and adopting the right tools. 

Last year brought us “The Great Resignation” – where 4 million resigned in July of 2021 alone, with a record breaking 10.9 million jobs open that same month. {U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics} Employers are now understaffed and scrambling to fill positions to recover from shutdowns and drastic pivots in consumer behavior. How can we stabilize our teams, understanding and meeting their needs? What are people looking for to be happy in their roles, and how can leaders support their teams effectively? 

I was grateful when a local business coach (and long-time friend), Tom Heck, agreed to sit down and have a chat. For over 20 years, Tom has been teaching and coaching leaders and teams to identify their most pressing issues, and then launch into deeper connection with what they value in their business and each other. I knew he could be an invaluable resource to our Platinum Press (PP) community. The gem of Tom’s work is: don’t do anything until you define exactly what you are doing {and what you are not!}, get the whole team on board, then, dive in!

What I walked away with from this talk was compassion for where we are, and clarity about what we need to do to create happy, sustainable teams.

PP:  How can leaders be most impactful?

TOM: One thing leaders often miss is that people leave companies because of people, not because of the company. The best place leaders can start is to define what it means to be on your team: “This team is for you if, ...” and, “This team is NOT for you if ...”

Ask: How can I create a team where everybody wins, instead of a cut-throat competitive team where just a few shine and the others are left sitting on the bench to watch. How can you utilize what everybody brings to the table? Leaders should communicate this team definition in a simple way. If it is so complex that you need a PhD to communicate this, it’s not right.


There’s a very helpful model I love to use in the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. I really like this book because it’s short, written in parable format, and it’s very engaging. I’m advising a startup right now – a small team of 5 people – and I’m suggesting to the CEO that he read this book, decide if he likes this model, and if he does, then have the rest of the team read it. This is important so that we all get on the same page.

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” also works in a virtual environment. You can listen to Lencioni’s podcast about this here.

PP:  How can leaders curate an environment of trust?

TOM: You will notice in Lencioni’s pyramid model, the foundation is TRUST. It’s all about vulnerability-based trust. It’s not about transactional trust. 


Transactional trust is when you give me a piece of paper and say, “Tom, can you please make ten copies of this?” and I say “Sure.” and I go make ten copies. You can now trust me to make copies. That’s different than if I’m talking junk behind your back, you’re my boss, and you catch me doing this. And you say, “Tom, I need to talk with you.” I start denying it. I’m afraid you’re going to fire me. And if I’m afraid, then I can’t speak the truth to you.

If vulnerability-based trust were there, I could say, “I heard you say in a meeting that we’re going to have to downsize to keep this boat afloat. I think that is the wrong decision, and I’m scared.” And you can say to me, “Tom, I’m scared too. Let’s talk about this, and how I’m managing this team, and how we can get through this together.” That’s a different type of trust.

So, if you look at Lencioni’s model again, you will see the importance of this: if you don’t have vulnerability-based trust, then you can’t have healthy conflict.


A friend of mine in Canada runs a company called Facilitation First. He goes into large organizations and sometimes he’ll ask to be a fly on the wall in a staff meeting. He says that one of the first indicators of an unhealthy team is that they have no conflict. It’s important to have healthy conflict. It’s where you can tell me, “You know, we need to ditch this website and build a new one.” And I say, “Are you kidding? After all this time and money we’ve spent? Really? Tell me why you want to do this because I just don’t think that’s a good idea.” And we have this back and forth – that’s healthy conflict. When people can honestly share their opinions and be heard, and the team makes a decision, we then have the ability to make commitment.


This is the next piece: you can’t have full commitment from the team until everybody’s on board. If people leave a meeting, and there’s all this talk going on outside of the meeting that should have happened in the meeting, you’re never going to get commitment. 

PP: How can leaders foster employee engagement?

TOM: I would advise leaders to personalize their approach. One thing I tried to do as the leader of the Asheville Lacrosse Club was get to know people – beyond just their ability to play a game. And, I think this is critical right now. Just look at all of the “Help Wanted” signs around Asheville, around the country really, because of The Great Resignation.

The Washington Post has a podcast called The Post Reports.” They just did a 3-part series called, Quitters.” In the story, they featured a restaurant. The pandemic is running high, the owners are flustered, everyone is working at a lightening-fast pace. The main chef just quit, and the number two in charge has moved into his position. Then, he also leaves because they would not give him the title of Head Chef, and it was a domino effect from there.


