Category Archives: Managing

Knowing Is Half The Battle

Trolling across the pages of BusinessWeek, I came across an interesting article about the surprisingly high turnover many nonprofits encounter and the “leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

“Earlier this year, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece that noted how poorly most nonprofits manage their volunteers. As a result, more than a third of the 60 million-plus Americans who donate their time and talents one year don’t do so the next—not only at the organization where they’d signed up, but at any nonprofit at all. Some call this “the leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

There are a host of reasons for this pullback, according to the analysis, including nonprofits inadequately recognizing the contributions of their volunteers and a lack of training among volunteers and their managers.

But Robert Grimm, director of research and policy development at the Corporation for National and Community Service and one of the authors of the article, believes there’s a more fundamental issue to grapple with: It isn’t so much that volunteers have nightmarish experiences at nonprofits, he says; it’s that they have “bland” ones.”

This certainly sounded familiar to me and I’m sure it sounds familiar to many of those in for-profit organizations as well. Who hasn’t experienced being “inadequately recognized for their contributions” and noticed a “lack of training among workers and their managers?”

Gone are the days where most companies hired the best and brightest kids out of school and groomed them through training and mentoring for corporate positions. Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Gone are the days where organizations treated human capital as human. More often than not, modern workers are being treated as interchangeable cogs in a machine rather than creative, innovative thinkers with potential who are essential to the growth and prosperity of a business.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on how small companies are luring big-company talent neatly underscored this mindset:

“In March, Jack Rabbit Collection LLC, a three-person handbag and leather-accessories maker in Los Angeles, was able to snag a large rival’s design-development executive after that person was laid off.

Founder Mollie Culligan says the new hire, who has connections to tanneries and vendors, has helped the label reduce per-unit costs 20%.

Plus, Ms. Culligan doesn’t have to spend as much time mentoring and can instead concentrate on her design work.

“Before, I had to train people myself and really dump so much energy into inexperienced people who didn’t really add value,” she says.”

Why is training and mentoring seen as so much of a burden for employers?

I see scores of job ads searching for that elusive person with the exact, unique set of skills who can “hit the ground running” with little to no guidance. What person will honestly be able to have 100% of the skills and knowledge to function with no on-boarding whatsoever? I’ve watched first hand how management has hired talented people with a great background from outside the industry who end up floundering and eventually leaving because they simply do not understand the specific business model of this company and therefore could not be successful at their work. No one bothered to explain it to them when they started and even if the new hire was motivated enough to ask someone, chances are that person didn’t know either.

It is ridiculous for companies to invest nothing in their employees up front (in terms of knowledge and guidance, not salary and benefits) but expect a maximum return. Viewing workers as dynamic individuals with unique skills, motivators and potential rather than a vessel for tangible skills is the key to better worker engagement and sustained company growth.   

The moral of the story is this:

  • Empowering employees to make decisions and generate ideas helps the business.
  • Employees cannot formulate informed decisions or ideas without a minimum amount of knowledge about the company and its goals.
  • Determining a set level of basic knowledge and disseminating that your employees on the first day, week or month of hire will not only increase the likelihood of their job satisfaction (because they feel empowered and informed) but will improve your bottom line due to the creativity and productivity of your team.

As GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

The Six Types of Motivation

Chris Young of The Rainmaker Group left a comment on the syndication of my blog over at Brazen Careerist that offered an interesting perspective on what really motivates people. I wanted to share it with everyone here:

The short answer is not everyone is motivated by the same things. I have found that there are 6 major “types” of motivators. With each type of motivator, I am including an example of an activity or reward that can motivate the person more appropriately.

1. Utilitarian – motivation for money as well as efficiency. People high in this particular value are more “careful” with how they spend their time, energy, and may want to make more money. $1000 in cash may motivate.

2. Knowledge – motivation to learn, to understand the “truth” about something. People with a high knowledge “factor” may want to spend more time learning. The reward may be to actually send them to additional learning opportunities as a reward. Literally a reward for learning and completing a test may be additional learning. A $1000 learning program may motivate.

3. Social – motivation to help others. A proper reward for someone with a high Social motivator may be to give them a day off to give back to the community. A $1000 donated to a desired cause may motivate.

