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How to Motivate a Team by Revealing the Big Picture

I had him cornered.

Sitting in the window seat of an airplane, and I on the aisle, he had nowhere to go and nothing to do but listen.

This was his exit interview, and he wasn't sitting in an exit row. With no chance of moving or ejecting himself from the plane, I had a captive audience for what was about to be the first inspiring, convincing, and encouraging speech I'd ever given.

In this article, we'll call him Jim. And Jim had just delivered a killing blow that every small business faces... 

He had quit.

Resignation by a critical employee. Two weeks notice from someone who took years to nurture and develop. Jim’s move was devastating to our team, to our business, and to me personally.

I thought our team was loyal to our cause. I thought our team was pretty damn good.

Not Jim though. He just wasn't feeling it. He was no longer motivated by the work, and he didn't see the importance of his role. It would take the next 3 hours to convince him otherwise.

And what did I realize during this time that kept Jim on board? That when it comes to keeping loyal, motivated employees onboard…

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Small Businesses Have a Huge Advantage

84% of the excellent leaders have a clear vision in mind of what they want to achieve as a leader. They also know how to communicate that vision in a way that inspires employees and gets them on board. Only 46% of the poor leaders do this.
— There’s The Best, Then There’s The Rest: Study Reveals The Characteristics of Good Leaders

You have a tremendous, untapped advantage as a small business. Something that even the biggest companies can't compete with. Something that will inspire loyalty, productivity, and pride in every one of your employees.

It’s called the “big picture.”

Whether it’s your purpose statement, a larger project goal, or a combination of both, the big picture is the reason your employees head into work every morning. Not pay raises. Not bonuses. The big picture!

According to a study of 7,379 leaders, 87% of the excellent leaders in comparison to 76% of the poor leaders recognize that handing out bonuses isn’t the only way to motivate people.

Think about it—Your team could work anywhere. They could take their skills and experiences and land a job at your competition in a heartbeat. After all, larger organizations can offer them significantly better pay, amazing benefits, extended vacations, and far higher job stability than you can.

But they came to work for you for a reason. Once you met their basic salary and benefit needs, they hopped aboard because they know who they are working for. They believe what you believe. And instead of being a number in a thousand-person company, they are a name and a face and a difference-maker. Their contributions matter and they can feel it.

How the Big Picture Motivates (and More…)

Working for a small company isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s risk involved. Risk that your firm will face hard times and not be able to recover. Risk that your employees will be asked to do things out of their comfort zone. Risk that, because your company doesn’t have years of operating cash in the bank, tempers will flair if something goes wrong.

You have a tremendous, untapped advantage as a small business.

It takes a great deal of motivation to overcome these risks. But by sharing the big picture, these risks can seem inconsequential and even meaningful. Furthermore, when your employee understands the big picture, both you and they will feel numerous benefits. Benefits that are THE differentiator for you against your competition:

  • Inspired Workers | Employees in tune with the big picture are inspired. They are inspired to work longer hours to get the job done, to go above and beyond your competition in quality and customer service and to help each other, even if it doesn’t fit their job description.
  • Loyalty | When employees can see the greater good, they become fiercely loyal. Why chance working for someone else where they are just a rat in a maze? Show them the big picture and they’ll have direction, they’ll have purpose. Give them autonomy to fulfill that purpose and watch them do great things. Employees with purpose and the freedom to fulfill it are going to protect their job from anyone or anything that could take it away.
  • Productive Employees | Productivity really comes down to two things: output and time. Employees who understand why the company exists know exactly what needs to be output to get the results you’re looking for. Furthermore, they don’t waste time with indecision or procrastination because they know what they need to do to fulfill your company goals.
  • Independence | When your employees can see the big picture, they suddenly become an independent force, reliant on nobody for direction. They understand how to apply their skills to the job at hand and how to further the companies’ goals with their expertise.
  • Open Communication | In a team, the big picture guides everyone towards your end-goal making it easier to communicate openly about how to get there. More so, when you (their fearless leader) communicate the big picture to your team, they will reciprocate with open communication in turn.
  • Leaders Leading Leaders | Every good team has a “catalyst”… someone with the temperament and charisma to promote your message to the rest of the team. With clear direction, these individuals become a wildfire, spreading your message with enthusiasm and helping lead your team to victory.
  • New Ideas | If only you know where you’re going, you’ll be the only one who can figure out how to get there. Share the big picture with your team, however, and be ready for great ideas to flow in. Team members that understand the end-game often have better ideas than you do on how to get there better, faster, and cheaper.
  • Focus | Remember that study of over 7,000 leaders referenced above? 72% of the excellent leaders make sure that every decision made is done with the company’s mission statement in mind. When you share your company’s purpose with your team, they can do the same, staying more focused than your competition.
Without making your company purpose clear to your employees, you are no better off than a large company... your team will feel as if they are navigating a maze, unsure of where to turn and uncertain of how close they are to their goal.

