What's the secret to motivating employees? Rich Galietti, partner and vice president of sales at Champion Architectural Window and Door, has been desperately seeking the answer to that question since he and partner Michael Lentin acquired the company in 2011.

The Hauppauge firm, founded in 1952, was wedded to traditions. The new owners had to work on "an archaic mindset," Galietti says. "The thinking of some was that the company is a pioneer in the window business in New York, so people should see it as a privilege to do business with us. We are instilling an attitude that no, it's our privilege to do business with the customer."

Employee engagement is still an issue, he says. "Some people want to do as little as they think they can get away with."

Champion isn't alone in its quest for more motivated workers. In a recent Gallup survey, only 29 percent of North American employees said they were engaged in their jobs.

 

Cleaning house

Galietti and Lentin started by getting rid of about 80 percent of the staff. "There were severances and firings . . . because employees that were acquired from the former owners simply displayed poor performance and/or blatant insubordination," Galietti says.

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Hiring remains a challenge for the company. Champion is not in a commuter-friendly area, so the talent pool is limited.

Some hires have disappointed. "People can be wolves in sheep's clothing -- good at selling themselves. Resumes can be very decorative. We find out we didn't get what we thought we did," Galietti says.

Experts say fixing the problem starts at the top. "Inspire people by creating a compelling, vivid description of why the company's work matters . . . beyond just providing a paycheck," says Stephen Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead, a Stow, Mass., consulting firm.

The senior team should meet with line supervisors and managers to clearly communicate the company's goals, objectives, mission and values -- and hold managers accountable for communicating this message to all employees, says Barbara DeMatteo, director of human resources consulting at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates, an HR and labor relations company in Syosset. "Clearly define job descriptions and expectations, and be sure each employee understands their role, and the value of their job, as it relates to the end product or service."

 

Boosting engagement

To motivate the staff, Champion offers financial incentives to employees who bring in good talent. There are quarterly performance bonuses. Seating has been rearranged so some top performers are near those who need inspiration. "If you surround people with the right people, hopefully you get forward movement," Galietti says.

There's still a need for better communication between departments, he says. "Breaking down communication barriers would ultimately improve service for our customers."

When employee engagement is low, customers suffer and so does the business. "If employees aren't quick to return phone calls or email, it sends the customers a message," Galietti says.

 

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Looking outside for helpExperts say one option is to hire a consultant to do a needs assessment, including surveying employees so they can speak their minds, and then design training sessions aimed at Champion's specific concerns.

An outsider could lead employees in a discussion about how their jobs may overlap with other departments and help them come up with joint projects, says Tara Fishler, CEO of Customized Training Solutions, in New Rochelle.

Management should identify both employees who are customer service stars, and the exact behaviors that delighted customers. This information can shape a mentorship program, says Melissa Van Dyke, president of The Incentive Research Foundation in St. Louis, Mo.

And be sure you're meeting employees' needs, says Paul Baard, an organizational psychologist with Fordham University. He says the key to self-motivated employees lies in satisfying three innate psychological needs: autonomy; competence, or feeling capable of achieving something significant to oneself; and relatedness, being part of a true team.

Despite continued challenges, Galietti is hopeful. "I don't believe we'll have this conversation in a few years. We already see progress. Mindsets are slowly changing."

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At a glance

 

Name: Champion Architectural Window and Door, Hauppauge

Partners/owners: Rich Galietti, Michael Lentin

Employees: 50

Revenues: $25 million