4. Aesthetic – motivation for nice things, surroundings, clothing, life-fulfillment. A reward for someone with a high Aesthetic may be to give them a pass to an art gallery, a gift certificate to a high-end clothing store, a home-decorating gift card, or a pass to bungee jumping. A $1000 membership to several museums may motivate.

5. Power – motivation to control one’s own destiny as well as the destiny of others. A way to motivate someone with a higher power motivation is to let them lead a project, lead others, or perhaps a gift certificate for professional career planning. A $1000 investemnt in leadership development may motivate.

6. Tradition – motivation to live one’s life according to a set standard. Depending upon one’s beliefs, a person may be motivated by their specific belief system and any type of respect of or recognition of this belief system. A $1000 donation to someone’s belief system may motivate.

The assumption that money motivates everyone is not a true assumption. In fact one person’s motivations may offend another person. There are resources one may use to identify what motivates someone. At the very least, the best thing to do is create a short survey specific to each person to identify what best motivates them. In other words – ask – do not assume.

Thank you Chris for your insightful comments.

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Money is No Stand-In For Motivation

One of the first few posts I wrote on this blog chronicled a story about a pilot program in several New York City public schools that offered monetary or material incentives (such as ipods or gift certificates) to students for doing “typical” student tasks such as attending classes, completing homework assignments or achieving high scores on standardized tests.

Ronald Fryer, the head of one such project had this to say about the program in a January interview with U.S. News & World Report:

“Roland Fryer, a Harvard professor of economics, says it’s “absurd” to expect children who grew up in poverty, with parents who, for example, dropped out of school, to appreciate the value of education without giving them immediate rewards for taking school seriously. As the chief equality officer for New York City public schools, Fryer oversees a pilot program that pays students from low-performing schools $25 and $50 for doing well on standardized tests. “We’re not undermining this idea of learning for the love of learning,” Fryer says. “We’re trying to cultivate it by making education tangible for these kids.”

Eight months later the results are in:

Money does not singularly improve performance.

According to the New York Times, a similar program encouraging high school students to take and score highly on Advanced Placement exams has produced more test takers, but less high achievers than in the previous year (with no monetary incentive).

“Offered up to $1,000 for scoring well on Advanced Placement exams, students at 31 New York City high schools took 345 more of the tests this year than last. But the number who passed declined slightly, raising questions about the effectiveness of increasingly popular pay-for-performance programs in schools here and across the country.

Students involved in the program, financed with $2 million in private donations and aimed at closing a racial gap in Advanced Placement results, posted more 5’s, the highest possible score. That rise, however, was overshadowed by a decline in the number of 4’s and 3’s. Three is the minimum passing score.”

About 400 more students took the test this year this last, most, presumably, to have a shot at taking home about $1000. Yet, while they were motivated enough to show up, the students were unable to achieve a high enough score to pass, failing to achieve the desired effect.

Does money offer only enough motivation to try but not to succeed?

“I’m just dumbfounded that they can regard this as an achievement or as a great improvement or as something worth spending the money on,” said Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who had expressed cautious support for the Advanced Placement program when it was announced last fall. “I’m surprised that that kind of money, that kind of incentives, doesn’t produce better results. It sort of undercuts the argument that the problem is the question of motivation.”

I tend to agree with Mr. Stern. In the business world, we are offered monetary incentives to show up to work everyday in the form of a paycheck. It’s enough to get people through the door everyday, but once they’re there, how does an employer get them to produce, achieve and excel? The employees may be motivated to do well but may lack the tools or skills necessary to achieve their goal, whether it be signing up new clients or discovering new revenue streams.

Offering a student $1000 to do well on a test but not ensuring that they have adequate preparation or good study habits sets many students up to fail. A student may really, really want that $1000, but, never haven taken an Advanced Placement test before, may not have figured out the best test-taking techniques, or found the material too challenging or just had an off day during the exam. In that case, the money would have been better spent on prepping the student rather than incentivizing them. Motivation wasn’t the missing piece in this equation, it was the skills and knowledge needed to score well on the exam.

