It takes a brave leader to listen to feedback because often, leaders are scared to face the reality of the situation and forget how engagement must start with them. Chris Cooper, author, speaker, and host of the show Business Elevation, talks about an employee engagement program that allows employees to give anonymous feedback so they can be heard, moving the management to take action. In return, employees will become more engaged, productive, and loyal while the overall business becomes elevated. Furthermore, Chris gives us a peek into his book, The Power to Get Things Done: (Whether You Feel Like It or Not), which contains techniques and strategies focusing on what’s essential in getting things done.
Listen To The Episode Here:
Business Elevation with Chris Cooper
Our guest is all the way from the UK. His name is Chris Cooper. He’s a business engagement and elevation specialist, a speaker, an author and a broadcaster himself. I’ve had the pleasure of being on his show called Business Elevation. His real specialty is helping big brands to small and medium enterprises for the last few years. He’s got an employee engagement program that helps you measure and achieve a higher rate on engagement. He helps people make sure that they’re getting good employees and keeping their stress levels down. He’s written a book called, The Power to Get Things Done. Chris, welcome to the show.
John, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
You’re in the UK. I always want to ask people their own story of origin and I know you used to work for a big company called Mars. Is there anything in your background before that that led you into this world of business elevation and engagement that you want to share?If people are happy and engaged, productivity soars. Click To Tweet
There are a lot really. I was brought up in a steel town in the North of England. I didn’t have an opportunity to travel. My father was a steelworker and my mom worked for the local newspaper. My dad used to go to the steelworks and he was an electrical engineer. Sometimes he would look after a very large steel plant when senior management was away and manage workers and schedules and people doing the right sorts of things. I remember he never seemed to be very engaged with it. I don’t think he’d found his passion. I remember one day, I was probably about thirteen years old and my father took me on an open evening to the steelworks. I got the opportunity to look around because where I lived, the natural thing because the steelworks was such a big employer, was people went from school and they went to work in steelworks.
We went around this plant. It was like hell on Earth. There were molten metals flying around and it was dark. It was noisy. It was smelly. We went afterwards into a little room and had a few sandwiches and a few crisps. I remember this very tall man walking in and my dad suddenly straightening up. He must have been the CEO. My dad had never actually ever met the CEO. We don’t ever see him in pictures. He walked straight over to me and he said to me, “Have you enjoyed yourself?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “When you grow up, do you want to come and work for us?” I said, “You must be joking.” My dad was fuming. On the way home, he was really angry with me, “How could you do that? One day you want to go and work in the steelworks and you fancy say that to him. I’ve never even met him before.” I said, “Dad, you aren’t happy, why should I be? Why would I want to work there?”
At that point, I realized that I wanted more than to live in a steel town when I was older and I went through my career. Eventually, I worked in the motor industry and then I worked for companies like Mars. I saw how people really engaged in the work in some companies, less so in others. When I look back on my career and I ended up becoming the Director of a very big company, looking after logistics for 5,500 pubs. Then I set up a procurement consultancy which grew quite quick. Many years ago, I decided that my passion is people. Looking back through over that career and over the several years of working, I think one of the things I’ve realized is that when people are happy and where they’re engaged on in their work, you achieve so much more. Therefore, it makes every sense that every employee should give the best of themselves but want to because there’s an environment that supports them and cares for them and enables them to realize their full potential. In that way we all benefit, the company prospers and the individual prospers. Hopefully, having a good life at work leads to a good life at home and it leads to good health. It’s an important message, John.
Your childhood story is fascinating. It reminds me of some of those movies we’ve seen of the steelworkers and certainly here in America with a generation after generation working for the car companies and factories and finally people saying, “Either the job is not there anymore or I want to do something else with my life.” I can get that in a big way. What I love with what you just said is, “If people are happy and engaged, productivity soars.” That’s such a great soundbite for what you’re doing. Let’s go back to when you were working at Mars, you told me that you heard hundreds and hundreds of people pitching you to buy their marketing services because you worked for a big company that had the budget to do that. What are some of the tips you have from hearing all those pitches that people can take away of how to get good a pitch, so they get people to hire what you’re selling?
