Lisa Ryan, Certified Speaking Professional and Chief Appreciation Strategist at Grategy, is changing the conversation around company culture and employee engagement in the construction industry. In our recent podcast, she shares tips and tricks about using technology, recognizing your employees, and more, which you can start putting to action today.
Ryan’s expertise includes having served as a keynote, breakout, or workshop speaker at more than 100 national and international conferences, as well as 13 years of industrial marketing and sales experience — led by seven years in the welding industry. She’s also a best-selling author of 10 books and an award-winning speaker. Tune in, and see below for a complete transcript.
[This podcast was recorded on July 9, 2020.]
Stephanie Chizik: Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today.
Lisa Ryan: Thanks, it’s really great to be here.
SC: Why don’t we start by giving listeners a little bit of your background?
LR: Sure. I was actually — in my career, as you said, I was primarily in sales. I had — the first part of my career, I was an executive recruiter. One of the few people on the planet who can actually say they sold their mother. Mom actually hated that job, but I said, “Mom, you have got to stay there at least 90 days because I have a guarantee and I can’t afford to give back the commission I made on you. So, thankfully, Mom was there for two and a half years. She didn’t disown me. Then I spent the 13 years in industrial sales, where I sold things like electrical cord and cable into the maintenance environment and welding rod. And yes, I do weld. Then from there I went into healthcare.
How does that relate to today? Well, as an executive recruiter, I found what it took to remove a person from one company and place them into another company. Being in industrial sales for 13 years really made it my mission to change the conversation, to encourage people to look at their careers in manufacturing and in the trades and just change that conversation around it. From my years in healthcare is where the research came in. Even though these topics sound like they may be — I hate the term “soft skills” because they’re essential skills. But when it comes to everything that I talk about and share with my audiences, [it] is based on research, it’s based on real world. And it’s simple, actionable steps that business leaders can take to create the type of culture where people want to stay.
SC: I think that’s great. So we’re talking to coatings contractors, people who might be a one-person company up to maybe 30–50 employees. That’s who we are speaking to when we talk about our CoatingsPro audience. I think those types of tips we’re going to get into here are going to be really helpful for them to understand how to put those into action. I heard you speak at the International Roofing Expo a few years ago. That talk specifically was about how the intergenerational workforce comes into play. Do you still see a lot of challenges — or maybe opportunities — when it comes to that?
LR: Well, there’s opportunities, and the interesting thing is that, with the pandemic we’re going through right now, it’s forced a lot of the technology that millennials and now Gen Z have been used to their entire life, and we have been forced to get into it. The conversation is still there. It’s different now, though. When I do have clients that want to talk about the generations, a lot of it is focused more on Gen Z than millennials, because for goodness’ sake, millennials are 40 this year. 40, people! Let’s just stop that.
When we can learn to communicate with people based on the technology that they’re exposed to — again, I think COVID brought that a lot to the forefront — and now we’re listening to people and we’re looking for more ways to communicate in a lot more different ways and being more open to technology than we ever have before. I think that was one of the main differentiating factors between the generations — the fact that boomers and traditionalist and older Gen Xers didn’t have as much exposure to technology as the newer generations have.
SC: Are you seeing anything specific, key apps or those types of technologies, that people are using in the field or to connect with people who are not behind their desk all the time?
LR: I spoke at — one of the programs that I did, and it was for the surface manufacturers — so people that do countertops and that type of thing. One of the owners had been very active in implementing WhatsApp. That’s a free app that you can use. What they did was his guys would be in the field installing things and they’d be taking little videos. They’d be sharing what they were doing and how they were doing. But they were also able to video if they were running into issues with something with the installation, and other people could see that video and give immediate feedback. They also used it, which I thought was fun, they didn’t take themselves so darn seriously. They had fun kind of at the owner’s expense from time to time. Just building those connections but using video and using apps like that.
The other one is just having Zoom meetings. My husband works for a manufacturing company. He’s in the accounting department. They said, “Oh, there’s no way you could ever work from home. You have to be here. It’s accounting. Insecure.” Blah, blah, blah. Well, for the first three weeks, Scott worked at home. And he was able to attend Zoom meetings and still get just as much productivity done. So we’re seeing a lot more remote employees that maybe leadership did not believe could ever be remote. But still keeping in contact, seeing the face, having the conversation instead of just picking up the phone or sending yet another email.
