Deb Calvert | Why Treating Employees Right Matters

Adam LeanPodcast

In today’s episode, we sit down with Deb Calvertー president of People First Productivity Solutions, who are all about getting people connected and engaged. From team members to business owners, they do it all. 

“Ultimately, the engagement of people and the knowledge they have that you are someone who can help them develop and reach their own goals and potential, all of that is really bonding,” says Deb when asked why she does what she does. 

We’ll chat with Deb about how to improve the bottom line of your business through developing your people and connecting your people, how to increase profits by enabling and engaging the people who will get you where you want to be, and…

  • Why engaged employees stay longer
  • How improving the workplace dynamic increases employee productivity
  • The biggest mistakes you can make with your employees
  • How to be a good delegator
  • Where business owners struggle when it comes to leadership and employee engagement

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Adam Lean: In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to improve the bottom line of your business through developing your people and connecting your people. We’re going to find out how to increase profits by enabling and engaging the people who will get you where you want to be. This is P is for Profit. 

Adam: Welcome to P is for Profit. My name is Adam Lean and I along with the rest of the team at The CFO Project are passionate about helping business owners improve the profitability of their business. My guest today is the president of People First Productivity Solutions. Their goal is to help businesses boost productivity through people development. Deb Calvert, welcome to the show.

Deb Calvert: Thank you Adam. I am delighted to be here with you and your audience.

Adam: Yeah, I’m excited to jump in and find out how you help businesses develop their people and what that even means. So that the business can get more done and more accomplished. But before we dive in, tell us who you are and why you started working with businesses.

Deb: Well, my business, we are all about getting people connected, whether it’s about sellers with buyers, or about team members to each other, or about business owners to new team members that they’re bringing in. Because ultimately, the engagement of people and the knowledge they have that you are someone who can help them develop and reach their own goals and potential, all of that is really bonding. 

And that’s what we’re all looking for in an employer or in a business that we choose to do business with. It’s gotten bigger than it used to be. It used to be the product alone would do the job but now we have these expectations and we want an employee experience or a customer experience. And ultimately that always comes down to connections. So that’s why we do what we do.

Adam: Interesting. There’s, you know, several things in what you just said that I want to explore. What does connected mean? Like when you say, you know, everybody wants to be connected, and you should connect your people with each other and with their superiors and with customers, what does that mean?

Get Connected

Deb: You know, that’s a great question because I think it, the meaning of the word itself gets diluted. We think about, Hey, I have a connection on LinkedIn, which is absolutely superficial and impersonal. It doesn’t mean much unless you take it to a deeper level. So when I talk about connections, I’m talking about a real true link between two people, not something superficial, but think of it being more like a link on a chain. 

Something where it’s intertwined and it bonds you. It keeps you together. It’s not just something that’s out there so you can check a box or boast about a number. And those real true links, they require some commitment. They require that you do care about the other person and their wellbeing. They require that you have trust. They require that you are invested and that you’re willing to take the time to get to know and to meet the needs of somebody else. And it’s of course, mutual. It’s two-way when you have the true connections. 

Adam: So when you say get to know each other, so I’m assuming one of the best ways this can be executed is with an employer, so the business owner, getting to know and connecting, I guess their employees so that they’ll be more engaged and they’ll stay longer and they’ll be more productive. Is that right?

Defining Employee Engagement

Deb: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. And I do a lot of research in this and have created a lot of videos for anybody that wants more than we’ll do here, but they can see them on my YouTube channel. But employee engagement, let me just take a moment to define it. What it really means is that it is the emotional connection someone feels for their organization that causes them to apply additional discretionary effort. 

So of course, you know, big companies, they do employee engagement surveys, and they spend a lot of money on this stuff. But no matter what the size of a business, that still matters, it’s still relevant. And it’s not a rational commitment, like, Hey, you give me a paycheck. It’s an emotional one. That’s what causes people to have a sense of belonging and commitment. And only when they have that will they apply additional discretionary effort. 

And what we know from research is when you have that definition, when you have that kind of employee engagement, you have people who stick around longer, customers who are much happier, productivity that increases by every metric possible, less absenteeism, more quality, more quantity output, and so on. And then you also have both top-line revenue growth and better profitability because your expenses are trimmed due to your productivity increases and people sticking around. So I mean, this is huge for businesses. There are so many benefits that come with increased employee engagement.