I had the opportunity with Mars. I went to a sales job. I was a salesman and business development manager. I spent in marketing and training of people. I thought from the salesperson, “Wouldn’t it be really helpful to understand what goes on when people buy and how does the mindset of the buyer work?” I moved on having had a sales and marketing background to look after the buying of marketing services. I literally arranged sales promotional pictures, big PR pictures and in one instance for over £1 million. I got United Biscuits and all the advertising spend. I had the opportunity to arrange these events with the marketeers who are the clients. I would facilitate those events and we would introduce some suppliers. I manage the rosters of suppliers.
To answer your question, you get to a short list of maybe three suppliers. On one occasion for big Mars or big Snickers, we launched Celebrations. I launched that with a big PR campaign with a train that was branded with different celebrities and different characters and people getting married there and TV shows being filmed and all things. The first thing I think people have to do is it’s not just about the pitch. It’s about that relationship that you established beforehand. I know there’s this process where people formally can be asked to come in. Marketing can be quite an expensive and creative process, but what goes on outside the room is important. If you can establish a really good relationship and rapport with people outside of that pitch, that will also help to influence the buyer.People buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. Click To Tweet
I also noticed the marketeers that sometimes it wasn’t always the most rational decision they got through. It was the one that struck the emotions of the marketeer and they can do something. If you think about a marketeer or many people in roles where they’re buying, particularly in marketing, they’re often only in a job for a couple of years. Quite often they were motivated by doing something different and doing something creative, as opposed to maybe continuing something that had been successful before. They want to make their mark in their job.
They’re looking for that creativity. Where I worked, it wasn’t always about costs because they did have some quite big budgets. You could give some options with some different cost options. The thing is it’s got to be creative, it had to connect emotionally. The other thing is that with companies often, we’d see these amazing people who would be the lead of an agency and they’re full of engagement and enthusiasm. On one occasion, I saw one jump up on a table and stopped moving on the table when the PowerPoint suddenly broke. It was all captivating. However, what we knew was that we also had to see the people who work for those individuals because sometimes it was the sales pitch, but afterwards you get the real team. You need to make sure that the team who support the projects or the activity and the campaign is also of good quality. We’ll be measuring creativity, we measure the quality of accounting. We’ll be measuring how well it was thought through and planned and how it could execute. Also, somewhere in the next two would be the price.
My big takeaway there is that people buy emotionally and then they might back it up with some logic. Whoever comes in with an emotional hook is more likely to get a yes then the emphasis on selling the team. It’s not just the razzle-dazzle people who sell it and then you never see them again, but painting a picture, if you will, of what it would be like to work with these people and why they would want to work with them. I see that time and again myself when I work with clients who are pitching themselves whether it’s an architecture firm or any firm that it’s really, “Do we like you? Do we trust you? We’ve got to work with you for a while. Are you going to be easy to work with? Are you going to have our back? Are you good listeners?” Things that people tend to not mention in a pitch, but what I hear you saying is these are all big criteria that people should address.
If we’ve not worked with them before as well, knowing that they’ve got some good case studies and good testimonials. One example I had quite a significant pitch. I was actually asked to give no credential to talk and to turn up without a PowerPoint and facilitate the session which was quite interesting to understand the training and development needs of this organization. About ten people turn up, some quite senior ones. What I did was I broke the ice with some storytelling and I told a little bit of fun stories about my past rather than going into detailed credentials. Some of them really connected with them.
I noticed it was somebody’s birthday as well. I made something of that and then opened them up. There was great rapport in the room, and then I could start to facilitate this conversation around training needs and working a route forward. As I walked out, I remember getting an arm around my shoulder from the HR director who said, “That went so well.” I got in the car and I have to say, I actually had a few tears because I just felt I was in there on my own. It was almost like I was being supported by somebody guiding me through the process. It went so well and it probably did my confidence a lot of good as well. I won that and then I won another big piece of work with them almost immediately afterwards. Engaging with the storytelling with a heart that you support is important. I even talked about a girlfriend who dumped me, which moved them but that was perfect and they related.
