What you see is what you get – measuring your response to others

What good is it?

Often the mantra of the obsessively practical or the hopelessly cynical, a “what good is it?” response typically indicates disgust, disappointment, or disdain, maybe all three. Obsessively practical leaders seem to become well, obsessed, with efficiency. Every act, every task, every intention, indeed every suggestion is qualified by its practical contribution to the efficient function of the organization.

But more prevalent are the hopelessly cynical. I worked for one such leader, the founder and director of a moderately-sized leadership training organization working mostly in Asia. He expected to be disappointed and usually found something to meet his expectations. Over time, only those with a fetish for being belittled and berated stayed in the company. There was always something somewhere done by someone that failed to come up to standard.

I worked with the company for nearly two years and I can attest that the real failure rate was no higher than just about anywhere else and a good deal better than many companies of that size. It was his attitude that made the difference.

Now, make no mistake, I am no raging and rabid fan of the positive thinking crowd. It seems to lead to a delusional approach to life and its challenges.

But I am a fan, proponent, and practitioner of the power of a positive attitude. The late Michael Vance, creative thinking consultant to Walt Disney and a good many others, often observed that positive thinking tends to avoid or mislabel problems to the point of failing to deal intelligently and creatively with them. He also observed that with a positive attitude problems are identified, intelligently and honestly appraised, then and only then can creative responses be implemented.

So, the “what good is it?” response can have a more fruitful use. How do I know?

  1. Because, with few exceptions, subordinates and associates want to please. Mister Cynic referred to above does not believe that. He believed that everyone was out to disabuse him of his generosity, neglect their responsibilities, and screw up regularly and that they did so with no remorse. He is categorically incorrect. His experience has not been my experience. People make mistakes. We live in an imperfect world and 100% efficiency is a myth. But nearly everyone wants to do well and meet the expectations of their job. We are hard-wired to do so. What good is it? All effort should be acknowledged for what it is – a good attempt to do the job. If and when it falls short, accept the reality and respond accordingly. That’s what superlative leaders do. They do not cynically respond with disdain in their voice, “What good is it?”
  2. In all labor there is benefit. We do not learn by learning only, we learn by doing. Trying, falling short, learning why, trying again are all part of the development process. We cannot order a fully functional subordinate or associate from Amazon. It will not arrive on the floor ready for work. Development is what you do because you are a leader. No prudent leader would ever trample on the good deeds and well-intentions of others deliberately. Developing capable people and successful companies is always a collaborative effort.
  3. In every effort, even the ones that are not quite up to par, there is good in them. They yield something beneficial. A teachable moment or a deeper understanding are not without value. Ask Thomas Edison about failed attempts at developing the electric light.

What good is it? Well, it turns out there is a lot. The weekend begins tonight. Most of you have two days off. It just might be a good time to take another look at how you respond to the efforts of others. There’s a tragic lesson in the life work of Mister Cynic mentioned above. He spent his entire career disappointed, always feeling like he had been cheated out of more success by the failures of others. He spent his days, indeed his life, wandering around the workplace looking for people doing something wrong, finding whatever he could that would validate his cynicism and negativity.

You know what? He found plenty of it. But he ended his career bitter, angry, cynical, and disappointed that he had been robbed.  He really did look back on his life and ask “What good is it?” distressed that it was not better.

Yet other leaders in exactly the same situation had an entirely different experience. Did they find disappointment? Yep. Did they find error and failure? Certainly! But they found good in it. Lots and lots of good in it.

It’s right there in front of you too.

If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look at the video below. It’s a compilation of clips from Michael Vance.

Stuck in 1st gear – is the impediment to progress you?

stuck in 1stIt happens easily enough and usually innocently enough. You start a business or organization then endure what is often a long and expensive learning curve. Along the way you learn…you learn a lot. You discover the competencies and incompetencies of those working with you. You learn how to manage cash flow challenges. You learn the ins and outs, the ups and downs of business in the real world.

In a few years the business or organization begins to prosper. By then your role should change from working in your business to having more time to work on your business.