Patrick Lencioni has another great book that addresses this: The Truth About Employee Engagement.” And, if you don’t have time to read the book, there is a great summary here.

factors-causing-job-misery-pyramidIf you lay Lencioni’s model: “Anonymity / Irrelevance / Immeasurement” over this situation, I think what the owners of the restaurant didn’t get was that this pace they were keeping took too great a toll on their staff. And, how important the title was to that staff person because he saw that as a way to move up in the world. Had they had that conversation, the outcome could have been very different. With that title, they could have helped position him to get a better job by helping improve his resumé. So, he left because there was a disconnect: of him seeing the title aiding his future, and the owners seeing it merely as a petty request. Everybody at that restaurant said that they really liked their job, they liked the people, but their perception changed when the owners stopped understanding the needs of their team.


If people want to learn how to manage better, especially right now in this marketplace of “how do we keep people here,” they need to understand how people feel valued.

In Lencioni’s book, “The Truth About Employee Engagement,” they mention an interesting study that shines light on this. They set up a scenario on a city street where a person was unloading boxes, as if they were moving in someplace. As people walked by, they asked if they would help them move a couple of boxes. They found the majority of the strangers were happy and willing to help. But, here’s the interesting thing: when they said, “I’ll pay you five bucks to do this,” fewer people were willing to help. They found out that it’s not always about the money – it’s about being helpful. 

Lencioni says every person needs to feel they are important to the person they work for; people work for a mission, they don’t want to feel ‘bought.’

‘People want to be celebrated and known.’  ~ Patrick Lencioni

Lencioni’s point was that merely paying people more won’t necessarily increase retention. Of course, you need to be paid a living wage, but it’s more about the happiness of the team and how they are managed and lead. 

Of course, investing in long-term happiness takes commitment, time, and engaging in worthwhile conversations like this one. Quick fixes, like trying to boost morale simply by bringing in doughnuts one morning, are not lasting solutions. What we need now is a new way of looking at how we are in relationship with each other, and how we conduct business.

I think the Great Resignation is happening because people are re-evaluating, asking, “Is this how I want to spend my time?” and “If I could do something different, would I do something different?” And, I think people are saying, “Yes!”  

I think a lot of employers are questioning how they are operating their business – at least I’m hoping they are. In the Washington Post podcast, the owners of the restaurant were doing things that were unsustainable. It was life-draining. And If that’s the case – if that’s how we’re waking up every day – it’s no wonder that the employees were saying, “Forget this!” 

‘There’s a better way of doing things, and I think what we’ve talked about today is where it needs to start – by creating a strong foundation. From there, with everyone buying in to the same vision and utilizing what everyone brings to the table, the sky’s the limit to what teams and businesses can achieve!’

PP: So, I’m dying to know how you answer this next question, Tom: How can we recreate ourselves and best show up for the world?

TOM: {laughs} Ah, that is such a powerful question for right now! My wife, Anne, and I have conversations about this frequently. What is the world asking of us right now? Let’s tie it back to the book, The Truth About Employee Engagement – the idea of being able to see my work as being relevant. When we talked about Anonymity earlier, and then Irrelevance – it is important for people to see the point.

For example, if you are at the grocery store, and a cashier is checking out your order, it could be easy to look at them and ask, “What is the point of this work in the grand scheme of things?” Because the planet is warming, there is political polarization, and yet, you’ve probably been through a checkout line where someone has brightened your day. You had this short exchange, and it was more than just checking out the groceries. Something happened there that you said to yourself, “That cashier had great energy. They were really nice.” And maybe you went on about your day a little happier because of that.

By looking at the relevance of their work, they say, “Yes, I am a cashier, but what I really do is see people.”

So for the leaders in this story, they need to be asking, “What do we really do?”

This is reminding me of another book, by the former CEO of Zappos Tony Hsieh: Delivering Happiness.”  It is a great book on creating organizational culture. Hsieh could have said, “We’re selling shoes.” But, when you contact their customer service, the first thing that strikes you is how happy they are! People tour the Zappos facility just to see how they create a company culture like this.

When you go through the hiring process there, at the end, you are given “The Offer:” Zappos will pay you for your training time PLUS a $1,000 bonus if you quit, or you can keep the job.  Why? If they take the $1,000, Zappos sighs and says, “We just saved ourselves so much money!” The people that take “The Offer” do not have the kind of commitment to the amazing customer-experience-culture that sits at the heart of everything Zappos does. If that person were to stay and work for Zappos, it would be a huge risk that they would turn off multiple, potential customers. And that equates to way more than a thousand dollars.

