Make believe magic: Engaging your top talent

Written by Brian Scudamore

The importance of finding the right people is something I spend a lot of time talking about. But once you have the right people, you have to engage those people with your vision and empower them to come up with their own “mini-visions” that are aligned with your vision and contribute to your company’s flywheel momentum.

Which brings me to the story of Andrea Baxter, one of our marketing managers at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

About a year ago we renovated our head office — a.k.a. The Junktion — and built a gigantic “Can You Imagine” wall. On it you’ll find vinyl decals that state big ideas for the company, which I’d requested from people at head office and across our franchise network. But not just anything went on the wall: a worthwhile idea was one that the creator knew he or she could somehow, some way, turn into reality.

Many submissions were clear winners, while others were too far out there. But I really struggled with Andrea’s vision. “Can you imagine our brand appearing on Starbucks cups everywhere?” she asked, referring to “The Way I See It,” a series of thought-provoking quotations that appear on the coffee giant’s paper cups. I thought her idea was interesting, but I couldn’t “see” it happening (and if you can’t see your vision come true, you’ll never have enough faith in it to achieve it). After all, Starbucks is an image-conscious company. Its cups feature quotations from people like Oprah and tennis champ Andy Roddick. So why would they want to quote the CEO of a junk-removal company on the cups? It appeared to go against everything Starbucks is about.

I told Andrea that I didn’t think her idea deserved to be on the Can You Imagine wall. But she pushed back, selling me on why she could see it and how she was going to make it happen. We agreed that it would go up on the wall for all to see. This told me that her faith and commitment were high.

In the months that followed, Andrea talked up her vision to me. She persisted. When I didn’t believe, she did. She called and e-mailed Starbucks, and applied for The Way I See It campaign online and through the mail. She even used our franchise network to get an introduction to top execs at Starbucks through Drew Boyles, our franchisee in Orange County and Los Angeles, who used to be part of Starbucks management. Then, before I knew it, Andrea came to me with a confirmed appointment to be interviewed for the cup. Our brand name looked like it was going to be displayed on almost 10 million cups across North America!

To be honest, I was still skeptical. My doubt was justified when Starbucks decided to make a change to the draft we’d signed off on. Instead of attributing the quotation to “Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?”, Starbucks wanted the attribution to read just “Brian Scudamore.” But nobody knows who Brian Scudamore is! Besides, Andrea’s vision was to have the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? brand on all the cups.

Andrea could have given up, but she pushed back hard — she had too much faith in her vision. Andrea insisted over several subsequent conversations with Starbucks that it was not good enough merely to quote Brian Scudamore; they also had to mention our company name. Then, just as suddenly as Starbucks had removed our brand from the cup design, we received a final proof for installment No. 70 of The Way I See It series — and it included 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

It’s hard to believe that 10 million cups with our company name on them will fall into the hands of potential customers everywhere. It’s one of the biggest wins in the history of our brand. But Andrea imagined it happening, then made it happen.

The experience taught me a couple of things. First, never kill the spirit of someone with a big idea. Test them and push back to survey their level of faith and commitment, but be really careful not to destroy their enthusiasm. Empowering people and their spirit is what allows you to keep great people for the long haul. Second, I’ve witnessed just how valuable it is to encourage people to have a vision within your vision. While our employees may be excited about 1-800-GOT-JUNK?’s vision of building a billion-dollar, globally admired brand, that is a vision they are a part of. People also want wins that they can call their own. It all makes “Can you imagine?” a great question entrepreneurs should ask ourselves and our teams.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com