But too often it doesn’t. The business (I use this term in a very broad sense. Even nonprofits are enterprises with a mission to accomplish and must function in just about every sense as a business. The only differences are that the excess revenues received are not distributable to anyone except in the form of salaries paid for work performed) begins to prosper and could expand to another level but something seems to be holding it back.

Could it be you?

How, you object? Because holding on to authority means letting go of responsibility. Notice I did not say shirking responsibility. I said letting go of responsibility. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my early developmental years in leadership is to discover what things, what jobs, what tasks, what responsibilities faced me that only I could do…and giving everything else away.


May I direct your eyes to the banner of this website for just a few seconds? You may have to scroll the page up, especially if you’re reading on a smartphone or tablet. What does it say just under “The Practical Leader?”

It says “Extend Your Reach – Multiply Your Effectiveness – Divide Your Work.”

But too many of us are stuck with limited reach, divided effectiveness and multiplied work…and we’ve done it to ourselves. Like a car stuck in first gear, your journey consumes way too much fuel, makes way too much noise, and takes way to long to get there.


Because one of the key responsibilities resting upon you is the need to empower and release others. To make more leaders. But you won’t be able to do that if you see them as inept and incapable or if you regard them as a threat.

Your role is not to monitor others but to mentor them. This assumes the following:

  1. That you are secure enough in your position as leader that you can share the work and the credit. Insecure leaders seem to be attention hogs.
  2. That you are attentive to who you hire. You have identified your limitations and hire others for their strength to compensate for your weakness.
  3. That you are willing to pass on what you’ve learned to others.
  4. That you will not allow paranoia to stifle the growth of your company or organization.

You can stop right where you are. In fact if you do you are not alone. Thousands of businesses are stymied simply because their owners/leaders cannot or will not shift gears.

Now, by this point I usually get some pushback from leaders who complain that they have no one they can trust, that if they didn’t monitor everything that goes on the whole company would fall into chaos, that every person they’ve ever tried to employ has disappointed them.

They are, of course, quite incorrect. They are either control freaks or they are unable to grow. Will others fail? Yes, but then so do you. Will others disappoint? Yes, but then so will you. Perfection and 100% economy and efficiency is a myth. You don’t meet that standard and no one else will either. It is no reason and cannot be legitimized to excuse oneself from mentoring.

Never forget what your role really is. It is not to make sure everyone does things right. It is to make sure that you… and everyone else… stays focused on the vision and does the right things.

You there, yes you, the leader of your company or organization. Do only those things that only you can do. Mentor others so you can give everything else away.

3 types of confidence leaders must measure

confidence catOn the Velocity Channel I watched a reality show about a classic car restoration shop in Canada. In the episode I saw, the owners of the shop had hired an apprentice mechanic. After a few months on the job they considered him worthy of increased responsibilities, so they gave him a project to manage.

As I watched I found the apprentice’s reaction telling. I am reasonably confident he was more than capable of doing the work because the owners of the business have a reputation for high quality work and they are an old and very profitable company. They did not achieve success by being foolish.

The apprentice accepted the project then began the task of examining the vehicle to be restored so as to determine the scope and sequence of the project. For the next several minutes he called in more seasoned and experienced people around the shop, one by one, to look over the project, asking of them a series of questions. Most of the questions were the same ones he asked of the others.

So what was the problem?

Confidence, or more accurately, a lack of it.

It is entirely to be expected given his inexperience and short time with the company. He seemed to be a conscientious person so I am certain his motivation was to fulfill his responsibilities and complete the project on time and on budget. But it was a big jump in responsibility and he needed assurance and reassurance.

I heard the exchange between him and his boss when the boss gave him the project. The producers might have edited some of the conversation out so I cannot be certain I heard all of it. What I did hear seemed reassuring enough. But obviously he was not completely confident.

But there are three types of confidence that leaders must understand.

