S4E21. Building Satisfied Employees & Teams with David Veech

As a leader, do you help your employees feel satisfied in their work or are you just focused on KPIs? Do your employees feel like they are doing something meaningful? Are you keeping your employees aware of developments in the business — even if it’s not good news?

This is David Veech’s second appearance on the podcast and, in it, he answers these questions and more. He first appeared in season 3, episode 13: “Getting LEAN in Leadership,” where we discussed how the principles of LEAN manufacturing could carry over into leadership and team development. At the end of our interview, he asked if he could come back to talk about building satisfaction at work and we were thrilled to make that happen.

Whether you’re making $20 an hour or $250k a year, money doesn’t create fulfilment, alone. How do you build satisfaction at work, and how does a leader build satisfaction within their team?

For a long time, employee contentment hasn’t mattered to business at all. In 1908, Henry Ford made 10,806 Model Ts in workshops with employees building the cars, together, as a team. This was highly skilled work and, seeing every car get built from the ground up, led to highly satisfied workers. But in order to increase volume, Ford reconfigured their business model to the assembly line. Now, instead of building whole cars, workers would build one piece, over and over again. And the existing workers started leaving in droves.

Ford thought the best way to retain workers was to offer them more money. He offered $5 a day, over the going rate of $11. He received mountains of applications, and he picked the very best from them. He took those highly skilled engineers and put them on the assembly line, but they kept making mistakes because the work was so tedious. And we’re still making that error today.

Just contrast Amazon with Zappos. The work at their fulfillment centers was essentially the same, but Zappos cultivated an entirely different atmosphere. They called their employees superheroes, they gave their employees time to take breaks, they offered them snacks, they provided childcare and education, and the energy there was vibrant.

So what actually leads to employee satisfaction? It boils down to three main things:

  1. Finding meaning in their work
  2. Awareness of what’s going on in the organization — even if it’s bad news
  3. A sense of responsibility

Finding the right balance between these three criteria and building employee satisfaction is difficult to get right. But getting it right is important, if not essential.

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