Different Paths Can Still Lead to Great Rewards
The other night on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert interviewed Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller on her new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. Now, I don’t want to get all religious or philosophical – but the conversation got me thinking – religion has to be the world’s most universal recognition program. The idea being that if you lead a good life and follow the rules laid out in your faith’s specific texts, then you will be rewarded with some form of idyllic eternity (for instance, my heaven involves eating all the chocolate cake I want without gaining weight).
But if you’re only a “good” person here on earth because of the promise of a reward, what’s the incentive for those who don’t subscribe to those, or any, beliefs? I don’t think it’s fair to assume they’re “bad” or don’t contribute to our society – they just follow a different path and have different motivators.
The idea of different sources of motivation also applies to the work place, and we shouldn’t accept that there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Just because what motivates many people won’t work for a few, doesn’t mean those employees can’t be valuable team performers. Some employees may be motivated by gifts and incentives, others by the promise of a nice pension and an early retirement, the feeling they get when recognized for doing a job they are passionate about, or, sadly, by the fear of getting fired.
The best managers know that the key to getting the best performance from their employees is to understand what motivates them as individuals. Once they do this, they are better equipped to incentivize, recognize and reward the employees in a way that is meaningful and mutually beneficial.
In his book, Perspectives on Managing Employees, our EVP of Technology of Innovation Michael A. Fina, looks at the role of the manager, or coach, as a motivator to determine if those who fail to get inspired simply have no drive to succeed, or may simply need different motivation:
I consider myself a perpetual optimist. I believe nobody strives to be mediocre, that somewhere within all of us there is a drive to do something good, to succeed at something. Even among all the seemingly average work and regular effort, there is one thing within every person that can be better than average. As managers, our job is to help our people find the one thing and develop it. In some people, there is certainly more than just one thing that they want to be great at, and perhaps can be, but they need the help of a coach to uncover their true strengths and develop the skills needed to make success a reality.
Being a coach means putting the employee’s success first. It means making it your priority. The best thing a manager can do for an employee is to cast person in the right role for both the person and the organization. When we look at our employees and the jobs they do, we need to be highly critical yet brutally honest in order to truly assess whether we have the right people doing the right jobs. Getting the right people into the right jobs, through coaching, is harder and much more important than simply hiring bodies to fill seats.
Quite often, a manager sees an employee not being successful in a job and comes to the quick conclusion that the employee is not a good performer, is not a good fit for the company, and should not be retained. All these knee-jerk reactions are poorly conceived. They are the sign of a manager who does not understand his or her role as a coach and a leader. In this situation, coaching is necessary to completely understand why the employee is underperforming. The critical path for the manager/coach is to determine whether the employee should remain in the current role and can potentially succeed with further training and coaching, begin the process of trying to cast the person in a role that is more suited for him or her, or determine whether the person should not be retained. Very often, the result will be that the person is simply in the wrong job, trying to perform a role that is not well-aligned with his or her skills, talents or desires. By moving an employee who has already adjusted to the climate of the organization into a different role, you maximize the recruiting and onboarding investment in that employee. Through coaching, you can uncover where the employee’s attributes may be better used and help that employee understand how his or her skills best align with the organization’s needs.
Case in point: A young man was hired as a shipping and received clerk in a very small company. He was responsible for checking in packages, putting away inventory, filling customer orders, and shipping orders. He was a bright you man and did a good job, but demonstrated no drive to improve. He was content to go through the daily motions of his job. Despite his manager’s coaching to help him improve and grow with the company, he did not show any commitment to get better. Through conversations with his manager, it was revealed that this young man’s weekend hobby was to restore classic cars with his father – taking apart engines and rebuilding them. What he liked most about the hobby was using his hands. He felt he was very good at working with his hands to build, repair, and maintain the cars. The manager quickly realized that there was an open position in the company that would be ideal for this young man. The company had recently purchased a piece of machinery to help automate their manufacturing process, and they were in need of an operator for the machine. The operator was required to learn all the workings of the machine and service all of the technical components. The manager realized that this role would suit his employee well and would allow the company to keep this trained employee within the organization. After some intense training and a few short months operating the machine, the young man found himself doing a job he loved. He knew how to take the machine apart, put it back together, and fix any problem that arose. Through the coaching of his manager, the young man went from displaying average performance in a job he barely enjoyed to doing an outstanding job in a role that suited his talents perfectly.
While I like being a perpetual optimist, as a leader you remain practical and in touch with reality. In spite of the best coaching and the best attempts to put the best people in the best roles, there will always be some employees who won’t respond to coaching. I consider these people to be the ones who will able to find the one thing they can be great at, but in some other organization. Just because a person can’t be great at something in on company doesn’t mean he or she can’t find something to be passionate about somewhere else. As a coach, you sometimes need to help employees realize this and help them see that their talents may be best used in another company.
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