The first is Self-confidence – that certainty one has of their own abilities, judgment, authority, and standing within the company or organization. Let’s look briefly at each:

Confidence in one’s own abilities – the knowledge of and acceptance of one’s gifts and talents and the level of refinement of them proven by experience. It also implies an acceptance of one’s limitations. For most people, especially younger workers, there may be a large unknown factor here that contributes to a lack of self-confidence. Conversely, one with an inflated self-opinion may be over-confident because of a lack of confrontation with challenges in life.

Confidence in one’s own judgment – job satisfaction and happiness with life choices play into this. It is impossible to keep personal and professional lives entirely separate. We are what we are and what happens outside of work affects how we feel which affects how we perform on the job. If people have made good decisions they are confident of making more. If not, well then, their abilities to pull the trigger on hard choices will be affected. Whether on the job or off, decisions one has made either build self-confidence or erodes it.

Confidence in one’s own authority – This has to do with how well a person has been backed up by superiors when they’ve had to make decisions. The right to make decisions and pursue actions is critical to developing capable people. People need to know…and be confident or…the power that have to do the job. Keeping folks on a limited power budget (limiting their right to make independent decisions) indicates a lack of confidence (this may be perfectly called for. I am NOT suggesting that you give complete autonomy to anyone unless you have complete and utter confidence in them.) I am suggesting that most employees and associates know there are limits. Not knowing can promote a lack of confidence. The unknown, in any realm, almost always provokes fear and fear promotes caution and slows the pace.

Finally there is confidence in one’s standing within the company and relates to authority. In the case I wrote of in the beginning – the apprentice was assigned a complete project – his challenge was to understand the extent and limits of his authority and what he can and cannot do. And he needs to know what the company will do if something goes wrong and how they will reward him if it goes right. If he suspects he is being set up or manipulated, confidence will drain away quickly.

Self-confidence, in the context of the workplace, directly impacts Task-confidence, that certainty one may feel about their ability to complete the job. I am convinced that most employees and associates really do want to be successful and do a good job. Indeed, a study of Millennials here in the US has shown that job satisfaction, the feeling one gets from doing a good job in a position that matches personal values, is as high on the scale of importance as is monies earned. An otherwise confident and self-assured individual may become quite quivery when they are asked to embark in a new and untried area.

Company-confidence is the certainty one has that the company will not surprise them. No one likes surprises. Leaders don’t like them. Employees and associates don’t like them. It is best to be completely frank in the very beginning about expectations and dangers.

So, what about the apprentice and his many questions? Well, his response is clear evidence of a lack of confidence. Since I was not there when the project was given to him and I will assume that the producers edited everything for time and content, I cannot know for sure what was said. What I heard sounded good enough. The boss sounded like he had confidence in the young man. But there is always a need to consider how we communicate and reinforce confidence in our charges. We must be explicit and say precisely and completely how we feel.

Words mean things. Words are absolutely critical. When you are handing of a responsibility to someone, say exactly what you expect, when you expect it, and what you will do or not do.

But implicit expressions are very important too. How you conduct yourself after the hand off, whether you are meddling, inquiring, or pestering them or whether they feel abandoned, or whether they know you are a resource for them communicates how you really feel.

Developing people is your major job. Measuring the confidence levels of others is an oft-employed skill. How do you do that? I’ll tell you on Monday.


Leadership’s happy family – Vision, strategy, & tactics

basic diagramOne non-profit agency operating in Africa opened restaurants as part of its fund-raising strategy. A charitable organization working on the African continent developed a focused vision and successfully imprinted it upon those who worked in the organization both in the US and in Africa. The board and the organization’s director turned their attention to the pursuit of that vision. They developed comprehensive strategies for pursuing the vision and for funding the project.

Part of the fundraising strategy included operating businesses in the country within which they pursued their charitable work. Some of the businesses they opened are restaurants. The restaurants provided jobs for local residents and profits from them funded the administrative costs of the organization. More than one local business advisor suggested that the restaurants would produce higher revenues if they were less family-oriented (this means that “girls” would be hired to shill for drinks). Since the charity had already defined its values as being wholesome and family-focused, the suggestion was never even considered. It simply did not fit in any way so their response was an easy and simple no.

