What? You Want Us to Give?

It had been a rough month and a half for the company. The recession had already caused the company to cut salaries, furlough employees, and cut benefits. Employees were working long hours to both make up for the work of their furloughed colleagues and to help preserve the company. As the work went into the second month of this, nerves were frayed, tempers short, and personal budgets strained.

The CEO had made it a practice to update the company each week on the status of the business, if there would be any further or extended salary cuts, and when there was going to be some relief. At the end of his remarks, he would take questions typed in by the employees viewing his live address. Over the course of the updates, he had made the following statements in response to questions asked.

  • The money lost from salary cuts would not be returned to employees once business was back to normal
  • Bonuses, which the company used to augment their less-than-fair-market-value salaries, would be very small, and employees better prepare for that
  • There would be no monetary compensation of any kind to thank employees for their herculean struggles

The employee questions were persistent, though. In this particular week, it was suggested that employees get an extra one day or two days off as a bonus for the hours they have put in and the sacrifices they have been forced to make. The CEO pondered that for a few seconds, and then turned the question over to his HR Director, who was also on the call.

The HR Director took a few seconds to reflect upon the question and answered as follows. “I would encourage employees to take the time off they already have”. That was the end of the statement.

The employees couldn’t believe what they heard. First, they were being told that no, they would not be receiving any type of appreciation for the company for the extraordinary work they were doing, for less money and fewer benefits. Second, they were being scolded for not taking off any time in a period where they were working 12-16 hours days just to stay even with their work. There were a chorus of people saying they would be finding a new place to work once this recession ended. Most had fewer reasons to give all they had to keep a business afloat when that same business seemed to care nothing of them.

In order to get through difficult times, leadership needs to have a give-and-take relationship with the employees. The leadership takes from employees during the deepest part of the crisis, but also needs to give something back to the employees to keep them motivated and productive. Saying how proud you are of your employees or giving them a virtual pat on the back is good, but not enough.

By continuously taking and giving nothing, you risk burning out your employees and engendering enough ill will to affect your business even when the good times come back. You risk losing incredible amounts of knowledge, the relationships your employees have created with your customers, and enough social media criticism of your company to make potential candidates think twice about working there.

Good leadership knows practicing all take and no give causes losses all around. They make sure that whatever they can give during the bad times will result in increased retention, happier employees, and a company which will survive good times and bad. Give that extra day off. Even if they can’t take it due to their workload, they will remember what the company did for them when they have the opportunity to go somewhere else.

A Novel Idea for Rewarding an Employee

In my last blog, I talked about a manager who believed she was effective at giving rewards because she gave out ‘award miles’ to her staff on occasion to celebrate an achievement.  She could not understand why this wasn’t the motivating factor that it should be, and why her staff didn’t feel sufficiently motivated or rewarded.  It must be their fault.  It could not be hers.

Not to disagree with the manager, but it is her.  She had a good idea for rewarding her people, but she made a critical mistake.  What could this manager have done differently?  Well, for starters, stop talking and start listening.  Have a conversation with each of your employees to see what they considered a reward.  This manager thought everyone was the same as her.  She considered that prizes, giveaways, and such were a motivating force for her, so she thought it was the same for everyone.  Research shows differently.

The research shows that everyone has different motivating factors, and a good manager takes the time to find this out.  Then, the manager applies the knowledge when a reward need comes about.  To Employee A, she may give a few hours off without having to declare it.  To Employee B, it may be a well-deserved thank you in private in her office.  To Employee C, it may be that certificate in front of the group.  Whatever it is, it is something that has significance for the employee.  Is it time consuming for the manager to find out?  Yes, and that is part of the magic.  The employees see that the manager cares so much that they have taken the time to find out.  That itself is a reward.

The other thing is empower the employees to reward themselves.  The manager in question has been asked several times in the past if they could get a share of the ‘reward’ pot to give out to each other.  The manager has steadfastly refused to implement this.  Whether it is a control issue, I’m not sure, but the lack of implementation of this has caused a greater morale dip than the temporary boost any ‘miles’ give.  By empowering the employees, the manager would be showing trust, and by giving up a modicum of control, she would be signaling things don’t have to be her way.  It is a win-win situation.

Rewarding is both easy and difficult.  With the proper thought, time spent, and implementation, it can be the greatest catalyst for engagement there is.  Done as a throw away, without little thought or creativity, it can do nothing or kill an already sunken morale.  Take the time.  Your employees are worth it.

Shiny Trinkets

A manager sat in her office very proud of herself.  She reflected over the ‘awards’ she had given out to her staff.  The staff member would receive a certificate of some value, which could be turned in for a prize of some equivalent size.  This proved to her that she was adequately rewarding her staff, and would pull out her spreadsheet showing the person and the award any time she was questioned about her dedication to her staff.  She could not understand why her staff was not happy at times, or didn’t appreciate all the work she had put into this effort.  After all, there was the spreadsheet.

What she didn’t want to, or refused to, understand that was rewarding employee behavior was much more than the shiny trinkets she was handing out with such great fanfare.  While promoting the idea that rewards did not have to be monetary, these were the only type that she seemed to give out.

She didn’t realize that for every award she gave out, there were dozens of time she was critical of a staff member for doing something or not doing something, instead of sitting down with the staff member to find out what kind of difficulties lay in the path of getting something done.  For every award that she gave out, there were dozens of missed opportunities to walk over to a staff member and say, “You did great work on this project, staff member, and I wanted you to know I appreciate it”.  No,she was too busy for praise.

She didn’t realize that the awards meant less to her staff than her simply understanding that the workload she placed upon them was unreachable, and that the greater reward would have been her clearing out any preconceived notions of what was an acceptable workload and what was not.

