By Tina Tidmore
For The Tribune
The Trussville Area Chamber of Commerce offers an annual opportunity to learn what has been termed “soft skills.” At last week’s Leadership Conference at the Trussville Civic Center, business leaders and employees learned how to motivate employees to be more “engaged” in their work.
“It opens up your mind to learn new ways to handle things,” said Kuttin’ Up owner Lisa Brenner.
Although managing a shop with a few employees is not the same as the CEO or vice presidents of a major corporation, she believes she benefits from learning leadership skills.
“Those 10 people are just as deserving of good leadership as the 30,” she said.
Brenner said she learned to pay attention to what employees are not saying and to show a personal interest in her employees. This is different from the approach she took years back, when she was afraid to show too much concern for employees’ personal lives
Pete Blank, training manager at the Jefferson County Personnel Board and past domestic learning manager at the Walt Disney Company, told conference attendees that employee motivation comes from four different aspects of a job: the work itself, pride in the company, a good boss and enjoying a good relationship with the coworkers. Some are motivated by a combination of them. He said many business leaders are surprised that pay is not a primary motivator for employee engagement.
The key is to find what motivates an employee and emphasize it or provide it, Blank said. In the keynote speech, the Trussville resident started with his own experience of wanting to work for the Walt Disney Company since childhood. Although just parking cars to begin with, Blank said he was motivated at his job because he loved the experiences and atmosphere Disney provided.
Now, Blank takes the leadership skills he learned at Disney and imparts them to the estimated 9,000 civil servants under the Jefferson County Personnel Board, including almost all the cities in the county. He recently provided some “soft skills” training to the Trussville Fire Department.
Many of these cities are too small to have their own human resources department, which provides Blank a unique challenge.
“Government is black and white as an organization,” Blank said. “Leadership is in gray.”
Although bureaucrats are bound by laws, rules and policies, the “soft skills” training through the Personnel Board includes how to think about the person before them, situation they are presented, and coworkers or employees as individuals. They are trained to provide better service to the public by not just saying “no” when a request is not allowed or possible. He said he trains them to say, “No, but…,” which leads to alternate solutions.
Another particular challenge in training government employees is to avoid the “it’s not my job” mentality. This is partially due to many being promoted to management positions.
“Management is about the task,” Blank said. “Leadership is about the people.”
Also at the conference, Trussville resident Donna Gilliland, who provides business technology training, emphasized that Twitter is more than just sending messages. Companies are now realizing it’s an effective tool to monitor and learn what customers and the public think of the company.
Ted Gulus spoke to business leaders about how to work smarter by including some variance in the “planning schedule matrix” and clearing the clutter.