A defined and articulated vision builds the fences within which your company or organization can range.  Once the vision is in place…and not a moment before it is in place…strategies can be devised and tactics can be implemented.

The qualifier is NOT that it works. The qualifier is that it fits within your strategic plan’s criteria and that it should work.

But it might not. Do not allow you and your company or organization to become inextricably wedded to a tactic. They come and go, work then don’t. The vision is the only constant. Everything else is not.

Churches continually struggle with this but companies do too. We as leaders and managers are always in tension between the forms we’ve inherited and their present viability.

That’s why we need a continuously operating EVALUATION LOOP. See the accompanying diagram. This clearly illustrates the major distinction between leadership and management.

Leaders are primarily (but not exclusively) concerned with the overall direction of the nature of their business. Managers are primarily concerned with the implementation of the strategies and tactics. The best managers are also competent leaders in their own right because they know how to keep people enthused about the job and make productive corrections when they aren’t. The more effectively leaders can imprint vision upon their associates and employees, the more efficiently managers can implement strategies and tactics. Why? Because it makes sense.

The logical connection between all three – vision, strategies, and tactics – builds confidence within those you work with because they come to really believe that you know what you’re doing and you know how to make things happen. No one and I mean no one, responds well to confusion or disconnect between what you say and what you do.

So…don’t allow confusion to enter. Marry the vision to the strategy and raise the children (tactics) in a happy harmonious home.

The principle of risk management

riskLet’s say for the purpose of this article that you have a position open and a slate of applicants who possess approximately the same list of qualifications, what do you do?

You start looking at qualities. Certain qualities are important in almost any job but particularly critical when working in a service industry or in a group. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you might remember one article where I recounted the story of a highly skilled woodworker who applied for work in my shop but who was also not hired because of a reputation for being impossibly difficult to get along with. I wanted abrasiveness only in sandpaper, not in personnel.

So the catch phrase here is

Hire for attitude, train for skill.

Yes, aptitude is important. Yes, credentials are vital. And yes, education and experience are critical components. Assuming the applicant has the proper educational qualifications required and the necessary certifications if any are required the deciding factor should be in attitude.

I don’t want to discount education, certification, and/or experience because you cannot train someone to do a job if they lack the basic skill sets necessary. Education and experience will validate that. Attitude, however, cannot be easily taught.

Now the reason I even bring this up in a series on motivation is the principle of risk management. Hiring someone is a risk for the company. Going to work for someone or for a company is a risk for the employee. Motivation is so personal, emotional, and psychological. It is a feeling. It simply becomes next to impossible if there is not a good fit.

Risk management demands an assessment ahead of time and on-going assessment over time.

A sense of community, a neighborhood in which employees and associates fit, exists at a very local level, within the confines of a very small area. Loyalty is decided and played out in a relatively small group.

This brings up the problem of employee turnover. This is costly in all businesses, can be nearly fatal in small ones when one upon whom a large portion of the income producing potential of the business rests, leaves the business.

There are 7 costs to be considered:

  1. Reduced productivity – the employee or associate was doing something (if there is no loss when the person leaves, either the person was not contributing or the position was unnecessary). If they were doing something, they are not doing it anymore so output is reduced.
  2. Overwork that now falls to others – this compounds demotivation because they feel resentful at being expected to pick up the work without a commensurate raise in pay.
  3. Knowledge that has walked out the door – experience has value. The person that is now gone had knowledge about the way things work. All the training you invested in them has walked out the door and it must be done again.
  4. Connections that are now broken – this is especially true in sales positions and in positions where the person had developed expedient relationships with vendors, officials, suppliers, contractors, anyone who made the machinery work more smoothly. It gets worse. The left person may well take customers with them. That’s money that has walked away, too.
  5. Severance, benefits, unemployment insurance costs. Administrative costs to modify benefits, COBRA notification, stopping payroll, and all those forms that are usually completed to cover all the potential liabilities.
  6. Training that now must be done again – see #3
  7. Recruiting and hiring costs – including advertising, interviewing, researching, background checks, drug checks, and other incidental costs.

Drake International has created a Cost Calculator you can access here (there is no charge to use it.)