The award quickly faded away every time she said, “It’s not that there is too much work, it’s just that you are inefficient”.  The award quickly faded away every time there was silence when a staff member completed a task or project, because she was too busy on her ‘manager stuff’ to take time out.  The award quickly faded away when she would assign five more assignments on someone the day after the award and walk away thinking nothing of it.  The award faded away when the very next day she would be critical of some little detail and not want to hear any explanation or excuse.

Read any parenting book and it will tell you that bad parenting is just buying gifts for your kids, using that as a substitute for spending time with your children, playing with them, reading to them, talking with them.  The same can be said for the manager-employee relationship.  Good management is more than just shiny trinkets.  It is having your employees trust you implicitly, for they know you have their best interests in heart.  It is knowing how to bring up issues and truly see what the problem is, not just blithely blame someone.  It is knowing when the employee is at the end of their rope and needs your assistance.  It is taking time with them to say, simply, ‘good work’.

Shiny trinkets, when not accompanied by all the above, are the lazy manager’s way of interacting with their staff.  It is ‘buying them off’, and then patting yourself on the back for your good management practices.  A good manager doesn’t have to buy their way into an employee’s heart.  A good manager never has to buy anything ever, and will still have the most engaged workforce the manager can hope for.

Forgo the shiny trinkets.  Be a good manager, instead.

Good Enough, but Not Really

I recently heard about two stories from one department, both very similar, and both very telling.

This department had two employees doing jobs well above their formal level.  Both were managing processes, people (informally so they did not have to promote them), and day-to-day business.  This was in addition to their regular jobs, which were expected to be done.

Within a short time, the department posted two management-level jobs that were focused on what these two people had been doing, respectively, for some time.   Both were actually asked by colleagues outside of their department if they were leaving, because the colleagues had seen the postings, assumed these were the jobs these people had, and concluded that they must be resigning.  The questioners were informed that no, these were new positions, and that the work these two employees had done was at a lower band level.
Both had put their resumes in for consideration.  Both had been called into their respective managers’ offices.  Both were told they would not be interviewed for the position because the manager had received ‘many qualified candidates’ for the positions.  No, no interview, no consideration, but they were expected to be professional and guide the new manager in how to do the job.  Both, as well, were expected to not take this personally, as it was only business.

Pretty bad business, I would say.  The respective managers of these employees though nothing of the employees’ feelings, hard work , or dedication.  No, my guess would be that they saw the current economic climate, knew they would not find jobs easily, and found they had no real consequences for kicking these two employees in the teeth.

Yet, these same managers will wonder why there is no motivation, why work is falling off, or why work itself is not being done.  They will blame the employee, write them up, hold some disciplinary action, and be done with it.  There will be no self-reflection.  And, when the economy picks up and these people leave, there will be no recrimination.

And they will continue to think they are good managers.

These blogs usually end with a lesson on how good managers would act in this situation.  I won’t insult my readers’ intelligence by stating the obvious — that you reward your people if you want your people to feel wanted, needed, and appreciated.  A good manager knows this.  A poor manager takes advantage of the current economic climate and scratches their head when morale and productivity plummets.

Rewarding Behavior

Years ago in high school, I had a teacher who either took an instant like to you or an instant dislike.  There was no in between with this teacher.  The reasons for this liking or disliking were mysterious.  One story went that a student had a large, oversized paper clip on her book as a decoration.  The teacher thought that was great.  The student was in good graces for the rest of the year.

I am reminded of this story because of a conversation I recently had with a remote employee of an organization.  She had regularly been working 60 hour weeks to accomplish the goals given to her by her supervisor.   Where in the main office, these tasks were handled by five different people, since she was the sole representative in the remote office, she had to handle everything, or be written up for not doing her job.   She wanted to keep her job, so she was putting in the hours to get everything done.  This yeoman’s work was greeted with a simply acknowledgement from her supervisor.

One of the items she had to do was hold a ‘get to know the department’ event in her office.  She came up with an interesting way of doing this, using a Wheel of Fortune type of activity.  It went over well with the staff and she reported the result.

Her supervisor was ecstatic.  This was fantastic!  What a great idea!  The supervisor immediately put the employee in for a reward for this.

While the employee was happy to get some recognition, it also left her scratching her head.  Here she was working sixty hours a week and receiving no recognition whatsoever.  She holds one event with a prop wheel and is put in for an award.  Large paper clip, anyone?  Though her supervisor would not understand this, this actually insulted the employee in the end.  She was not recognized for doing work above and beyond what was a fair load for her.  Instead she was recognized for a prop wheel.

Rewards and recognition can be a powerful motivator for an employee, but they have to be used properly.  If the employee is rewarded for something insignificant, but ignored for items they think they should be awarded for, the reward can backfire.  While it is a good insight to the thinking of the manager, it also becomes a demotivating force for the employee.

How do you overcome this?  A good manager will find out what is significant to the employee and design a reward around that significance.  A manager who just uses their own personal yardstick to judge behavior which should be rewarded risks alienating an employee more than rewarding them.  In this case, the manager could have taken the employee aside, in a sense, and rewarded them for such hard work in trying to make the job work.  No, this manager decided that the overwhelming burden was the normal course of work and did not need rewards.  Since the manager used her own yardstick as the sole arbiter of rewardable behavior, she missed an opportunity for engagement and further tarnished her own reputation as being in touch with her workforce.

A good manager will reward their employees.  In addition, a good manager will spend time with each employee to find what will motivate them most, instead of relying solely on their own judgement.  All that does is show the manager couldn’t care what her employees think.