‘The bigger relevance of our work, what’s really important, – whether you are selling shoes or bagging groceries – is to help our teams to realize the company’s deepest purpose.’ 

PP: What are you working on now? Who are you passionate about working with?

TOM: Lately, I have been working with small, concentrated teams that serve a larger company. Recently, I worked with a group of 8 attorneys in Atlanta who wanted to work on a solution – not just for their firm of 120, but for their other offices in Tennessee and Washington D.C. as well.

We set out to redefine how they recruited, trained and supported new interns. The law firm had data showing that many of their previous interns did not like their experience and subsequently took jobs at other law firms. The law firm had been operating on "old school" methods where young interns didn't mind working 80 hour weeks. Now interns were looking for something more "balanced" so something had to change. The team assigned to address the problem (all attorneys in the firm) were faced with working as a team to create a new intern experience but they didn't know where or how to start which is where I came in. Using a Team Assessment I was able to help this group of attorneys understand where they were and provide them with a path forward.

Another team I recently worked with was a team of 7 people of an Asheville-based palliative care facility. As you can imagine, palliative care is difficult work, even pre-pandemic. I worked with their team leader to define what it means to be on their team.

One of the things I helped them with was a Team Assessment. It is a type of anonymous, 360° assessment, so it is a very objective and holistic tool to help teams see where they are strong, and where they are not. It forms a starting point for teams to figure out where they should invest their time. 

After we did this assessment, the team leader was so surprised, because where the opportunities of growth were, he already thought had been addressed. So, this was really valuable to them. When I worked with this team, it helped us define how we invested in our work together.

So, this is some of the work I can do. I always start with the assessment. We send it out to the team, they send them back to me and I generate a report, and then I have a meeting with the team leader and say, “This is what your team is reporting on this various criteria. Whether you work with me or someone else, these are the areas of growth that your team thinks are important.” This work can be done virtually as well.


PP: What is the big opportunity for leaders right now?

TOM: We as leaders have an opportunity to teach, especially right now. So many people are looking and questioning, what is this all about? If you have a person on your team that is genuinely not happy, I would hope that the leader would say, “What can I do to help you? I have a network.”

I have a friend, Tim Sinatra, I worked with years ago at the YMCA. He has been an exec for Boys and Girls Clubs in different cities, and is now CEO at the Family YMCA of Salem, Oregon. We were talking about how wonderful it is to have staff, help them grow, move on, and evolve. When the next employer sees that they worked with Tim Sinatra, the employer says, “What? you worked with Tim? That’s all I needed to hear, because if you worked with him, I know that he develops his people, so I know that you’re going to be great.”

It’s great for young people to work for people that help prepare them for what’s next. The reality is, is that everyone at some point is going to move on to something else. And, what a gift to give the employee, to pay it forward. If this young person has a great experience working for you, he’s going to tell his friends, “Gosh, when I worked there, they helped me in so many ways. When I applied for another job, they wrote me this great letter of reference.” So, it creates a natural supply chain for you to get good people, and in turn, you are sending out future leaders into the workforce.

I hope with all that we have talked about, folks start to see the bigger picture of how we are all being helpful in the world. This is also one of the things that we do in school, too. Teachers across the country are quitting – it was already hard before, and it’s even harder now. But, one of the things that is convincing teachers to stay is because they love helping kids. What we are really doing is teaching who we are and what we believe in.

Platinum Group is an HCM Payroll & Accounting firm in Asheville that celebrates our wonderful clients, keeping business local, and elevating our community by volunteer outreach. To see how we can support your business, visit us at: www.platinum-grp.com


A Slice of Trust, by David Hutchen

Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh

Kevin “Doc” Klein, author of, “Twelve Life-Giving Habits”

International Association of Teamwork Facilitators (IATF), (Tom is the president and founder)

Speed of Trust, by Stephen Covey

Summary article of The Truth About Employee Engagement

The Truth About Employee Engagement, by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Virtual Team

The Table Group

Tom Heck

Rites of Passage Council

Washington Post podcast, Post Reports


Tags: Employee Leadership Local Business Personal Development teams effective teams compassionate leadership trust healthy conflict

Julie Miles

Julie Miles

Julie’s passion is to act as a liaison between the Platinum team, their wonderful clients, and the community, striving to tell their stories and make connections.

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