Risk management permeates the very fabric of an organization. High employee turnover signals a problem somewhere. High employee turnover among key personnel is almost always a sign of a problem somewhere in the management or leadership personnel. If an employee leaves because of a personal problem 0 they are moving to another city or state, a health or family issue, or something that can be directly and definitely attributed to a reason OUTSIDE the company, the issue is probable not motivational. If they are leaving because they screwed up on the job, the issue is probably not motivational although it could well be a problem somewhere in the management or leadership of the department or company. If they are leaving because the company is downsizing in general, the problem is not motivational. If they are leaving because of any other reason, the issue is motivational.  Do what you can to make sure an employee’s departure is not your fault. It costs too much.

Hire for attitude, train for skill, never ignore the risk.

The principle of systems and controls

helpTwo nights ago we went with some friends to a local burger joint. It is not a fast food place like McDonalds but it is part of a chain. It was the dinner hour and the place was quite busy. After being seated, we settled in to wait, quite a long time as it turns out.

When the waiter did arrive she took our orders, writing each one down, and reading them back to us. However, it appeared from her nervousness that she was new on the job. Since we did have a scheduled event to follow dinner we didn’t have all night. But we’d allowed ourselves plenty of time, we thought.

After quite a while not even our drinks had arrived back at our table. It was obvious from the commotion all around us at the other tables that things were going very wrong. When the orders did arrive, they were all incorrect. Every one of them.

When I looked at the check, a computer generated account of what’s been ordered, I discovered that our specified orders had not been entered. But from her general demeanor and the general flurry all around, it seemed obvious that the waitress was not incompetent, she needed training.

When I took a job at Lowe’s, I sat in a training room for almost a week working through a series of computer generated training modules the intent of which was to prepare employees for work on the sales floor. I soon discovered that what was in the training modules had little resemblance to real life. After I finished the modules, the HR man took me to my desk, pointed to a computer and said, “You’ll catch on.”

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman discuss a particular management style they call “Let alone zap.”  It means employees and associates are left alone to fend for themselves until something goes wrong, then a manager intervenes to harshly and suddenly reprimand.

But I am in the middle of a series on motivation called Flipping The Switch and in a mini-series within that series using principles of banking and finance as guides to effective motivation too.

So what does all this talk about waitresses and Lowes have to do with the topic? You may recall in the article on demotivators, a major one is when an associate or an employee feels overwhelmed. It may mean the skill sets required for a particular job are not there or it might mean they need more training.

In restaurants an experienced waiter usually accompanies a novice until they learn the ropes. There must be in place a system of systems and controls so that all aspects of the business are covered at all times. I am not suggesting that managers and leaders must maintain omnipresence. They can’t. What I am suggesting is that managers and leaders know precisely and exactly what has to be accomplished (the objective), how it happens (the process), and who will do it in what manner (the personnel).

In a list form it is these things:

  • The objective(s) to be reached.
  • The process by which we get to them.
  • The people who will make it happen and what needs to be done with them to get them to be able to do it.

Too often the whole thing is too fuzzy. “You’ll catch on” is not an effective strategy.

In the world of finance, records and reports enable managers to determine what is going on. In the world of people management, the same principle applies. Those reports can be written, verbal, or both. The critical factor is that the reporting be taken seriously.

Those who make the reports see a connection between what they do and what they report. They must never feel that the reports are irrelevant. Demotivation sets in when there is not seen a correlation between what they do and what they report on. The numbers or analysis must have a personal meaning.

Those who survey the reports know what they’re reading, what to do about what they read, and then do something about it. If the reports are good, celebrate. If not, then what?

Remember the difference between discipline and correction. Disciple reprimands for behavior not up to standards. Correction acknowledges behavior not up to standards but instead of merely reproving, it uses the incident to provide training and redirection.

Systems of reporting and control have one more benefit. (NOTE: There’s lots to be said about this subject so do not assume that what’s written here is all I have to say about it. This post is limited to the subject of motivation and manipulation.) One key motivator is autonomy. People feel they have at least some degree of self-management.  But, autonomy is one thing, abandonment and indifference is another.

