Once you’ve set an exciting vision, it’s important to thoroughly enroll people in it. Enrollment is about turning a vision into something meaningful for the individual, whether emotionally or financially.
Enrollment helps get buy-in from the team, so that the vision will mean more to them and they will go the extra mile to grow your business. You want people to deliver your vision, move it forward and make it a reality. They are more likely to deliver it if they’re enrolled in it – affected personally – as well as being excited by it.
Building emotional connections
Real enrolment is about establishing an emotional connection, which begins as soon as you meet a potential new hire. Everything that follows is a reinforcement of that emotional connection between them and the business and the vision.
What happens in an interview matters. What happens when they accept a job offer and how you communicate before they join matters; a good connection in this period can really enroll people. The induction process is a key stage and is where enrolment really begins. Doing this well makes a big difference, and you only get one shot at it, so make it good!
One of the ways we helped people make a profound emotional connection with the business was to include them in our key decision-making. When we were coming up with our purpose, “helping ambitious companies grow,” everyone was involved in feeding in ideas. This collaborative process helped people feel enrolled in what we were doing and brought the vision to life.
When we completed the buyout of finnCap from our parent company, J M Finn & Co., we needed a new name. The whole team came up with ideas and we created a shortlist, and we got everyone to vote for their favorite. The outright winner was finnCap, an idea that came from one of our analysts, but because everyone had been involved in the decision, it felt real and much more exciting for everyone and, as a result, we got real enrolment in the vision.
From the moment someone agrees to join you, you have to turn their intellectual decision into an emotional one. It’s your culture that will reach them on the emotional level, especially in the first ninety days. If you succeed in making your employees enrolled at this point, it’s more likely they’ll be with you for the long haul.
We have been tweaking our induction process over 24 years. It starts as soon as people agree to join, to make sure we take advantage of every opportunity to make them feel enrolled. How do you bring them into the fold before they join? What happens the day they join? You need a process, and it needs to be executed well so nothing falls through the gaps. Each stage of the journey has to be part of the whole, to make recruits part of your journey right away. I would write personal letters to people weeks ahead of their start date telling them specifically why I was excited that they were joining us and sharing the vision with them.
We would follow that up by sending them branded materials – a laptop bag, a water bottle – and a culture booklet about the company. We would make them feel that they belonged to something before they were in the building. We would set out specific events: that I would be sitting down with them for half an hour to explain the vision; that someone senior would take them for lunch.
The core of our process is an extremely detailed and structured plan for the first ninety days. We would give them the first three months’ KPIs and monitor them closely. I used to give new hires,
especially senior hires, a book by Michael Watkins, ‘The First 90 Days: Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter’ and explain why the first ninety days are so important. We’d help them to fire on all cylinders and make sure they had some quick wins. There would never be a day when they wouldn’t know why they were there or what they were supposed to be doing.
I would meet all new team members at the end of their first ninety days, which I found to be the point at which the best ideas came. That was the point when they could still compare us to their previous firm, we hadn’t become their regular environment yet, but they had been there long enough to have a good view of the business and have ideas for improvement.
Financial enrolment in the vision
Enrolment can also come from financial incentives that lead to the team thinking like owners or shareholders rather than just employees. The financial rewards of ownership, whether big or small, go far beyond being paid for doing a job and deepen the employees’ emotional connection and interest. Being an owner feels different from being an employee and it is this feeling of being part of something that accelerates growth. Because people feel part of something, their level of interest in it succeeding completely changes.
Equity ownership was a game-changer for us, and it’s what led to our accelerated growth, especially during difficult times. I am a great believer in equity ownership for as many of the team as possible. The ways to achieve this are not always obvious, and the ownership can be small and still be effective. My experience was that a small equity stake that had been paid for outweighed a much larger option package in terms of motivation and the feeling of being part of something.
We reaped the benefits of having our team utterly enrolled in our vision when, just two weeks after our buyout in 2007 (where everyone went from employee to owner and employee), Northern Rock collapsed, and the general financial crisis followed. Because our team was enrolled, thanks to the emotional connection and financial connection we had established, we were ready to weather the storm and do what needed to be done to grow.
While our competitors lost clients, became despondent and stopped pitching for business, we took the opportunity to build market share and win clients. We accelerated our business plan throughout that downturn and went on to grow during every downturn since. Enrolment leads directly to growth. When you are all in it together, you grow faster.