SC: Right? [laughter] Death by email.
LR: You are not kidding.
SC: Oh my gosh, that’s so true. In addition to the communication part of something like WhatsApp could potentially be that team building aspect that I’ve seen you talk about too, where it’s important to connect with your coworkers on a personal level. Building that or creating that best friend at work situation.
LR: Absolutely. Because again, you have things like Zoom, where you encourage everybody to get on the camera. The interesting thing about Zoom, back in the day, is that I would not get on a Zoom call unless I was having good hair and good makeup, and everything was perfect. Now, frankly, I don’t care. I’ve been on Zoom calls, hair in a ponytail, workout clothes still on. I think it’s given us the opportunity to be much more authentic and realistic. But when you're doing a Zoom happy hour, where it’s not about work. Where you're just getting together and, water to whiskey, everything in between. Just having conversations and maintaining those same “water cooler” conversations that we’re not able to have.
The important thing when we’re doing communication is, from a remote standpoint, it’s not just about business. You need to put the personal in there as well. “How are you doing? How are you doing with your family? How are you doing being your kids’ teacher? And how are you doing being their daycare provider?” All of these other things that are all entangled now in our work life more than it ever has been before.
SC: To your point, it’s not only good to connect on that personal level just to be a good human, but also it ties into the bottom line of the business as well. Can you speak to that a little bit?
LR: Yes. I keep telling — every time I’m doing a program, I’m reminding the participants that what they are doing right now is setting the precedent for whether or not their employees decide to stay with them. If it’s only about business, if you never touch base with your employees, or if it’s just, “Hey, did you get that project done? Hey, what’s going on with this?” and you're not taking the time to connect. Because that’s the thing that we’re missing right now, is that basic human connection. Even hugs and handshakes. Not that we’re hugging a whole lot in the workplace. But even the simple thing of extending your hand for a handshake with somebody, we’re scared to death to do that. So we just have to keep in mind that, if you're reaching out to your employees and you're setting the minimums of what you can do to sustain your business and be productive.
Again, also getting out of your mind that “we work from 7 to 3” or “we work from 9 to 5.” You know what? If your employees are busy with their kids during the day and they’re still getting their work done but they’re doing it from 7:00 at night until midnight, does it really matter as long as the work’s getting done? So there’s much more trust, there’s much more transparency needed, and there’s much more understanding as we’re still trying to figure out where we are now and where we’re going to be. I don’t even want to say “post-COVID” because I don’t personally think that it’s ever going away. We have to figure out how we’re going to live with it.
SC: Right. Making those connections in any way that we can, the trust aspect is probably a huge portion of that. I think this also comes back to the business aspect of it — the difference you’d talk about between engagement versus satisfaction and how that affects retention and the business in general. Could you give a brief overview of what that difference is between engagement and satisfaction?
LR: Sure. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably and they’re really not. Satisfaction means that “My job’s okay, my boss is okay. I’m making enough money. But when I leave work, I leave work. I don’t even think about it. I have no emotional connection to the business.” An employee who is engaged, however, loves what they do, respects their manager, loves the company, loves the company’s missions. Sometimes when they go home, they’re still talking about it to their friends and to their spouse, and they’re sharing the good things about the company. An engaged employee will actually take less money than a person who’s just satisfied because they see how good they have it there. It feels good to work there.
This is not an excuse not to pay your employees a marketable wage. Of course, when it comes down to it, we need to live, we need to make money, all of that. But when it comes to saying things like thanking your employees, recognizing them, catching them in the act of doing things well, things that take very little time, things that take almost no effort and no money at all to just connect and not only say “Hey, thanks,” but to be specific: “Thank you so much for staying 45 minutes after to get that order out. I know you had plans, but I really am so glad that you pitched in and helped us out.” Because if you recognize that employee — and you might be saying, “Well, why should I thank them? They’re getting time an da half for overtime for goodness’ sake. That’s enough.” No, it’s not. Because next time you ask that employee, “Hey, can you stay over and help us get that order?” that employee might be thinking, “You didn’t even thank me last time. You know what? I am outta here. I’ve got a date. See ya!”
