Motivation: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In my line of work, I have seen a lot of ways managers have motivated their teams, or put another way, gotten their people to do what they want them to do.  In my own unscientific way, I have come to the conclusion that inspiration falls within one of three camps:  The (Really) Good, the (Not Too) Bad and the (Down Right) Ugly.

Let’s start with the Down Right Ugly.  This is where the manager coerces their subordinates to do their bidding.  The employee performs the task so that they do not face the wrath of their manager or supervisor.  Have you ever worked for someone like that?  I know I have.  This is the kind of boss where the employees don’t take vacation when the boss is out because these are the good days at the office.  In situations like this, there is no upside to doing a good job.  Employees are paid to do a job, so that is what they do, and if they screw up they go into CYA mode, which usually consists of finger pointing and coverups.  The problem with this management approach is that your good employees are going to leave at the first opportunity while your poor performers stick around until some other sucker is fool enough to hire them or you fire them and start the dance all over again.  Your reputation starts to leak out there on things like and then good help just becomes even more elusive.  Pretty much the only way you can counter some of this is to offer more money, but that is just a short-term fix.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this is a breeding ground for union activity…

Next up we have the Not Too Bad.  I say this because while it is not the ideal state, you could certainly do worse.  This is the classic carrot and stick mentality.  I have never worked in fast food, but I know someone who did. What I found most fascinating about her stint was the “Fry Bonus,” which was essentially a quality control mechanism to incentivize employees not to be too liberal or conservative with the fries. The store brought in a set amount of fries and due to careful calculation knew how many various combinations of small, medium and large fries this should amount too. If the store come within a certain range of this target, everyone got a small bonus on their checks.  Too many fries in the bottom of the bag?  No Fry Bonus.  Not enough fries in the cardboard holder, making the customer consider patronizing another drive-thru window?  Yep, no Fry Bonus.  I’m not knocking it. My friend certainly appreciated the gesture and I’m sure it helped ensure the efficient distribution of those little slivers of salty, deep fried potato heaven.

Finally, we have the Really Good.  This is the point where associates are beyond motivated, they are inspired.  Their sense of pride in the organization trumps coercion and even motivators.  People who are in this state work in the best interest of the company.  Period.  When something needs to get done, they roll up their sleeves and get it done, without either expectation of reward or fear of punishment.  The funny thing about this third state is, I am not sure how to get there.  I did some work for a company where the majority of the people were truly inspired.  They pulled together as a team and the sense of pride in this place was absolutely palatable, in-spite of the fact that:

  1. The pay was directly in line with the market
  2. The benefits were below average at best
  3. PTO was slightly above non-existent
  4. The leadership was not what you might call pedigreed.  Half of the senior leadership had no education past high school, and the CEO stated to me that he was a “C student from [a second/third tier public university].”

Yet the company saw year over year top-line growth in the 20-30 percent range, even during the great recession.  I am still in touch with people who are there and they are still setting new sales records, and if I am being completely honest, this is mind-boggling to me.  How can a company with average pay, crappy benefits and an ego-centric, uneducated leadership team hire, retain, and motivate great talent?  Well, duh!  They hired me! OK, their success was well under way before I started, in fact it was what drew me to the company in the first place.  The only thing I can put my finger on is that everyone in the company felt that he or she had a hand in the company’s success and therefore they took pride in the place where they worked.  This was driven by the leadership, which despite all its faults clearly had something going for it.

So, what are you doing to foster that sense of communal success?  What are you doing to build pride in your organization?  Are you holding your employee’s jobs over their heads?  Are you throwing money at them every time they start to grumble?  Are you enticing them with better titles or closer parking spaces?  Tossing them other perks like memberships to the fruit of the month club? (the gift that keeps on giving the whole year) Or are you inspiring ownership?  Are you giving them something to truly be proud of?  Are you showing integrity and honesty?  Are you open and truthful in your communication?  Do you lord your position over them and pull rank just because you can?  If so, enjoy the status quo.


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