The waiter I mentioned above looked abandoned to me. She will soon become highly demotivated because success breeds success but nothing advances failure like floundering. Learn quickly when to intervene and when to not.

Systems and controls motivate because it lends the sense of control to everyone involved. Motivation is an emotional and psychological effect reached and advanced in part by mechanical and procedural methods. They provide tools, structure, and one more big component – perspective. Systems and controls put everything in focus and in balance.

That’s why coaching is such a valid vocation. It puts a trainer (that’s you) in the position of seeing the end from the beginning and enabling your associates and employees to get from here to there successfully. Winning players tackle problems more enthusiastically, overcome challenges more creatively, and win games even more often.

The principle of promissory note

broken eggYou see them too if you ever scan the listings. I am talking about the jobs sections of Craigslist. You can make thousands of dollars working for an unnamed company whose application address is a blind one.

This is a common theme of mine.

The setting was a private school. The newly installed headmistress faced a tall pile of unresolved challenges. The school was not a wealthy one but did allow for some reduction in school fees in exchange for volunteer commitments from parents. Therein lay a problem.

The new headmistress was confronted daily with parents who simply did not show up at their scheduled times to shoulder their promised responsibilities. Most didn’t even telephone in to say they weren’t coming. When the headmistress began to hold those parents accountable, one of them said something incredilble.

“We’ve never had anyone who actually expected us to do what we said we would do.”

Keeping promises is critical in every relationship. You cannot build a solid team on unreliable people.

In fact, a national poll released just this week (December 2, 2013) shows that most American do not even trust each other. So bad has it become that we not expect to be misled and let down more than we expect to be told the truth and given promises someone will actually fulfill.

In the first installment of this mini-series, I wrote about the principle of good faith, that law that assures people who work with us that we are worthy of their trust. A relationship, even those on the job, are like banking, loans, and bank accounts. They are built on the unexpressed but nonetheless vital principle of mutual trust.

Whenever I hired people for my businesses I would tell them that I hire people to solve problems not make them. I had no need to pay people to create problems for me because I am more than capable of creating ample quantities on my own. I also warned them that I had a zero tolerance policy for no shows. “If you don’t show up and if you don’t call me, then don’t come back.” If people I hired could not keep that simple requirement then they could not earn wages from me. And I enforced it.

Here’s why.

When you do what you say, others learn that you mean what you say. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Never make rules (like my “don’t show up” rule) and fail to enforce it. If you do, others will learn the very first time that your word in meaningless. Motivation drains away when that happens.

Keeping promises you make and holding others to promises they make synergizes to make a key ingredient that is mandatory for long-term relationships – RESPECT. The esteem and regard held by others towards adds to our line of credit. They grant us greater authority. If there comes a time when you cannot keep your promise, do not simply ignore it. Speak clearly and honestly to those affected and never try to BS your way through. It will only make it worse. When we have respect for those who work for us and with us, we regard them too highly to do anything less than be completely honest.

This principle is called promissory notes because it communicates the image of obligation. Indeed, the fabric of civilization is woven with the threads of personal responsibility and fulfillment of obligations.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. Dwight Eisenhower

The principle of foreign exchange – 6 mistakes motivators make

foreign exchangeIn the first article in my Flipping the Switch series, I wrote about a sales manager frustrated with a top performer on his team (article here). The problem came about because the sales manager and the salesperson in question were after two different things.

The article immediately before this one (the Principle of Positive Balance) I likened a working relationship to that of a bank account. Leaders and managers build a positive balance in their associates and employees by what they do. I admit, a prime objective of this is so we will have a reserve to draw down  in the event of a problem, emergency, or crisis. Too many of us try to function with a near zero balance, always at risk of overdrawing, which places undue and unnecessary stress on the relationship.

The Principle of Currency of the Domain means that you are making investments in things that are of perceived value to the associate, staff member, and employee. The operative word here is perceived. It is simply not enough that we offer incentives, rewards, inducements, values, or anything else intended to incentivize the people who work for us.

