Matilda is the new manager of a highly profitable department in a large corporation. She inherited a group of highly motivated, hard charging “stars” who consistently excel in their work performance.
Unfortunately, in this utopian organization she also has also inherited a fair share of “slackers."
So, what does the new manager Matilda do with her most precious commodity, namely her time? Chances are she takes her stars for granted, after all they are performing well and don’t need her close supervision. They know intuitively that they are appreciated, and she spends her time trying to improve or get rid of the slackers. What does Matilda’s attention to slackers tell her stars?
Unfortunately, the way a manager spends his or her time shouts from the rooftop what is important to them and there is a risk that the stars will start to feel undervalued, resentful and taken for granted.
Therefore, more than likely, Matilda is the subject of criticism leveled at her from both her stars and slackers at barbecues all around Fairbanks today. Her stars are complaining that she fails to tangibly reward excellence and fails to punish or correct mediocrity. If this is the case, (and this really is the case in far too many of our community’s organizations based on analysis of barbecue comments), Matilda, and other unnamed managers are by default, rewarding poor performance by not fixing it, and discouraging excellence by not rewarding it.
People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses and when good people leave there is a huge price to pay in terms of direct and indirect costs as well as lost institutional memory. I polled several personnel directors from the local Society for Human Resource Management chapter and here are their top three reasons for turnover:
“Charlie,” they said, “for what is worth ... In my years as an HR (human resources) director, I have compiled a mental list of the overarching reasons that people, especially people who have worked for their organizations for many years leave and it reads like this:
"(1) They didn't care about me the person: Exit interviews and questionnaires commonly ask what would have made you stay? We often hear, 'my supervisor didn't seem to notice what I did but only what I didn't do. They know me as the accountant, lab manager, (fill in the blank) but never knew me as a person. I never had anyone ask me what I wanted from my job or where I saw myself in three years. They never noticed when I had personal issues unless it affected my productivity and I made sure it didn't.'
"Sometimes even in human resources, we forget the first word in our title, 'human.' People are not graphs or statistics to be rearranged. The best motivation for even most unpleasant of tasks is to know you are appreciated and valued for being you.
"(2) Bored: 'I have done the same old thing, year after year. I can predict the offenders and the crisis times of the year. It feels like planned crisis management.'
"Employees need an opportunity to take on new challenges, even an opportunity to fail. Supervisors are often reluctant to experiment thinking it will result in more work for them. The potential reward is worth the risk. Employees will appreciate and respond favorably when they see their supervisor has confidence in them.
"(3) Disrespectful supervisors: “Mean bosses are not just the subject of popular movies, they are unfortunately an all-too-often reality. The sad truth is that we often reward great technical performers by making them supervisors but rarely predetermine whether they will in fact be good supervisors.
Hope this helps ...”
And now for the zinger: Hiding behind the excuse that “It’s not in the budget” is a lame excuse for not tangibly rewarding excellence. Rewards do not have to cost a fortune. Stars appreciate pats on the back, acknowledgements, bonuses, pay raises (even small ones), or unexpected surprises (positive ones that is), as tangible and motivating expressions of appreciation. But, when those “atta-boys (and girls), surprises or pay increases are given uniformly without discrimination to all employees, including the slackers, there will eventually be catastrophic turnover.
Decades ago I had a dean who printed up certificates for her “lead dogs,” “wheel dogs,” “swing dogs,” and "team dogs." She passed out those certificates when she caught her faculty or staff doing something right. While that dean went on to a great career as a vice president for Penn State, the certificates remained hung on awardees' UAF cubicles for years!
If your boss is guilty of violating these motivating suggestions and takes you (as a star or sled dog) for granted, then cut out this column and slip it under their office door.
You can tell him or her that “Charlie sent me.”
My only caution is that you be sure you wipe your barbecue stained fingerprints off of this newspaper before you slip it under the boss’s door!
Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus at the UAF Community and Technical College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.