The face of your organization is your team. Your front-line staff may appear the most important and certainly they have the most direct contact with your customers, but everyone in your organization has some impact on your front-line staff and sets the tone for your culture. The formula is simple: Happy workers make happy customers. Your people can be your biggest advocates or they can bring down the entire organization. Would you go back to McDonalds if you always had to deal with disagreeable or unhappy people? Definitely not. Have you ever been in an Apple Store and infected by their enthusiasm for their products. That doesn’t happen by treating employees as a business expense. It happens by treating them with respect, involving them in the organization, and making them proud of what your organization is offering.
Treat your team with respect. You’ll not only feel good about how you’re putting a little happiness into people’s lives, you’ll also be investing in the people that have the most power to make or break your organization.
In 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.
Incentivization 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.
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.
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I had a conversation with another manager about the ideal sales rep and sales culture. It’s a conversation I’ve had so many times I knew what she was going to say far before she said it. The argument goes like this, “Sales people are different. They are motivated mostly by money. The best sales people are ambitious (hungry is another favorite synonym) because they want to make a lot of money.” It’s always interesting to me that it’s assumed sales people are somehow different from everyone else on the planet that doesn’t work on commission.
Ambition is not very useful to an organization because it is generally selfish in nature. Ambitious people generally want status. They want more money or a bigger title so that they can show off their new car to all their friends. Ambitious people will often do whatever it takes to get what they want. This might be overpromising to customers, undercutting other team members, or making choices that benefit them more than the company.
What any organization really wants is people with drive and passion, people who are internally motivated to be proud of the work they do and want to make a positive impact. Steve Jobs’ dad made sure even the backside of a cabinet he was building was made with quality and care because, even if no one else saw it, he knew it was there. This is a great example of someone who takes pride in their work. He didn’t do it because he would get a bigger bonus when his manager, if he had had one, came around and inspected the backsides of his cabinets to mark for his performance review. It’s clear he did it because the quality of his work spoke about his character. It represented something that would probably outlast him and he wanted to leave his mark.
People that are driven and have a passion to make something great, to change the world, will do their best all the time because they believe in what they do. Not only that, they will long-term out-perform anyone that’s just in it to get the biggest paycheck that quarter. Even better, they’ll do a great job even if it’s clear that they or their team won’t be meeting their target that week.
In value-based organizations, there is a mission worth working for and the people they hire are passionate about that mission. They don’t need to dangle carrots on sticks to get work done, because they have people that would never think about giving less than their best and would be insulted if you implied otherwise.
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High performance is unsustainable if demanded of yourself and your team 100% of the time. You also need to build in time to have fun and relax. Celebrate your successes. Take a breather after your failures. There is nothing more important than the health, both physical and mental, of you and your team. If people are driving themselves into the ground to hit a target or complete a project, how long can they last? When will they make a critical mistake or leave for greener pastures?
There is always tomorrow and your team will respect you more when you respect their work/life balance. So take a load off and put your feet up, even if it’s just for a second. Put your team before the job and you’ll find stronger engagement, longer term success, and healthier co-workers.
This got me thinking about our obsession with results. Then it got me thinking about sports. In particular, it got me thinking about those times when you’re playing sports and you find that you can’t lose, when everything just seems to flow. But then there are those other times. You know the ones, where your game starts going downhill. Then you get frustrated and resolve to just focus and do better, but all that seems to happen is you get worse and worse.
This is the danger in being too focused on the result or the objective. In sports, when we are in love with the game, practice comes as pleasure and we seem to do well by seamlessly integrating all the different requirements being demanded of our brains and bodies. When we do poorly though, when we get frustrated, practice becomes a chore. Then we start to over-analyze every little body movement. What came naturally before is broken down into component pieces and we can’t seem to connect them to achieve success.
The same happens in business. When we are working at jobs we love towards a purpose we believe in, everything seems to come naturally and the results take care of themselves. However, when things aren’t going well, we become obsessed with the result and it’s all we talk about. We break down every procedure and action to determine areas for improvement, but, suddenly, we lose sight of the whole. Performance continues to decline and we respond by introducing tighter and tighter controls.
What we really need to do is realign around our purpose. We need to find our love of the game again and help our teams find it as well. Instead of focusing on the number of calls or the length of interactions or the number of units produced in X amount of time, we remind our teams that the real goal is providing great customer service or releasing a great product. Once we do that, we and our teams will take the actions necessary to deliver. We’ll re-achieve our flow.