Let Them Do It

As managers, we often want to do things for our team, especially if we know we can do it faster or more in line with what we want.  However, this doesn’t give our team the chance to grow.  It might take twice as long to finish the project, but it’ll get done faster next time and now you’ve got someone who you know you can give similar projects to in the future.

Check in, support where needed, and have the patience to let your team learn for themselves.  They’re worth it.

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Savoring Negative Feedback

Blog - Angry Monkey

Have you ever gotten that angry email from an employee criticizing yourself as a leader?  How about the individual making sarcastic remarks that undercut your authority in the meeting?

These things happen all the time and can really get on your nerves.  With so much else to worry about, the last thing we need is someone working to push us back down the hill.  However, there’s always a silver lining.  The people that speak up are at least willing to do so.  It’s worth taking the time to listen, at least the first time a concern is brought up.  Brazenly negative employees can be a pain to deal with and need to be managed out if they can’t change their attitude.  But they are also your most likely source for the things others might be thinking, but not willing to say.

As leaders, we need to look past our defensiveness and try to glean what we can from the information.  It might be incredibly frustrating to be told that you’re expecting too much from the team in a vitriolic email, but once you look past the rhetoric, it’s worth evaluating if the information is actually correct.  All feedback can be viewed as an opportunity to learn.  Maybe you can even surprise the employee by thanking them for their contribution and acting on their feedback.


You Betta Recognize!

Blog - Thank YouIn my last post, I brought up the myriad problems that spring up around incentivization schemes.  When you incentivize employees, it comes across as manipulative and insulting.  You’re basically saying to your employee that you don’t trust them to do their best and that they are about as easy to motivate as the dogs in Pavlov’s experiments.  With that in mind, you’re going to dangle some bones in front of them to get them to do what you want.  Not a motivating  or inspiring message to say the least.

Well then, if incentivization schemes don’t work, what does?  Recognize your employees!   Then recognize them some more.  Your employees want to feel that you trust them and value their contributions.  By giving them enough autonomy to take initiative and then recognizing the hard work they are putting in, you will not only have engaged employees, but ones that are loyal to you and your organization.

Some tips on recognition:

–  Get to know your employees and then manage by always being present.  This will help you understand both your employees’ strengths and what they are doing well.  In the workplace, you need to give 3 positive pieces of feedback for every negative/constructive piece of feedback, so you need to become very comfortable praising people (genuinely) and praising them often for a job well done.

– Encourage recognition as part of your culture.  It shouldn’t come just from you, but from the entire team.  Put processes in place so that team members can formally recognize each other in meetings, on a bulletin, or in private.

–  Give the credit to your team.  Even if you were driving the project, make it known far and wide who contributed and how.  Leaders work through their teams and recognize that the credit goes to them as well.

–  Look for small gifts that can be given as a way of saying thanks.  This can take many forms – movie tickets, extra time off, a coffee, a small thank you note delivered in a meeting.  With recognition, it really is the thought that counts.


Incentivizing Unethical Behavior

Blog - Fishing for MoneyIncentivization programs work.  They really work.  The problem is they work all too well.  The single biggest problem with incentivizing an employee is that they become loyal to the incentive, not to the organization.  The actions of the employees then undermine exactly the results the incentivization scheme was created to boost.  This is why you often see a proliferation of management policies, bureaucracy, and integrity trainings spring up after incentivization schemes are introduced.  Because they need to be policed for the gaming that inevitably occurs.

Here are just a few of the numerous examples from my own experience:

–  I once had two managers in a row that refused to turn on the air conditioning in the sweltering summer heat.  They would tell their employees that it needed repair or a new system and that they were working to get that approved.  Employees and customers would leave the building exhausted, covered in sweat, and feeling terrible.  Why would a manager treat their employees and customers, the very people they depend on for the success of the business, so poorly?  The two managers in questions did it to keep utility costs low and increase the likelihood of their budget staying within margins so they could get a bigger bonus at the end of the quarter.