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. And I love your phrase discretionary effort. Because I mean, I’m a firm believer that most people are not 100% just motivated by money. They’re motivated by other things. And it makes sense that, you know, if you’re gonna have an employee disengaged, or you have to get them to belong and to commit. All that being said, what are some tips or what are some ways that business owners can do this with their employees to get them more engaged so that they will give them that discretionary effort?

Deb: You know, I think it’s about treating people the way they want to be treated. We have tools, we put out like this employee engagement checklist, it’s also a free download. People should come to my website and take all the steps that they can get.

Adam: What was that real quick?

Deb: Oh, the website, People First PS, it stands for Productivity Solutions. 

Adam: Okay, perfect. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well. But that, sorry to interrupt. Go ahead. 

Deb: No, no, yeah. So it’s easier than you I think. it’s about the behaviors. It’s about how people feel. I think the one word that I would want people to remember when they’re deciding how to engage people, it’s this word, not one that a lot of people have heard before. Ennoble, to ennoble someone means to make them feel worthy and important. So do you ask their opinion? Do you sometimes ask them their preferences? Do you make a few allowances, not to let them run the show, you got to run a business. 

But to dignify that other individual and to let them know that you want them to be a member of your team and that you care about their input. You know, it could be easy little things like you say hello to people. Do you ask them about their weekend? Do you let them know that you are interested in them as a person, not just the person who’s doing the job? And could be anybody. You got to see him and know him and let them know that they are seen and known. 

Adam: Absolutely. I love that. I mean, that’s so true. I mean, employees will give you their all if you show that you care about their opinion and what they think. And they’ll, you know, you’re right. They’ll become more engaged because then they know that somebody cares about their opinions, so they want to give them their all. 

Deb: Yeah, I also think people raise or lower themselves to your expectations. And I’ve met a lot of small business owners who have been burned, right? They, frankly, it’s right now, it’s a tough market for small businesses, a tough job market because there are so many available jobs out there. So someone comes to work for you. Let’s say they’re not fully engaged, let’s say they are just punching the clock. 

And pretty soon it can be very easy to get jaded and to start to think of all employees as that they just want that paycheck. They don’t really want to work for it. So if you think that you start to treat everybody that way and you might micromanage or you might be suspicious, you might not be trusting. And yeah, then everybody will behave that way because your expectations have lowered what they’ll really do for you.

Adam: So you’re obviously an expert in this topic of employee engagement and in productivity, what are the biggest mistakes that business owners make with this? Like, for example, why do employees leave?

It’s All About the Manager

Deb: Well, research also tells us that it’s all about the manager, so business owner or if you have a structure, we’ve got managers in place. The most important relationship in the workplace for employee engagement is the person you report to. And we know what people want from that person. It’s not to be managed, it’s to be led. So anybody in a management role, sure they should have the basic management skills. 

Those are easy. But they should also be leaders. And the difference between leading and managing is something that’s often misunderstood. So the biggest mistake is forgetting that your role is two things. You’ve got to manage the work and lead the people. That’s what they respond to.

Adam: Yes. Yes, I completely agree. I mean, what’s that saying that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses?

Deb: It’s true. Yes.

Adam: So you mentioned ennoblement, which is, you know, when I first read that on your website, I had to Google it to find the definition. And I love that. You have other, two other words under your, so you have three values, enablement, enablement and engagement. So can you explain and contrast those three?

Deb: You bet. So as I said, ennoblement is to make people feel worthy and important. That’s the emotional commitment that will drive the additional discretionary effort. And when you add all that up, that’s engagement. So those two pieces go hand in hand. Engagement means I understand the work, I understand why I’m doing the work that I’m doing. And then enablement is the how piece. How am I going to do this work? Did you give me adequate training? Have you given me the resources I need? 

Are you giving me regular feedback so I can continue to do a better job and always be learning and growing? And it is a three legs of a stool, right? If you can ennoble someone all day long, and that becomes false at some point if you don’t truly give them what they need to succeed if you don’t enable them. So all three.

