Howard Putman started out as a baggage handler for Capital Airlines and retired as the CEO of Braniff International Airways. Tracey Armstrong began employment at Copyright Clearance Center as a clerk, where she too worked her way up to chief executive officer. Likewise, Ronald E. Daly, the once proof-reader, later CEO of Océ Holding, followed a career path beyond that of the average worker.

Anyone who has listened to a ‘rags to riches’ life story knows that hard work, dedication, and commitment was a huge part of why they achieved so much. But what is often missing or under-reported are the opportunities that were given, and the people who believed enough in them to give them a chance to succeed. Somewhere along the lives of all three of these individuals doors were opened, and there were a few influential people who held the keys. Field service managers can do much to encourage and open doors for their employees – they might not be training the next CEO, but with the right support, they could build new leaders and shapers who will take your company to new heights.

The Role of Recognition

From the time we take our first steps, the human experience thrives on praise. As adults, our sophistication and self-reliance put up a front that says, “I only need a paycheck to tell me I’m doing a good job,” but deep down inside we still long to hear, “Great job! Here’s a cookie.” But many managers treat recognition rewards like the proverbial carrot before the mule; as something that only a few will be wily enough to attain.

In addition to having a fair and equitable recognition program that encourages everyone into going the extra mile, managers should leverage their rewards budget to include those who might need an encouraging boost to their lives. Stresses outside of the work environment, such as divorce, illness, and loss of loved ones, can make job focus secondary. This can be an opportunity to instill loyalty and dedication when the employee feels like they are appreciated at work, and that their job is a place where they can go to get away from the stresses outside of work. This doesn’t have to be a monetary form of recognition, but words without actions often have little effect. Likewise, a reward void of concern for their situation rings hollow – just make sure that you find something that is truly worthy of praise; patronizing an employee can have the opposite effect.

[Related: 3 Steps to Engage Your Field Service Workforce]

Choose Your Mentors Wisely

Mentorship is a common practice in field service. Even if there isn’t an official mentoring program, the ‘new guy’ learns the ropes from the old-timers. This should send up a red flag to most managers, as there are always team members who struggle with attitude and proper work habits. Hand-picking those who introduce new-hires to the field can give them a boost to succeed, but only if the mentor has a good attitude and work ethic. Certainly, we are all responsible for whatever work habits we develop, and those who rise to the top are usually self-motivated to do so, but the psychological power of ‘wanting to fit in’ can stunt the growth of employees who would otherwise excel, if their first introduction to the company is from those who do the least amount of work as possible to still collect a paycheck.

Encourage Continuing Education

Many companies offer college or trade-school reimbursement, and some managers will give occasional reminders of that fact, but very few will actually take the time to give an encouraging word to an employee in whom they see much potential. Like our needs to be praised and to fit in, we also need to hear that we’re good at something – good enough that the company would like to invest in seeing it bloom. There’s a big difference between saying, “don’t forget to take advantage of our college reimbursement program” during a team meeting, and “hey, Bob, I’ve been impressed by how you’ve become the natural leader on the team; have you ever considered our management training program?”

Supporting Does Not Mean Manipulating

The idea is not to manipulate employees into performing at a higher level by exploiting their emotional needs, but rather to recognize that these needs often go unmet and that this has a negative effect at work, as well as at home. Work is one of the places where we seek to find fulfillment. When managers take this into consideration and try to provide an environment of encouragement and support, they can begin to understand that they do hold the keys to unlocking great potential in each and every employee.

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