My own experience with bonus programs in the workplace has been mixed. I once worked for a company that proudly boasted that its bonus program accounted for roughly 15% of total employee compensation. The bonuses were based on company wide financial projections and were handed out at the end of every quarter. After several quarters of poor financial performance many employees (including myself) were starting to get upset about the smallness of our paychecks. Complaining about it one night at dinner to a friend, who worked for an hourly paid wage and didn’t receive bonuses (but did get time and half for overtime), dismissed me without sympathy saying I was lucky to get a bonus at all.

My response was,

“How would you feel if you worked hard all quarter and then, because of circumstances out of your control, you only received 85% of your pay?”

Talk about de-motivating.

I think the real problem is that there is no one way to motivate everyone. Some people might find that extra money in their pocket enough to out perform others. Some might value the competition with other students/employees for top prize. And then others might put more emphasis on perks like flexible hours or free food. The trick for managers is to get to know their employees, find out what makes them tick, and then create an incentive that plays to their natural motivation.

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Finding Value In Every Employee

In these seemingly dark economic times, tough decisions are being made in executive offices across the country: with less revenue this year than last, who gets to stay and who gets let go?

These are tough questions with no easy decisions (well, maybe a few easy decisions). The obvious answer is to keep the highest performing employees, who bring in big bucks and big clients. The folks over at Harvard Business Review, however, disagree with this approach.

Who’s most critical to your company’s success, especially during a weak economy? Who supplies the stability, knowledge, and long-term view your firm needs to survive? B players—competent, steady performers far from the limelight.

These supporting actors of the corporate world determine your company’s future performance far more than A players—volatile stars who may score the biggest revenues or clients, but who’re also the most likely to commit missteps. B players, by contrast, prize stability in their work and home lives. They seldom strive for advancement or attention—caring more about their companies‘ well-being. Infrequent job changers, they accumulate deep knowledge about company processes and history. They thus provide ballast during transitions, steadily boosting organizational resilience and performance.

Yet many executives ignore B players, beguiled by stars’ brilliance. The danger? If neglected, these dependable contributors may leave, taking the firm’s backbone with them. How to keep your B players? Recognize their value—and nurture them.

While these so-called “A players” are dreaming up the next big idea that will rocket the company to super stardom or wining and dining a major client whose business will take the company into a higher tax bracket, the B players are working diligently in their cubicles putting together presentations, managing client relationships and keeping the company running each and every day.

By sheer dollar measure, B players don’t appear to bring in as much value as an A player, but in terms of long-term value to a company, B players are the ones holding the key to the company vault so to speak. Though B players may lack the motivation or dazzle of more ambitious A players for a variety of reasons, they still provide vital production, intelligence and project management skills that if measured in hard dollars, would far surpass those of their more prominent A counterparts.

In my own experience, I’ve seen examples of B players being devalued and even let go–to the detriment of their respective employers. One solid B player, well beloved and respected by both those in his department and those outside of it, was unceremoniously fired one day for requesting that he get paid what he was worth. Apparently, management decided to value their bottom line over a quality employee with a history of good performance and working 10-hour days (with no overtime).

Another B player I know, who fits Harvard’s description to a T, is seriously job hunting after his manager refused several times to promote him citing his “lack of motivation” to take on new projects—even though this B player has the heaviest workload and manages the highest number of projects of any member of his department. Instead this player’s manager chose to commit the biggest mistake of any manager: promoting what I like to call the “F Player.”

An F (for “fake”) player is one who masquerades as an A player but in reality produces little to no value to the company. They get ahead by capitalizing on their generally excellent public speaking and persuasion skills, pulling the wool over management’s eyes as to their actual contributions. B players can always ferret out an F player, another reason why they are so valuable to have around.

During any hiring or firing deliberations, it’s important for management to remember that every company needs “worker bees.” Companies made up solely of idea men will be great at coming up with hot new products, but crippled by their inability to execute on them if they do not retain enough B players to build their products.

Michael Scott, Steve Carrell’s character on the hit show, The Office, once recited a great quote about the role of managers:

“Good managers don’t fire people. They hire people and inspire people.”

Although Michael Scott’s character is the poster-child for bad management, his message still rings true.

