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Firms prosper when employees are understood, empowered

Great Workplaces
Rochester Business Journal
January 31, 2014

Motivation is defined as the condition of being eager to act or work. It’s a driving force that every leader wants his or her employees to possess. But the catalyst for motivation can be elusive. How do we as leaders excite and motivate our teams to do great work?

In the 27 years since I started Dixon Schwabl, I have created my own twist on the motivational descriptor “fire in the belly.” I like to say that our employees should arrive at work on Monday mornings energized and motivated as if their “pants are on fire.” It is only with this sense of urgency and immediacy that organizations and their cultures thrive, with team members excited to get to work, feeling appreciated and valued by their managers. It is up to senior leadership to drive and reward this urgency!

Time and again, when I speak at conferences across the country, I hear tales of employees limited and influenced by their peers in the workplace, particularly during the brainstorming process. Employees feel as if they are not heard, and this allows frustration and groupthink to set in. Listening is an integral part of fueling passion within a team and building a successful company culture. Great workplaces are known for listening and responding to their employees.

At Dixon Schwabl, we set out to understand what motivates and excites individuals by having an annual off-site retreat for the entire agency. At this retreat, we focus on understanding Myers-Briggs Type Indicator results for every employee—100 percent of our workforce—and also the “personality” of the company as a whole. It is an investment, certainly, and the cost increases as we grow in size and scope. But I can think of no better fire-starter than the instant familiarity and camaraderie that result from the MBTI process.

I know I am always excited to meet my fellow ESTJs at the retreat! Rather than divide our team members, the entire exercise unites employees from different departments and backgrounds, demographics and interests. We have 24-year-old and 54-year-old ENFPs, financial executives and digital media coordinators who are ISTJs. This exercise creates a cross-section of talent and enthusiasm like no other.

While fun and energizing, the retreat also serves as an important, real-world application to help teams work better by acknowledging and respecting differences. We give every employee a summary of the best work situation for specific personality types and create customized office signs for employees to take back to their workspaces. For example, the personality type ENFP, “The Enthusiast,” prefers a work environment that rewards enthusiasm, imagination and creativity and likes a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with lots of laughter. These people are global learners and excellent problem solvers with a silly streak hinting at their love of attention.

We print a summary of this information on a small, colorful foam-core sign so that it is visible to all employees. This eliminates mystery and confusion from the workplace and clarifies responses and personality cues for all employees. For an ENFP, this means understanding that this employee is easygoing, but also tends to procrastinate about deadlines and dislikes bureaucracy and being alone. The best environment for such a person is one with few rules and lots of adventures.

The MBTI process provides famous names (real and fictional) with the personality type. An ENFP would be in the company of such notable people as Ronald Reagan, Robin Williams and Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.”

With greater understanding and respect for personality types, employees walk away with a sense of empowerment, ready to take on the next challenge and meet their next goal. This do-it-yourself, “can-do” attitude is entrepreneurial and yet collaborative, with every team member feeling valued as a contributor.

There are many examples of the benefits of empowerment. While any industry can point to an example of an individual accomplishing a goal and thriving on sheer will alone, this sense of spirit and achievement is particularly evident in the arts, where it can take years of rejection before achieving what can often be fleeting fame.

When actor Matthew McConaughey accepted his Golden Globe Award for best actor in a drama, he described growing up in a household with a mother who restricted his television viewing hours. He said, “If it was daylight, you had to be outside playing, and we were like, ‘Why, Mom? Why can’t we watch 30 minutes of TV?’ and she was like, ‘Don’t watch somebody on TV do it for you; get out there and do it for yourself.’”

This can-do attitude can be the start of a long journey. It is common for artists to take years honing their craft. Kay McCabe, Matthew’s mother, knew her son needed to start doing things for himself and actively learn instead of being a bystander.

Great workplaces understand that whether you have a “fire in your belly” or your “pants are on fire,” it is important to harness the energy and excitement of team members to maximize their potential. If you know the personalities and best work situations, the company can approach workers with appropriate understanding and opportunities. It is rewarding to watch employees thrive in their optimal environments, finding the right niche and helping to make a great workplace even better!

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

1/31/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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