A little vulnerability makes people feel connected to you and that they want to spend time with you. I love the title of your book, The Power to Get Things Done: Whether You Feel Like It or Not. That’s a big a-ha for a lot of people because they’re like, “If I could get motivated to get this project done or do my expenses, things I don’t really want to do and I keep procrastinating.” What is your secret sip there? How do we get things done if you don’t feel like you want to do it or motivated but somehow that’s still not working?Having a good life at work leads to a good life at home, and it leads to good health. Click To Tweet
When I left the corporate world to set up my own business, I hadn’t realized that there was an important support network, line managers, board meetings, events and finger-pointing at times. There was a whole mechanism that held me to account, but when you set up your own business, that infrastructure doesn’t exist. You have to create it yourself. Therefore, what you tend to do in a corporate job often is a good system, the things that are important to getting that job done. You may forget about your health or people forget about the relationships. When you set up your own business, the whole lot has to have some structure around it. What I realized in the corporate world is that in good companies like Mars, there is an infrastructure that is actually, you might not like it but it’s your friend. It helps you perform.
When you’re out on your own, you’ve got to create your own structure, what you have to do, if something’s really important. It’s very important to ensure that you create situations that mean that you have to act whether you feel like it or not. It’s almost like you’re sitting on a seesaw and there’s a very heavy weight on the other side. If you’ve got on the top of that yourself, you wouldn’t be able to press it down. It’s an elephant sitting on the other side, you need to put weight on your side to be able to lift the elephant. It’s important to get very clear about what’s important in your life so you don’t get too many things and take them very seriously, but then create situations that mean that you act whether you feel like it or not. I’ve quite a lot of examples if you want me to share any.
Please share an example of how we could create a situation or maybe even talk about how you were detoxifying dreaded tasks. A specific story would be great.
With that particular story and the thought came through for that is the detoxifying, sometimes something might seem just too big a step. For me, I started off by asking some of my clients to come along and I did some book study groups. From the study groups, I started interviewing a few people and another audience came and with social media then. That stepping stone gave me the confidence to move to my radio show and hosting that. Where I really thought about this was I remember my children, I’ve got two boys, Matthew and Daniel. We went to a wildlife park on the South Coast of England while we were on holiday. They had this reptile and book show, but I don’t like snakes.
We walked into this place and there were lots of seats. There were quite a lot of people in there. My kids tried and went to the front row but I managed to carefully guide them to the back without them realizing I was a complete coward. We sat on the back row. This guy from the front said, “Is there anybody out there who’s scared of snakes?” I ducked down and my kids started pointing at me, “Him,” and my wife was looking at me and they all started pointing at me. This guy said, “That gentleman on the back row, would you like to overcome your fear of snakes?” I kept my head down and then people started joining in and there was a little bit of a clap that started. I had to get up and I went out to the front. It was me in front of about 60 people. I basically passed around this snake, which was quite a nice-looking thing actually. I passed it around a few people but I had to hold the snake.
He passed it over to me and my heart was pounding, but I held the snake and it moved around in my hands. I thought, “It’s not as bad as I thought it was.” I felt reasonably comfortable with it. I gave it back to him and I started to walk off. He said, “No, stop. I thought you wanted to overcome your fear of snakes.” Suddenly, two people walked out with this huge box with a rope handle on each side, and they gently placed it on the floor. He opened this lid and there was this enormous Boa constrictor in it. He picked the thing up and pulled it over his shoulders and said, “That wasn’t a snake. This is a snake.” He said, “Are you going to pick this up?” People were like, “Go on.” I put this snake around my neck and held it. I’ve got this photograph of it looking at me straight between the eyes. I’ve never been scared of snakes in that way since and that really helped me. Therefore, if you break up tasks into little sections, it becomes easier or you can do like a friend of mine did. She is a Tennis World Champion from Denmark. She’s a speaker and she wanted to add more comedy into her speaking. What would your strategy be if you maybe talk some small steps towards being able to add more comedy into your speaking, John?It takes a brave leader to listen to feedback. Click To Tweet
I’d start to watch comedians and improv situations and maybe even try to get up and do a couple of minutes.