It is their perception that matters, not just yours. Oh sure, you can mandate that someone respond to something we offer, but don’t be deceived that they will feel the same way about it just because you say they should. Trying to do that is tantamount to announcing that the beatings will continue until morale improves.the-beatings-will-continue-until-the-morale-improves

In 2012, Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers suddenly eliminated spiffs and commissions for their sales specialists. Especially hard hit were the appliance people. For most of them  their take home income dropped by tens of thousands of dollars. The store explained the sudden change like this:

We know that having an irregular income can be challenging for you to manage because you do not know what each pay check will be. So, to make it better for you we’re eliminating those pesky spiffs and commissions. We will take the total spiffs and commissions you earned for the past 12 months, divide that amount in half, then divide the sum by 26 and add that amount to your pay. After all, we all have to sacrifice for the good of the enterprise.

When the new wage structure was explained to the sales specialists, the manager of more than one store said it was “a positive move going forward.” Large numbers of experienced, productive sales specialists summarily left the company. Why? They did not perceive it as a positive move going forward.

You must reward people in the currency of their domain. It must be something they value, something they can understand and appreciate. In one episode of MASH, the American TV series about a mobile army hospital in Korea, Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester tried to pay a debt with a porcelain vase. The good doctor saw it as a valuable antique piece from an ancient dynasty. The man he owed the money to saw it as a simple dime store pot. What one placed a high value upon the other saw as virtually worthless.

When people work for us, we are indebted to them. They work BEFORE they get paid so we are always in arrears to them. But the curious thing about working is that workers put in more than time. They invest talent, skill, personal worth, and long-term viability with us. When we motivate them we can never forget he sovereignty of THEIR domain and the need to conduct transactions in “currency” acceptable as a medium of exchange in their kingdom.

We have given a lot of thought and written millions of words on the subject of empowerment. It became a corporate mantra for a while with managers and leaders falling all over themselves to assure everyone that they were committed to empowering their people. Sadly, few considered the currency of the domain. FYI – This is a major problem with marketing too. We package and present products we think the customer ought to like. Manipulative people are really, really guilty of this and resort to a number of devices to get people to do what they want those people to do, all along chanting that this is being done for the good of those people. Politicians are particularly inclined to this.

So, what and where are the pitfalls? I have listed below 6 mistakes we make to remember when setting up a foreign exchange bank in your head.

  1. Assuming education equals ability. You may have an advanced degree but that does not make you smart enough to manage people. If we are not careful, advanced years of formal education can blind us with an intellectual elitism. We tend to think of employees, associates, and staff as less intelligent, less perceptive, less understanding. We tend to expect them to allow us to determine what’s really best for them. We must replace that with a higher degree of respect for those who work with us. If we do not we can never understand why they are not as motivated as we think they should be if only they would listen to us. We might then be genuinely convinced that “this is a positive move going forward” when we’ve instead seriously impacted their health and well-being.
  2. Ask people to sacrifice their advantage for your benefit. Sacrifices are for real battles fought for country or for noble causes in charity, religion, and non-profits. Even then the individual must perceive some value and reward. For most of us, the people we employ need a job. They’ve probably believe they’ve made enough sacrifices and are looking to a positive cash flow.
  3. Assume they are stupid. They aren’t and can see through it. When Lowe’s made its decision they apparently never assumed that people could readily and cynically see through the gloss to the bitter reality that while the suits in North Carolina would get more, they were going to get less.
  4. Try to rationalize. See #1. It only makes us look stupid when we try to do so. Just tell it like it is, empathize with those for whom our actions will have an impact, and do the best you can to fix it.
  5. Forget that the reward or incentive must mean something and continue to mean something. Never be guilty of neglecting to build the future on the foundations of the past. If you have a top performer, it does not hurt to continually laud achievement. Too many managers and leaders neglect that communicating instead that “I know you had a good week last week but what have you done for me today.” This does not motivate to do more. It communicates that one has never done enough. Our associates and employees will not keep reaching for the carrot just out of reach inconsequentially. At some point they need a bite.
  6. Failure to personalize everything. They are not going to do things “for you” for very long. Eventually they will personalize everything. Americans are particularly independent. Call it self-centered if you want, but it is human nature to seek out personal advantage. Remember WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. Associates must know that somewhere there is a personal benefit. If not, your efforts are only attempts to manipulate.