Without making your company purpose clear to your employees, you are no better off than a large company... your team will feel as if they are navigating a maze, unsure of where to turn and uncertain of how close they are to their goal.

How to Motivate a Team

By now I hope you’re convinced that sharing the big picture with your team is not only a good idea, it’s critical to the success of your business. Before you run off to make a grand speech to your staff, however, you’ll want to take care to ensure your big picture message has some necessary characteristics so it doesn’t fall flat. An unthoughtful delivery of your company’s purpose can be just a demotivating as a sensible one can be inspiring.

So what does a thoughtful delivery look like? How do we motivate a team with our big picture? Let’s look at a famous example from one of the most inspiring presidents in American history: John F. Kennedy.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." Now that's a motivating big picture statement!

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." Now that's a motivating big picture statement!

I know the vision you have for your company can sometimes feel like getting to the moon and back. But you know deep down, like Kennedy did, that your goals are achievable. You know that, if you could state it in such clear terms, your team could get behind it and get to work.

So what is it that makes President Kennedy’s big picture statement so appealing?

  1. It’s clear. It could not be clearer. Once his words were uttered, there was no question where we needed to go as a nation.
  2. It’s specific. This nation. Before this decade is out. Landing on the moon and returning safely home.
  3. It specifies what, not how. The details of how you get there are for your team to figure out. Your big picture should tell them what needs to be done, not how to do it.
  4. It’s challenging. Sending a man to the moon? What could be more difficult that that!?
  5. Yet, it’s achievable. As impossible as it sounds to send a man to the moon, Kennedy knew it was achievable. He knew that, given his backing and the right talent, this goal was ours to lose.

Of course, lofty statements like this have been uttered by thousands of would-be leaders over the centuries. And not all of them have reached their goal. But success for you, as a leader, doesn’t lie in achieving a goal… only your team can claim that. Success for you, as a leader, it’s in motivating your team to give everything they’ve got to get there. Consider this example:

Having described the big picture to our country and set a vision for our scientists, President Kennedy visited NASA to check progress. Coming across a janitor mopping the floor, he introduced himself and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What do you do here?”
The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

When you share the big picture with your team clearly and precisely, they will understand their role. They will see where they fit in and how they can best contribute. They will be inspired, loyal, productive, and independent. Like the NASA janitor, their tasks (no matter how small) will have meaning.

Keeping Loyal, Motivated Employees On Board

The seat next to Jim was empty, the seatbelt sign had just turned off, and I knew it was now or never. I walked up a few rows and plopped down next to him. Even though we had three hours, my “big picture speech” only took 10 minutes.

“Jim,” I said, “I understand why you resigned. I get that you may want to move on, and I’ll support you if that’s your final decision. But I want you to know how much your team needs you… how much I need you.”
“We’ve finally got a team together that can build the best software security products in the world. I mean, we’re not just protecting video games with this stuff. We’re protecting our national technological advantage, and I don’t know of anyone that can write this type of software the way you can.”
The big picture helps your employees stay focused on your target, motivated them to hit it, and stay true to your company's purpose.

The big picture helps your employees stay focused on your target, motivated them to hit it, and stay true to your company's purpose.

My big picture may not have been as clear as President Kennedy’s, but it connected our company purpose to Jim who ended up staying on board after our talk.

Back at the office, Jim entered into a few months of higher productivity than I’d ever seen. I committed to having one-on-ones with my staff to remind them of the big picture and keep everyone motivated. Our resignation rate dropped from (a still low) 6% to 2.5% or about 1/4th the national average at the time!

More importantly, however, from that point forward, the big picture helped us stay focused, stay motivated, and stay true to our company’s purpose.


Do you have a story on how the big picture helped keep your employees focused, loyal, and motivated? Share it in the comments below!

Also, just click here to tweet article if you think other small business owners out there could benefit.

Having trouble connect your staff with your company’s purpose? Having trouble clearly and concisely capturing your purpose? Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation >