You Never Even Call Me by My Name

By Ryan Lisk

Yes, that’s a reference to the country song by David Allen Code from 1975.  

The customer service department for one of my clients had just completed a weeklong surprise audit by a federal agency, and passed it with flying colors. The happy COO of the company sent out an email to the entire 500-person organization:

“I want to thank the customer service department for their cooperation in facilitating an outstanding audit. I also want to thank Angie in human resources for the support she provided during the week. Thanks to you all and our great organization.”

They had just aced an intense, high-pressure audit. The customer service department was relieved, validated, and even giddy … until they read this email.    

What happened? Did the COO mean to offend the customer service department with his congratulatory email? Of course not. 

Yet the customer service director was furious. “What about Amy, our supervisor, who came in from her ‘staycation’ to avert this potential disaster? Without her, we would have bombed this thing. Not to mention, we still managed to complete all of our regular work while we were short-staffed.”  

The truth is that the COO had zero awareness of his email’s impact. The department was upset because the COO didn’t call out their director, supervisors, or anyone in the department by name, only Angie in HR.  

Most people like being called out publicly for their good work. Loyalty, engagement, morale, and results rise when people feel valued on an individual basis. 

Great leaders call people by their names.  

One of the biggest causes of disengagement at work is when employees don’t feel known as people. This COO didn’t need to know how many kids each employee had, or what their dog’s name was—he just needed to know the individual contributions of everyone who made an impact on the work, especially if he was going to call out individuals. Luckily this new COO took action to value the customer service employees: He apologized at their team meeting where he actually called people out by name.

Effective leadership is cultivating a balance between knowing employees as humans and knowing what they bring to the team. There is power in knowing something about a person. Here are four ways to foster connection and loyalty with your employees:

Ask about them. A great guide here is FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Mission. If you ask simple questions in each of these four areas, you will learn a great deal about a person. (That said, sometimes Mission can be a little too deep for simply breaking anonymity with employees, so it’s not always needed.) It’s best to do some sort of “getting to know you” during onboarding. The longer you wait to learn about your team, the more awkward it becomes. 

Assess them. There are many tools available to help teams understand and work better together. We use DISC and Motivators to help people gain insight into what makes others tick, and how they can work better together. By investing a minimal amount of time and money in assessments like these, you’re building trust and a sense of value that stretches across projects, and helps people support one another during times of stress. 

Take their temperature. A big part of building relationships is awareness. It’s impossible to know if you’re offending people if you’re not aware of their opinions. Keep tabs on how your team is feeling by checking in with them weekly or monthly. Make continual feedback a part of your culture, and don’t use honest feedback inappropriately. That’s the quickest way to lose trust. What we find is that people aren’t usually reacting to big things; it’s the small stuff that eats away at morale. 

Launch and celebrate. The nature of business is that we are continually launching new initiatives and programs in the name of growth. Yet many times organizations have a lot of launch and very little celebration. When your team hits a goal it’s important to take the time to celebrate it. If you’re constantly launching, without recognizing accomplishments, no one feels appreciated. 

If you do these things, not only will you see an increase in workplace connection and happiness, but you will probably also feel more fulfilled in your own work as you build meaningful relationships with your team.