–  A notoriously poor-performing employee handed in their resignation.  The manager then convinced them to stay and promised that she would help the employee get promoted.  With the resignation withdrawn, the manager promptly transferred the employee to another center in order to keep her turnover ratio low to ensure a bonus that quarter.  The poor-performing employee continued their poor performance at the new center and was let go soon after threatening physical violence towards other employees.

–  A manager artificially raised her sales figures in the system to receive higher commission for her and her team without any real new revenue being generated.  Because the numbers looked good, the manager received large amounts of praise from upper management.  Other managers in the same position found out what was happening and then followed suit and the problem spread within the organization until some of the managers left and the new people coming in uncovered what had been happening.  By that point, tens of thousands of dollars had been lost in undeserved bonuses, incorrect strategic decisions based on false numbers, and the loss of frustrated employees with higher levels of integrity.

Stories like these are rampant throughout the business world.  We have all experienced the manager or sales person that over-promises, games the system, or only works for the bonus rather than work to support and develop their teams.

Incentives are great for short-term gains in the numbers, but at what cost?  Are the numbers being delivered real?  How much are they hurting you in terms of customer trust and employee satisfaction?  The reality is that your incentivization scheme is actually encouraging unethical behavior and hurting your business in the long run.

If you have to incentivize employees to do their job then you’ve either hired the wrong person or don’t have a mission at your company worth following.  First look at what your company is doing in the community and in the world.  Are they creating value?  Does your organization operate in such a way so as to act as a model for others?  What positive contributions does it aspire to make?

If you have good answers to these questions, then you have an organization people want to be a part of.  It’s an organization that delivers results because the people working there see the value in what they do and want to help the organization accomplish its mission.  Once that mission is in place, all you need to do is hire the people who are passionate about it.

Related Articles:

Why Your Incentive Plan Cannot Work

Daniel Pink’s TED talk on Motivation

Paying People to Lie

Balancing Pay and Commission


Employees are from Earth, Sales People are from Mars

Blog - AlienAre sales people some kind of alien race?

Do they come from another planet where people have different motivations and drives than the rest of us?  The business world certainly seems to believe that’s the case, because it’s the only job on the planet that is regularly compensated primarily through commission.  Sure, we might give bonuses to other positions, but nobody else works on commission.

Can you imagine a teacher that got paid solely based on students that passed certain exams?  How about a doctor that got paid based only on the number of patients they healed?  We would vehemently resist all such practices because it would be insulting, unfair, and potentially harmful.  We assume teachers and doctors do what they do out of a passion for the job.  If that’s the case, then we must be assuming sales people hate their jobs and so we must motivate them differently.

We certainly wouldn’t want a doctor only getting paid for cures as then they might start only seeing patients that were easy to cure.  Really sick and injured patients would be ignored in fear of not being paid.  What if we just paid doctors based on the number of patients they saw?  Would we want a doctor running from patient to patient as fast as possible?  Definitely not, so why would we want a sales rep running from customer to customer as fast as possible?  The same reduction in quality, service, and care that would take place with the doctor also takes place with our sales reps.

We know it would be impossible for a teacher to control all the factors that determine test scores or a doctor to control disease and injury. Decades of research indicate that teachers are only responsible for 10-15% of student achievement.  With so much relying on a factor outside the teacher’s control, it couldn’t possibly be a fair way to pay.  Can a doctor control what diseases a patient is afflicted with?  This is no different from our sales reps who face many outside factors that determine the amount of sales they can make at any given time.  Then, what about the evidence that high tests scores have low correlation with actual life success?  In the same way, are the methods we use to determine sales success actually worthwhile?

Your sales team are people like any other.  They want a workplace where they are respected, not manipulated.  Through selling a product or service, they want to be able to better the lives of others.  They want to grow, develop, and work with a great team.  It seems so obvious for every other job role, why don’t we see it for this one?  Rather than changing your comp and benefit structure for your sales team yet again, my suggestion is to try something different.  Inspire your sales team by connecting them with the mission of your organization, treat them fairly and with respect, and recognize their accomplishments.  Believe me, you’ll see better results in no time.

Related Articles & Posts

Forget Ambition

High Commission, Low Return

How to Motivate Your Sales Force to Great Performance

A Radical Prescription for Sales