So it’s just these little things and comparing your employees to their efforts. You're not going to compare your average employee to your superstar. But if your average employee — or maybe even one of your less-than-average employees — does something, to be able to say “Thank you so much. You really rocked on that project. I appreciate you.” You may be giving that less-than-average or that average employee the incentive to say, “Wow, my boss is actually catching me doing things well. I want more of that recognition.” And now you're giving them the incentive to do more to get more of that.
SC: Right, to help turn an average or below-average employee to someone who could be a rock star. Little bit of equity to put into them. I think that could be really helpful for our readers or subscribers. Are there any other ways you can think of — you mentioned a few there already — saying thank you, to show value to employees? I’m also thinking each employee probably wants to receive recognition in different ways. Are there any tips on how to figure out what means most to the specific employee?
LR: Sure. There’s a sheet, and I actually have a template for one or you can make up your own, and it’s basically called the All About Me sheet. It’s something you can do online with Survey Monkey or one of those services or hand your employees a piece of paper that says, “What is your favorite candy bar? What’s your favorite gift card? If you were to get a $5 or $10 or $25 gift card, what do you want?” Too many times we go and we get that one coffee gift card and we hand them out to everybody. You don’t know if that employee doesn’t drink coffee, doesn’t like coffee, but maybe if they had a gas card, that would be what’s connecting. Finding out, do you like public recognition or private recognition? What are your hobbies? What’s your favorite restaurant?
Because think about it, if your employee just knocks it out on a project that you had or getting an order in or whatever it was, and you know that that employee’s favorite restaurant is Lone Star Steakhouse, and you give them a gift card so that he or she can take their spouse out, have a nice dinner on the company. It’s like, “Wow, they’re paying attention! I can take you out.” “I recognize you and I know how much this would mean to spend a little bit of that special time at your favorite restaurant with your significant other.” It’s just these little things of paying attention instead of assuming that everybody’s the same. So we look at it from just figure out how to recognize employees and what to recognize them with and catching them in the moment. Don’t be waiting three weeks after. “Hey, remember when you stayed after 33 weeks ago?” No. In the moment, when it happens, get it while it’s hot.
SC: I love that idea of the questionnaire. The specificity of it is probably what makes the employee feel so special. And how hard is that to ask someone to fill that out if they’re a new employee or even someone you’ve had for a while. I could see myself doing that at my job.
LR: That’s the thing. So the employee, you find out — What’s your favorite candy bar? Okay, it’s a Snickers. So then next time they do something, and you say, “Hey, great job. Here’s Snickers bar.” They might not even remember filling out that form six months ago. It’s like, “Holy cow, she’s paying attention. She knows I like Snickers and she didn’t give me a Milky Way” or something else. It’s just that personal connection.
SC: I love that. That’s such a good tip. You do have a lot of great stuff on your website, too. Books and resources, blog posts, a lot of good nuggets that people can use to have as a jumping-off point. If people want to reach out to you after listening to this, can you share how they should do that?
LR: Sure. My website is lisaryanspeaks.com. Like you said, there’s my video, my blog. There’s all kinds of resources on there. Another really great resource is my LinkedIn profile. Also connect with me on LinkedIn. I believe it’s “Ask Lisa Ryan” because Lisa Ryan is kind of a common name, to say the least. Make sure you put a note, “Hey, I heard you on the program, and I’d love to connect.” Every day I post a tips video. Just 60–90 seconds of some kind of workplace culture tip. There’s articles on there. I post a lot there. So between my website and LinkedIn, there’s a lot of resources that you can get absolutely free.
SC: Anything else that you want to share with our listeners before we sign off today?
LR: Employee engagement is really one connection at a time, one conversation at a time. When you look at the specificity of each person who works for you and you make that human connection with them, that is a great way to keep your top talent from becoming someone else’s.
SC: Awesome. Thanks so much for talking with us today and for sharing some of your information with our subscribers. I look forward to talking with you again in the future.
LR: Thank you.
For more information, contact Lisa Ryan at lisaryanspeaks.com, and check out CoatingsPro’s other Interview Series podcasts here.