Words matter. That’s why at Mike Albert, we stopped referring to our colleagues as “employees” and, instead, refer to everyone as “associates.” “Employee” conjures up notions of “you work for me, and you will do as you’re told whether you like it or not.” It’s an old-school, top-down, arguably demeaning term.
In contrast, “associate” says we’re in this together to serve our customers with excellence and improve our company. It’s a term imbued with respect and dignity, setting the right tone for the mutually beneficial relationship we want our people to have with our company.
This very intentional shift was informed by one of Mike Albert’s company values—"One Team.” It’s a simple concept meant to remind us that everyone that works here has unique value and that we owe our associates a fulfilling job that offers good pay and can help them to become the best version of themselves.
As VP of Human Resources, it’s my job to ensure we’re living up to that value every day—helping our associates to find purpose in their roles, to constantly improve, and to keep their passion for the work as high as it can possibly be. If you’re looking for some ways to foster passion in your team and create a “one team” mentality, here are a few we use at Mike Albert.
Knock down silos (where you can)
There’s an old saying that says, “no single raindrop feels it should be blamed for the flood,” and nowhere is this truer than in the business world.
Whether someone works in sales, tech, customer support, service, or human resources, most of us are so focused on our primary responsibilities that it's easy to forget that we are part of a larger whole. That’s exactly why “one team” is enshrined as one of Mike Albert’s corporate values—to remind us daily that our individual actions impact the entire group.
Out of necessity, we have many teams that are, on the surface, independently siloed. To counterbalance this, we constantly strive to find opportunities to engage across departments and foster communication between groups. Just as importantly, we try to see “one team” as a mantra, encouraging managers to ask their teams if a decision is being made with the good of the entire company in mind or is simply the most expedient for their group or function. The more associates embrace a one-team mentality, the better off a company is.
Find purpose in what you do
We take great pride in how many of our associates have been with the company for five, ten, or even fifty years. And if you want people to stick around, you need to offer something that many people have (understandably and rightfully) come to expect from their jobs—purpose. After all, we spend too much of our lives at work for it to be just about compensation.
Certain jobs have a built-in, impossible-to-miss purpose. Teachers. Firefighters. Cancer researchers. But what about the jobs that aren’t all about shaping or saving lives, like, say, working at a mobility company like Mike Albert?
Most of our business is devoted to managing fleet vehicles for other companies—plumbing, landscaping, and insurance businesses, as well as logistical firms moving raw materials and products of all sorts. On the surface, that might not seem all that “purposeful,” but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that’s not the case.
Every day, tens of thousands of people step into a vehicle that we help manage. We equip many of these cars or trucks with special features to make those people’s lives a little easier. And through our telematics solution, we proactively rely on data to help ensure that the vehicles are well-maintained and safely operated.
That means tens of thousands of people have a better day because the vehicle they rely on for work is as comfortable and safe as possible. We’re also helping to usher in a more sustainable world by assisting companies with converting their gas- and diesel-powered fleets to electric-powered ones.
Whether in company-wide meetings or one-on-one check-ins between managers and staff, we try to remind our associates of the importance—and value—of the work we do every day. It helps all of us to feel good about and find purpose in, the work we do.
Praise the people who care.
No matter what business you’re in, the very best associates often have one thing in common. They care.
As someone responsible for finding new talent to join our team, this trait is often noticeable from the first interview. Future associates who care don’t only come in looking enthused and energetic, they also come prepared and ready to ask questions of me rather than just responding to my inquiries.
And once they’re in a role at Mike Albert, the best associates have a knack for doing something remarkable—they make their jobs bigger. Whether in upper management or an entry-level role, these standouts have more influence over the organization than someone in would be expected to have. How? Through caring enough to go the extra mile, stay the extra hour, or make the extra phone call that matters to their coworkers or clients. These people should be sought out to fill every new position, as well as praised and rewarded as frequently as possible. At Mike Albert, we do this through praiseful shout-outs on our company intranet, and by offering in-the-moment plaudits whenever possible.
Keep the day-one passion alive.
Most of us can recall how it felt that first day on a job. The jitters. The sweats. The excitement. We were ready and eager to make our mark and almost always put in extra time and energy to succeed. Of course, it’s inevitable that that first-day excitement fades as time passes. We hunker down in silos. We allow ourselves to be consumed by day-to-day tasks.
But if you can help associates to remember that first-day feeling, you can recreate it. At Mike Albert, we’re always searching for ways—large and small—to keep the passion alive. For instance, during the COVID pandemic, our leadership team hand-delivered gift baskets filled with company merch and delicious treats to each associate’s home.
We have also remodeled and upgraded parts of our office without announcing it in advance. That way, when people come into work and see that, for example, they have a brand-new conference room equipped with all the latest technology, it’s a surprise and delight that brightens their day. It demonstrates that the company values its relationship with associates.
But as in all relationships, keeping passion alive requires both parties to engage. We encourage our people to do this by embracing stretch assignments that push them to grow professionally and add more value to the company. These actions communicate to the company that employees care and value being there.
One of our other values is: “Own It.” We expect everyone to own their attitude, tasks, and deliverables. It also means that we don’t sit on the sidelines. This is how pride in one’s work gets established. When you’re proud of what you’re doing, it’s much easier to keep that day-one passion alive.
Yes, there’s nothing quite like the first day of a new job. But I pity those who look back and consider it their best. My hope for all my associates is that their best day is the one they just wrapped up.
It’s sometimes said that the recipe for business success is: Happy associates = happy customers = a happy bottom line. That’s hard to argue with.
And what keeps associates happy? Beyond pay and benefits, it’s offering a purpose they can embrace, as well as clear signs that the company is committed to fostering a supportive, collaborative culture that provides meaning and praises passion. Because if your company isn’t “One Team,” it’s never going to realize its full potential.
-By Ken McCormick