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When Working From Home is a Sham

What if you could come into the office anytime you felt like it, or even stop coming in altogether? What if you could take a late morning run or volunteer in an after-school program but still get paid a full-time salary? What if you only had to work 4 hours a day?

Sound like your dream job? Sure, as long as you’re not the manager.

There has been much ado about Results Oriented Work Environments (ROWE), the latest in work/life balance programs. Under ROWE, there are no office hours. As long as workers complete their projects and deliver results, they are allowed to work whenever and wherever it suits them. Most notably being implemented by electronics giant, Best Buy, ROWE is promised to be the panacea for worker (dis)engagement.

Trust workers with their freedom and they will reward the company with riches.

If only business were so simple.

I’ve often fantasized about working from home. How great would it be to sleep in on weekdays, grocery shop without the crowds, never worry about missing a meeting because of a doctor’s appointment? As an employee, the freedom to not work would be an awesome benefit.

But as a manager, I realize that working from home takes discipline, a lot of it, and that most people don’t have the focus to work three feet from a bed and HDTV. This spells disaster for me and my bottom line.

In my own experience, most people who “work from home” (WFH) aren’t really working (exempting people with home offices or special set-ups who actually do work from home). How do I know this? They’ve told me. I once worked in an office with a very liberal WFH policy and the employees abused it so much that upper management had to revoke the policy. Now no one there is allowed to work from home without authorization from the president. Sound harsh? It probably was, but considering employees would send emails like the one below, you can see why they would do that.

Actual example (altered to protect privacy) of an email sent to all employees at my company:

Hello,

I will be working from home today. If you need anything my email is xxxx@notworking.com and my cell is (123) 555-1234.

But I will be watching [insert important sport event here] all day so I probably won’t answer or be much use to you.

See you all tomorrow.

So much for all this extra productivity when working from home. You could make the case that this employee watched the game and then did some work. I can tell you that he most likely didn’t.

In a guest post on Penelope Trunk’s blog, Ryan Healy says this in praise of ROWE:

It’s a win-win situation. Half of the American population will no longer hate their jobs, which will inevitably lead to increased production for the corporations. The only sector that could possibly lose out is pharmaceutical, when clinical depression reaches an all-time low. And that’s just fine by me.

Is freedom from office hours enough of a reason for people to stop hating their jobs?

I highly doubt it. If you hated working in sales because you had to make 50 cold calls a day, would you really be that much happier if you got to make 50 cold calls a day in your bathrobe? If you disliked proofreading press releases, would sitting on a park bench make looking for commas that much more enjoyable? Maybe. Maybe not.

Case in point, the above email writer, someone who took an unlimited amount of “WFH” days to watch football, basketball, soccer or whatever sports event he wanted, with little to no financial or professional ramifications, left after 2 years with the company, allegedly because he felt “unappreciated.”

A change of scenery can’t cure everything.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Management

We all know managers make mistakes once and a while (they’re not perfect, you know) but some errors are much bigger and more serious than others. Here is my list of the seven most egregious blunders that managers make:

1. Discounting the Little Things. Perks such as fresh donuts in the kitchen, cards on birthdays or even fancy lotion in the bathroom brand a company’s image into the minds of its employees. Showing employees that a company cares about their well-being sets the tone for how they will treat the business in return.

2. Hogging the Glory. A recent study found that 37% of business workers said their bosses didn’t give credit where credit was due. Rewarding someone for a job well done is a key component of achievement. In order to have employees who persistently want to excel at their jobs, it is important to recognize their continual accomplishments.

3. Embracing Bureaucracy. A certain amount of formal process is required to run any organization successfully, but bogging employees down in a mountain of paperwork anytime they need to make a decision doesn’t help anyone be more productive. A manager should trust employees to make their own decisions. If they weren’t capable, they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

4. Ignoring the Obvious. I do think that leaders need to stay positive in order to keep people motivated. However, if optimism comes at the expense of the truth, the company and its employees, I don’t think it’s worth it. If profits are down, turnover is rising and the competition is closing in, it’s better to come clean with rather than trying to play things down. People want to follow leaders that they trust and they can’t trust someone who doesn’t tell them the whole story.