Adam: Yeah, so where can if, you know, if a business owner is listening and they realize that they’re sort of lacking in this area of helping engage their people or enabling them or ennobling them, you know, what are some tangible things that they can do to better themselves? To help them improve their skill set with leading their employees instead of just managing them?

Deb: Yeah. Well, okay, so since we’re talking to a lot of people who are small and mid-sized business owners, I’m going to go out on a limb here. I just seen it happen so often that I’ll bet some of your listeners will find this is true for them too. But one of the first and best things you can do is learn to be a good delegator. 

If you’re trying to do too much of the work yourself to cut costs and keep overhead down, for example, if you’re trying to do too much of that, you aren’t going to have time to be a good leader. And in fact, you’re not probably a very good manager because you’re just a really good frontline contributor who wears a hat that says owner. And you got to act like an owner. So it’s an investment in your business, but it’s a really important one to get somebody else in there who you will trust and then delegate work to that person or those people. 

Let go of it. Delegating is itself a skill, so if you’ve never done it, you’ll want to learn how to do that and you can do that on my website, too. We do give a lot of tools away. But if you don’t do that first, if you don’t give away some of the work and give it away correctly, not micromanaging it, then you’ll never have time to do the rest of the development that we’re talking about here.

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. What do you feel that separates successful business owners from those that always seem to struggle? Especially in the areas of employee engagement and leadership?

Let That Baby Grow

Deb: Well, now that question is a big one. So I do think it’s partly what we’ve been talking about already. If you have a lot of churn in your organization if you’re just constantly having to hire people and they don’t stick around, or no matter who you hire, it seems like they won’t do the work and they’re not really an asset to your business. If that’s you, then what we’ve been talking about would be the answer to that question. 

But if you’ve got that part worked out and yet the business is stagnating or you’re having other kinds of difficulties, the second thing that I often see when I’m doing consulting work with businesses is I often see a fear of innovation, a fear of making some even small changes because it feels risky. Your business becomes like your baby and you so badly want to protect and take care of your baby. But you got to let that baby grow. And sometimes that means you’ve got to experiment. Fail fast, maybe even fail often, but try new things. 

Otherwise, your competition is going to get too far out ahead of you. You’ll never catch up. And so having a spirit where you’re always asking, okay, this is good but what’s new? What’s next? What else is there that I could be doing? I’m not saying that you asked that question so that you add in 50 more things that you don’t have time to do. It’s about subtle, small changes in response to the marketplace, keeping your ear to the ground and then being willing to take action where it’s needed.

Adam: Yeah, that’s very helpful. So one of the sort of the divisions that you have in your business is you help coach sales. Sales coaching. So how can a business owner develop sales skills in their client-facing staff for, you know, for example, let’s say a heating and air company has technicians who are trained in being a technician. Not trained in sales but yet they’re client-facing staff and they’re expected to upsell a client on additional services. So what are some skills that are tips that business owners can do to develop these sales skills in their client-facing team?

Deb: Well, I’ve written two books about selling and both of them, without intention, you’d think after the first one I would have realized it, but without intention, both of those books have been very successful in small businesses. And I’ve heard from so many and I’ve received so many engagements and invitations to speak to small business conferences and whatnot because it turns out those books are both really helpful and they’re really simple. 

And I also have a point of view, and it comes out in both books, and that point of view is that you shouldn’t be salesy or have a personality transplant to be good at sales. Which is one of the big barriers. if I did not choose a sales career and I’m doing what I want to do, but suddenly you tell me I have to upsell or think about selling opportunities when I’m client-facing, well, that’s not what I signed up for. I didn’t go to school for that. That’s not what I want to do. 

And it feels icky because of the old stereotypes that are out there. So you have to dismantle some of those and help people feel good about the way that they can bring their own skillset and what they have to offer to a buyer and be proud of that and represent that really well. That’s then where the selling becomes more palatable to people who need to be doing some work of selling.

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. Because at the end of the day, I mean, a good salesperson is really just helping the potential customer. I mean, if they’re doing it right, if they’re safe, what they’re selling, they believe in and the customer needs it, or wants it, then their job is really just to facilitate that. And they should feel good about that.

Deb: I absolutely agree. Yes. 