I think that’s a good strategy and it will be my natural strategy. Read about it, watch it on the TV or maybe do some improv, but what she did was she booked a 1,630-seat conference hall in Tivoli Gardens. She paid the money in advance which is about $18,000 and she advertised that she was going to do a one-woman stand-up comedy show because she’s a celebrity in Denmark. She sold it out entirely and then had five months to learn how to do stand-up comedy. That’s creating a situation that means you have to act.
Let’s go into your formula for success and Business Elevation, which is the name of your company. It’s also the name of your show. You talked about engaging leaders plus an engaged team, plus getting things done gives elevation to a business where absentee goes down, well-being and productivity go up and the turnover goes down. That’s a big problem out there especially with Millennials as a lot of them enter with a mindset of, “I’m only going to be here a couple of years.” The cost of turnover is so huge. You’ve got some solutions that you talked to me about that I got so excited that I want you to share with me what you are doing with something called an Engagement Multiplier.
I was referred to a gentleman called Stefan Wissenbach as a guest on my radio show. Being interested in this side of workforce engagement, we do programs around elevation which might be working with a leader to help them develop and grow their business and being a mentor to them, a coach to them. I may be doing team development with their team and helping them through that evolution. I’ve got many clients I’ve helped grow their businesses. In this area of engagement, what I wanted to do was have a methodology whereby we could actually survey and get some real data on the company. You could use a thermometer to take a test of the temperature of the company.
When I interviewed Stefan, I realized that he was onto something pretty amazing. He invested £11 million in terms of developing some software, which enables you to measure engagement. He created a great book and a great story around this book. It was heavily researched. He had a vision that he wanted to help eleven million people become more measurably engaged. In America, your engagement level is a bit higher than over in Europe. It may only be 30% tops of people who are really engaged in their business and then about 50% of people who are coaching and then the remainder would have had sabotaged your company or they’re definitely looking for a new job. If you could turn that around, what could you do?
This survey enables you to take a test for your company. What we’re able to do through the survey is to offer an entire survey for free. I know you love this as well. You could go to John and he will be able to help you do this but you can utilize this amazing online tool. There’s an anonymous dialog in there. Your staff will give their feedback and comments and share how they feel. Getting an employee voice is important. In a lot of companies, employees don’t get the opportunity to share how they feel. You can also respond anonymously. You’re looking at how engaged people are with your purpose, how engaged they are with your leaders, how engaged they are with the owners of the business if that’s different? How engaged the customers are and how engaged are they personally and sharing all sorts of wisdom and insight?Engagement starts with the leader. Click To Tweet
You get this amazing report but you do this quarterly. What the company showed is that if you take this survey quarterly and you developed some action steps each quarter, someone like John or in the UK, someone like myself can help you by looking at that information and helping you with the action steps. Engagement shifts from maybe 60%, 70% in the company to 90% they found over a twelve-month period. In ten years, it’s the best survey tool I’ve come across. I love the principles behind it as well. I shared it with you and you felt passionate about it too.
One of the things that I think is really interesting about this concept is that the leaders have to have a level of courage to be able to hear anonymous feedback as opposed to just pretending that they think they know what people are thinking and feeling. Can you speak to that a little bit?
The company always talks about you want a business with brave, identifiable and caring leaders. Often, people are scared of what the reality of the situation is. They’d rather not know because we often don’t like getting feedback and knowing how people perceive us in case we come up in the survey. It takes a brave leader to be prepared and to listen to that feedback. I sat with the company as they went through their first survey. I was sitting with the CEO and the leadership team. I did say to him, “Remember, this is just a perception. Those people out there might not be relative but those people out there, that’s what they believe. Once we know that perception, then you’re in a situation to be able to do something about it.” Firstly, he was a little bit defensive and then he said, “Chris, you’re absolutely right. All that feedback is valid.” I’m not going to make it mean anything but now we’ve got that information we can act and he said, “This is the biggest no brainer. It’s amazing to have this. If we can do this quarterly and it’s not that inexpensive. It’s cheap as chips really for what it does for us. We understand some real data about our businesses.”