5. Not Listening. Giving employees a real voice not only helps employees feel valued but it also benefits the company’s bottom line. Shutting people out shuts out new ideas as well. Employees need an outlet to express their opinions and ideas. Employees want to see their business succeed, and can be a priceless resource of information and advice.

6. Encouraging Hierarchies. Artificially ranking employees fosters a competitive culture within a team. Some say competition is a way to make people more productive. I feel it does the opposite. Time and energy will be wasted trying to win over a manager’s approval instead of working toward satisfying a customer and building market share.

7. Working Politics Instead of People. A manager can choose to manage up or manage down. Whatever approach they choose will affect how they relate to other employees. By focusing efforts upwards, a manager neglects the very people critical to his/her success. A manager can only be as successful as those (s)he manages.
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                A Plea to Baby Boomers: Please Stop Bashing My Generation

                It seems that everywhere I look, I see some article or blog post about “Gen-Y” or “Millennials” (Am I the only person who thinks that name sounds silly?) in the workplace. There are heaps and heaps of articles about generation Y: what they want, what their goals are, how to recruit them and make them happy. There are also many, many posts from managers describing how bratty Millennials can be. As a member of what could effectively be labeled “The Dreaded Generation,” I have definitely seen examples of bad behavior but at the same time I am resentful that my generation is earning such a bad reputation.

                The adjectives “greedy,” “entitled,” and “know-it-all” seem to come up frequently when it comes to labeling members of Generation Y. The general consensus seems to be that Millennials are a product of a spoiled upbringing by helicopter parents in an on-demand, instant-gratification culture. Their sense of entitlement comes from being handed everything by authority figures, and their exaggerated bank of knowledge from being over-educated. I definitely agree that this could be true for a lot of people, regardless of what generation they were born into.

                However, I have a different theory as to why Generation Y seems to be the most spoiled, overindulged and arrogant of all the generations that came before them:

                They are immature.

                And what’s more?

                They’ll grow out of it.

                Greediness, a sense of entitlement and overconfidence are all symptoms of immaturity and lack of experience.

                It’s great that young people today are optimistic about their futures and want to accomplish everything they can in work as well as life. I think the problem stems from wanting everything at once, right away, without a clear plan on how to get it. That is the nature of youth. Conflict arises between older generations who are insulted by a perceived lack of respect and younger generations who are frustrated that they aren’t accomplishing their goals. I think that both parties can be happy by finding the middle ground.

                My Advice to Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Beyond

                What Millennials need from you is compassion and more importantly, guidance. Younger workers want more from life than a steady paycheck and the corner office. They might come into your office demanding flex-time, recognition or continuing education. Know that lots of workers, not just members of Gen Y, want these things.

                If you’re a manager, instead of balking at the impertinence of such demands from someone who is only 7 months into their career, use these perks to motivate your employees. Impress upon the Millennials that if they can get from point A to point B, proving themselves along the way, that they can have more vacation time, promotions or whatever else they desire. It’s important to emphasize that perks must be earned and then outline the steps they can to take to deserve them.

                By mentoring Millennials instead of alienating them, you will not only help someone find more happiness professionally and personally but you’ll be helping the bottom line by retaining productive and tech-savvy workers with years of contributions ahead of them.

                My Advice to Generation Y

                Even if you decide to run your own company, you will at some point, have to play by someone else’s rules. You’ll attract more flies with honey than by trying to catch them one by one in a jar and demand that they give you flexible hours.

                The greatest asset of youth is that people are willing to teach you. Soak up all the information you can about your industry while you have none of the responsibility for failure. Sure you may be fetching coffee and making Xeroxes but you also have the opportunity to learn about the hottest new technology or stock. That information is valuable and you can use it later when you decide to change jobs or start your own business.

                The biggest favor you can do for yourself at work is practice humility. What you don’t know will always outweigh what you do. Your goal should be to continuously try to flip that ratio while showing the higher-ups that you are worthy of reward and praise. Remember that a college degree is not a golden ticket to success, hard work is.

                Working Together

                If more managers could be just a little more understanding of the follies of youth and if more Millennials could be just a little more patient when trying to accomplish their goals I think we might just be able to take a few steps towards closing that generational gap.