Adam: Excellent. I like to ask this from time to time, if you could go back in time when you started your business, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give your younger self?

Go All In

Deb: Well, I started business 15 years ago, and it was after a company that I worked for, I was a corporate director with a fortune 500, and that company was sold. And I decided to go into business for myself because I didn’t like the options that were in front of me at the time. Because of that, I at first, thought it might be temporary. I wasn’t fully for a whole lifetime committed. I was going to dabble and see what happened. 

And I’m lucky that the momentum of it and the early success, I got very caught up in that and I realized this could be something much bigger than a, something I did between jobs. What I wish I had done differently from the get-go is commit to the, to my core. That this is what it was going to be, that I was taking ownership in it and pride of it. Because I lost 18 months or two years in there that I could have been doing things differently. So I think people should be all in.

Adam: All in. Is that what you mean by commit to my core? Like, explain that.

Deb: Yes, yes. Well, you know, we make commitments every day. Sometimes they’re off the cuff and then we never follow through. We make these little promises that are Yeah I meant to but I never got to it. And then sometimes not very often in our life we make profound, deep, long-term, maybe even lifetime commitments. 

And like think, you know, getting married or having a kid, right? These are big, big, big commitments. And I think if you’re going to put something out there for the world, and you’re really going to tie your own success and identity to it, that ought to be one of those kinds of profound, very, very deep level commitments. Starting a business is, that’s a big commitment. So why not be all in on that?

Adam: Yeah. That’s a very good point. So what would you say your number one piece of advice for business owners is if you had to pick one,

Deb: Listen to the marketplace. Talk to your buyers. They don’t expect you to have all the answers and in fact, they will be flattered. I do a lot of buyer side research. They’d love to be included in something that you’re thinking about. So if you say to them, Hey, you know, we’re always interested in your feedback. That’s very different from most businesses out there who never ask. I’m not saying survey them to death. I don’t even like that trend. I never fill those surveys out after I finished a flight or staying at a hotel or something. I think that’s a little bit obnoxious and it feels fake. But I’m talking about genuine, real conversations. Call up your best buyer, whoever they are. Someone who’s been with you a while or spends the most money. Ask them what do you like? What would you like to see done differently? Thank you very much for your business. Make it personal. Call up the people who you haven’t done business with for three months or six months and ask them why. And even if it’s not to get them to buy from you again, say, you know, look, I’m not calling, I’d love to earn your business again, but I’m not calling to tell you anything right now. I would like to know, if you don’t mind telling me, I’d like to know what happened. I can learn from that and do better in the future. 

Adam: Yeah, that’s a very good piece of advice. So, you know, I really thank you for being here. I mean, these are very important topics. Each of these things that we’ve talked about could probably be their own episode. But I know you have a lot of content online. Where can people find you? I know you have a YouTube channel and you have some books, you have the website. So where can people find you online?

Deb: Well, if you’re on LinkedIn, that’s a great place too because I just put a lot of stuff there that points to the other things. But it’s also a great place for starting conversations. And I enjoy those very much. So find me anywhere. We’ll make it work if we want to talk.

Adam: Okay, perfect. So the website is, and then your LinkedIn, you know, Deb Calvert, and we’ll put all these links in the show notes. And then you also have a YouTube channel. What’s the YouTube channel name?

Deb: It’s under the business name, People First Productivity Solutions. 

Adam: Excellent. Well, thank you, Deb, for being here. This is really, really helpful.

Deb: Well, thank you. It was really a pleasure to spend time with you Adam. And I just, I love what you’re doing here. So thank you. 

Adam: To everybody listening. I would like to thank Deb for being here. And if you would like to see if Deb could help you with your business, with your people, with your sales, please reach out, watch her videos and get her books. And she has several tools on our website and I’ll put all the info in the show notes. But thank you so much for listening. Remember the goal of your business should be to make more profit than last year and turn that profit into cash that you get to keep. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Voiceover: The P is for Profit Podcast is sponsored by The CFO Project. We help small business owners and entrepreneurs pocket bigger profits. If you’re ready to discover the five changes required to boost your profits this quarter, you’ll want to attend our latest presentation, Why Your Small Business Might Not Be as Profitable as It Should Be. Register at