The problem of flying blind, if you will, is all the things like disgruntled employees and people feeling like they matter. The opposite is when they do feel like they have a voice and most importantly, I would imagine that the leaders take action from the survey. That’s when the real magic happens.
I’m thinking about the other company where we use the survey. Initially, there was a learning and development person and he said, “We need to go with something called best companies.” The board was about to go and they’ve got this new person on board and they changed their mind and went with this other survey and methodology. They just found it so unwieldy that within six months they came back to us with the learning and development person kicking and screaming and said, “We want to do one of those surveys that you talked about because it sounds more like it meets our needs.”
When they did the survey and within one hour of the results coming out, the CEO and this is quite a sizable business, he got the report. He scanned it and he immediately went to his PA and said, “I want every director in the company who’s available in my office in an hour.” They went through the report and started to put in place some actions actually. It was mind-blowing for them. This is astonishing. Very sadly, the L&D person lost their job as a result of refusing to budge and getting in the way rather than supporting what was really needed. That was a shame but they missed an opportunity because it’s proving so valuable for them.
It’s not enough anymore to just be dictatorial especially for the Millennials, which are the majority of the employees now. They want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and they want to feel like they’re making a difference and that they understand the vision of the company. Clarifying any of those issues is going to help productivity, employee retention and engagement. I remember Starbucks starting out and Howard Schultz gave part-time employees health benefits when nobody else was doing that for part-time employees. Those people feel like they matter and so they go the extra mile. If you come in every day at the same time, they would say, “Chris, do you like the double whatever latte?” That person is so loyal to Starbucks. You can’t pay people to go that extra mile because their job is to take your order and serve it, but if they’re engaged and feel like you care, then that’s when you get extra service out of people. Would you agree with that?
I do agree with that. I think it was Starbucks where they used to have it. It’s one of those little cards and people would come in and you get a card and it gets stamped each time. You get a free latte or something once you bought seven. They decided to get rid of that and they just said to the staff, “You can give so much coffee, tea and whatever away for free to people when you think it’s most appropriate.” What they did is they gave the discretion to individuals to give the odd cup of coffee to somebody who may deserve it, who looked a bit harassed because they got the kids running around their feet or people who came in regularly. That autonomy and that discretion make a big difference. I know people about places like Zappos, they allow their customer service staff to send bunches of flowers and things like that to people if they think it’s important. That trust gives someone that ability to empower some of that and you feel more special when you can do that.
Besides hosting this successful show that you have, Business Elevation, helping people with their employee engagement, people hire you also to speak. Tell us about what speaking opportunities are best-fitted for you?
I speak about the power to get things done whether you feel like it or not. I do that fairly regularly and I’ve spoken at big companies like HSBC and various others. I also speak about engagement. One of the areas I like to talk about is Engagement Starts with You. A lot of people think we must get all the people, all the troops, all the employees engaged and what they forget as leaders are that they need to be engaged themselves. It starts before you get into the office. It starts with how you prepare your mind and prepare yourself mentally and physically so that when you step into the office, you are absolutely engaged. Therefore, you can spend your time in showing your team’s engagement is higher. Unless you’re walking the talk, then it’s not going to happen. That’s one of the keynotes that I love to share actually is engagement starts with you.
Time goes so fast with a guest like you, Chris. You’ve done so many interesting things and you have so many wonderful stories. Thank you so much for sharing. We all know a little bit more than we did on how we can get things done whether we want to or not.
Thanks, John. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.
- Chris Cooper
- John Livesay on Business Elevation
- The Power to Get Things Done: Whether You Feel Like It or Not
- Engagement Multiplier
- Stefan Wissenbach on Business Elevation
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