Effective Leaders See Their Employees as More than Just a Bunch of Numbers

In an all-hands meeting an excited manager reported,  “Our on-time delivery was 98.9%; we reduced scrape rate by 4%; margins increased 2%; rework rose by 3%; 93% rated us high on customer service; attendance averaged 97.6%; we had no lost-time accidents and no near misses.”

The manager told his story on four-color, animated PowerPoint slides with graphs and emoji’s.  After the presentation, the crowd buzzed with questions and comments.

In a debriefing, a direct report said, “I think the employees appreciated the show.”  Another added, “Yes, there was a lot of energy in the room.  The employees were engaged.”

However, returning to their work stations, an employee commented, “Down here we are nothing but a bunch of numbers.”  Another said, “All management cares about is making their numbers.”

All organizations, large or small, profit or not-for-profit, must deliver the numbers to be successful.

But it takes a set of humans to operate the maize of systems and processes that produce the numbers.   Effective leaders spend time getting to know and respect employees as unique beings with complex needs and dreams.

When leaders care about their employees as persons, they are less likely to see themselves as “just a bunch of numbers.”


Why Fans Boo Referees But Not Players

It’s the opening game of the season.  The receiver for the home team takes the kickoff in the end zone and fearlessly charges up field.

The standing crowd claps and cheers as the under-sized scat-back flattens three defenders on his way to the fifteen-yard line.  Spectators continue to roar.

Why?  The youngster made a bad decision that cost the team five yards.  If the receiver had downed the ball in the end zone, his team would have begun play on the twenty-yard line.

The crowd cheered because the youngster gave a heck of an effort, even though the result was less than desired.  Fans and coaches know that fan approval motivates the team to continue striving during broken plays, fumbles and interceptions.

During the game, players (and coaches) make many mistakes; but fans seldom boo their home team.  (By contrast, referees make very few mistakes and fans frequently yell bad words at the refs.)

Some days stuff happens.  When stress and blood pressure rises, it is tempting for leaders to show their displeasure (“boo”) to employees.  But this may be just the time that a loud cheer for “effort” is more beneficial.

Dollars, Pizza or Pride–Which Motivates Better?

intrinsic-17In discussing how best to motivate employees, managers offered differing views.

“Everyone likes money. Let’s offer a modest cash bonus,” said one manager.

“I think employees would appreciate a pizza party after a good week of production,” said another.

And a third manager commented, “I always felt good when I got a nice note of appreciation from the boss.”

Economist Dan Ariely, in a study of factory workers, found that pizza worked better at first.  But after a period, the boss’s complement had more impact.

Pay-for-performance plans tend to work when employees are doing routine, repetitive-type work.  However, financial incentives actually tend to dampen performance in jobs that require employees to observe, think and decide.  People lose focus on how best to achieve an outcome; rather they twist their thinking into pretzel-like behaviors to do only what it takes to capture the “brass ring.”

Forget all of the convoluted motivational theories and financial schemes for tricking employees to strive.  Remember three things.

One, to attract good employees, you have to pay competitively.  Two, the greatest motivator is the internal satisfaction that humans receive from doing something well.  Three, when you add a dose of sincere appreciation to the employee who is already glowing from a job well done; you have discovered the elixir of human motivation.


Why Do Grown Men Play Football?

football-17What motivates grown men to dress in bright colored garb and race onto a football field in a blowing snow storm that generates a minus ten degree wind chill?

And why, when the referee blows a whistle, do players charge toward each other with the intent of causing bones to rattle?

“For the millions of dollars they get paid,” is a typical answer.  And it is true that a few, very few, football players make enough money in one game to pave their driveways in twenty-four-carat gold.

When the late All-American Bubba Smith ran onto the field at Michigan State University, the crowd would yell repeatedly, “Kill Bubba kill!”  After one game, when the crowd had been especially loud, a reporter asked, “Bubba, how does it make you feel when you hear a hundred thousand people yelling “Kill Bubba kill”?

“It motivates,” was Bubba’s response.

Sure, boatloads of money may be an incentive; but ninety-nine percent of football players have no hope of earning even bubble gum money.  Could it be that crowd applause and fan appreciation are great motivators?  I think so.

If you have trouble motivating individuals in the workplace, consider erecting bleachers and inviting a few thousand people to clap and cheer when employees give a good effort.

Since this idea is impractical, even by a university professor’s standards, do the next best thing.  Be sure that you cheer the efforts of your staff loudly, often and sincerely.