Flipping the Switch – 7 demotivators

deflated balloonMotivation can often be very fragile. It is usually much easier to demotivate than it is to motivate. Acknowledging that motivation is almost always intrinsic, that it originates within a person and that effective leadership and management can ignite the engine, this series would be incomplete if I did not give some mention to the seven key demotivators. In case you missed them, the seven key motivators can be found in a post of that name here.

Here is my list of seven almost certain turn-offs.

First – Be Excessively Critical. Direction, guidance, and correction are one thing. Criticism is another. The former points to success while the latter points out failure. We cannot sanction incompetence and we cannot simply ignore practices and procedures that may compromise safety, performance, or productivity. Our objective as leaders and managers is to reach the company’s or organization’s objectives and therefore we must manage the assets at our disposal. If a person is not performing up to standard, do what has to be done to resolve the problem. If the person is not a good fit, find another spot. If the need is for more training, provide it. Constant criticism does not help. It conveys only one message…that pleasing the boss is impossible so why try. Excessive criticism eventually creates employees and associates who will game the system meaning they will learn to work the system to their gain and your loss.

Second – Fail to appreciate. Our mothers taught us two magic things to say – Please and Thank You. They still work. I’ve written quite a bit about this because I’ve seen this demotivator perhaps more than any of the others. In today’s number oriented world, it is easy for managers and leaders to focus on them to the detriment of people skills. When a person or department reaches or almost reaches targets, celebrate the achievement. Do not immediately say anything that would indicate they should have done more (even if they really should have and really could have). Appreciation doesn’t function merely in celebrating achievement. It has a much broader definition. It also implies a regard for others and a respect for their participation. Barking orders, issuing mandates, or blustering your way around the job may make you feel important. It will backfire.

Third – Confuse them. Where there is no clear vision, people wander around. When the troops hear an uncertain bugle call they don’t know what to do. When you haven’t given enough information or you’ve changed your objective without telling anyone, the energy drains away. Be clear, be consistent, and be certain.

Fourth – Ignore progress. Checkpoints are very important. To get what you expect you must be faithful and diligent to inspect. It keeps up your confidence that objectives will be met, but it reassures your associates that they are on track too. Motivation is a feeling supported and energized by facts. Checkpoints provide the facts. They tell you what, if anything needs to be corrected or modified. It tells your associates and employees that they are doing well.

Fifth – Lack of results. The people who work for us are not machines and they are not unfeeling. Frustration is very possible when they feel like they are getting nowhere. This is very probable in sales but it applies in other fields, too. People lose motivation if they try to lose weight but the pounds just do not come off. Employees lose motivation when they see no or few results in their jobs, too. This is why celebration of progress is so crucial.

Sixth – Low pay, no reward for work. This should be a no brainer but amazingly a good many companies to not get it. A major big box store eliminated spiffs and commissions for its sales staff. They then trumpeted a new, noble objective – that all employees should make sacrifices for the good of the enterprise. I am not joking! They actually asked the workforce to make sacrifices so that the company could prosper. The problem exacerbated itself when it was learned that the corporate suits all received bonuses and stock options. Apparently sacrifice applied only to low level employees. People make sacrifices for noble causes and in desperate times. A position at a big box store or for that matter your office or shop is not a noble calling. It’s a job. Reward your staff accordingly.

Seventh – Floundering. Dr. Laurence Peters first identified it and it has become known as the Peter Principle. It says that in any organization a person tends to be promoted to the level of his incompetence. And it really is a downer. When you’re in over your head, the frustration and embarrassment makes things worse. If someone who works for you seems frustrated or discouraged, do some discreet checking to see if they are simply in a position that demands more than they can provide, then determine if they need reassignment or more training. See number one above.

The next post will be on working relationships and what you can do to build your line of credit with those you work with.