Last updated on December 26th, 2023 at 03:59 pm

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn book cover

As demonstrated in a 2023 story by National Public Radio contributor Andrea Hsu, American workers are suffering a crisis in terms of professional engagement. Citing a 2022 Gallup survey, Hsu reports that employee engagement has fallen significantly since 2020. With responses from approximately 67,000 people, this survey found that only 32 percent of American workers were engaged with their work—compared to the 36 percent who reported engagement in 2020.

The disengagement problem is particularly troubling in its notable acuteness. While the number of workers who say they are merely “not engaged” has remained relatively stable since 2020, the number of workers who say they are “actively disengaged” has risen sharply.

So, can we return to the steady rise in employee engagement between the Great Recession and the global pandemic? The “Fred Factor” has helped countless people boost their professional commitment by bringing fresh energy and creativity to their work lives.

What Is the Fred Factor?

In his 2004 book The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary, Mark Sanborn tells the story of Fred, the postal worker who delivered mail to his home in suburban Colorado. To date, The Fred Factor has sold two million copies in 20 different languages.

Passionate about his job, Fred genuinely cares about the people he serves and constantly goes the extra mile to serve them. This commitment to excellence inspired Sanborn, who had never before had a postal worker cater to his personal travel schedule and mail delivery preferences.

Beyond his exceptional mail handling, Fred treats everyone he encounters as a friend, sometimes even watching over the people’s houses on his route. While other people might see mail delivery as monotonous drudgery, Fred sees ample opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of the people he serves.

But what exactly is the “Fred Factor,” as Sanborn describes it? At its essence, the concept can be broken down into four basic principles.

Principle #1: Everyone Makes a Difference

Although doing the bare minimum will always be easier than going above and beyond, workers are far more likely to put in extra effort if they sense a genuine ability to make a difference. Even when employers fail to empower their employees or recognize their achievements adequately, employees with the Fred Factor will find a reason to excel regardless of their surrounding work environment. At the end of each workday, only one thing truly matters to professionals with the Fred Factor: “Did I make a positive difference?” The belief that everyone makes a difference can also serve you well as your work standards progress from the ordinary to the extraordinary. If your achievements draw resentment and criticism from your colleagues, remember that everyone has untapped performance potential, and commit to leading by example as an outstanding role model.

Principle #2: Success Is Built on Relationships

Sanborn uses Fred’s mail-carrying work as an example of the supreme importance of relationship building. Perhaps more than any other professional asset, Fred knows that strong relationships lead to better customer service. While Sanborn’s other mail carriers had provided adequate service, none had taken the time and energy to foster a personal relationship with him. Fred, however, was committed to getting to know every person on his route. Fred was an inspiration to Sanborn. After noting that “indifferent people deliver impersonal service,” Sanborn acknowledges, “Service becomes personalized when a relationship exists between the provider and the customer.”

Principle #3: You Must Continually Create Value for Others, and It Doesn’t Have to Cost a Penny

This principle is essential for any worker seeking greater job security and career advancement. It is also key for team leaders who must gain an edge over competitors at companies that are far more profitable. People at all life stages and levels of professional success tend to feel limited by their financial resources, level of education, or even sheer “bad luck.” But those who let their limitations define them are unlikely to succeed. With little more than his mailbag as a tool, Fred managed to create exceptional value for his customers through pure ingenuity, dedication, and hard work.

Principle #4: Reinvent Yourself Regularly

The final “gift” that Fred gave Sanborn keeps giving. After getting to know Fred, Sanborn witnessed him develop new ways to bring imagination and originality to his work time and time again. “If Fred the Postman could bring that kind of creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box, I can do as much or more to reinvent my work and rejuvenate my efforts,” writes Sanborn. “I believe that no matter what job you hold, what industry you work in, or where you live, every morning you wake up with a clean slate.”

The Power of Everyone Making a Difference

When viewed from a management perspective, the four principles of the Fred Factor can also become essential principles of leadership. An employee with the Fred Factor will strive to positively impact others, no matter how small that impact happens to be. An effective leader will borrow Fred’s “can do” attitude to inspire team members and foster a positive work culture.

Regardless of the magnitude of your leadership abilities, remember that your employees remain directly responsible for carrying out the company mission. Employee contribution is the first item that writer Sean Peek places on his list of “How Employees Contribute to an Organization’s Success.” He points out the vast capabilities of employees as the “lifeblood of the company” to influence customers and drive revenue.

Success and Its Connection to Relationships

Relationship-building is essential for leaders and team members who sincerely want to make a difference. In The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn highlights the “Seven B’s of Relationship Building” that can establish a firm foundation for success:

  1. Be real – People respond positively to authenticity in their personal and professional relationships.
  2. Be interested (not just interesting) – Though good relationship-builders are generally compelling to others, it is far more important to attract appreciation for others by showing a genuine interest in them.
  3. Be a better listener – Through active listening, you can show people you are interested in them while learning key practical information crucial to value creation.
  4. Be empathic – Listening to and showing interest in people are critical components of empathy (making an effort to understand the thoughts and feelings of others).
  5. Be honest – Don’t make promises you can’t keep or say things that are untrue. You simply cannot build a healthy relationship on a foundation of dishonesty.
  6. Be helpful – Even small favors or acts of kindness, such as opening a door for someone, can go a tremendously long way in the world of relationship building.
  7. Be prompt – Few things signal disrespect, like keeping someone waiting unnecessarily. Remember that, for many people, time is more valuable than money.

How Can One Continually Create Value for Others Without Spending Money?

In The Fred Factor, Sanborn singles out the power to “create value for customers and colleagues without spending money to do it” as the most crucial skill when it comes to overall employability. “The trick is to replace money with imagination, to substitute creativity for capital.” Fortunately, the Fred Factor presents many ways to do this. By building productive relationships, creating memorable experiences, and remaining thoughtful in all your interactions, you can generate value that doesn’t cost a thing!

The Importance of Regular Self-Reinvention

Beyond studying industry and business trends to remain adaptable and anticipate future opportunities, good business professionals must approach each day as a fresh start and continually build themselves anew. This constant process of improvement and self-reinvention can also inspire and motivate others to embrace ongoing change and innovation in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Applying the Fred Factor in Leadership

We have already seen how leaders and employees can apply the Fred Factor to tremendous effect. If you want to expand your leadership potential, you must live by the Fred Factor and plant the seeds of this proactive, enthusiastic approach to better service and self-improvement in your team members. Through relationship building, value creation, and constant reinvention, you can make a remarkably positive difference for your entire business team and the customers it serves.

Expanding Your Skills With an MBA

Of course, a business leader cannot succeed by leveraging the principles of the Fred Factor alone. For a comprehensive foundation of in-depth business knowledge, there is simply no replacement for a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Salem University offers an MBA in Management degree program available entirely online. This program is designed to help aspiring senior executives hone their business leadership skills and gain the tools needed to make critical “out-of-the-box” decisions.

To learn more about the MBA with a specialization in management or any other degree program at Salem University, get in touch today by filling out a short form to request more information.

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