This morning, as I am enjoying my first cup of coffee and watching my favorite news channel, a commercial came on that floored me. It was a rather lengthy spot for the Service Employee International Union-that’s right, I said Union. They were reaching out to heath care workers in retirement homes. I have never worked in health care but I have a few friends that have and I guess, given the stories they have told, the surprise should be that I haven’t seen this sooner.
On the face, they were asking everyone (workers and non-workers alike) to pay attention to the issues at one retirement center and to contact that CEO because, despite an enormous salary for him, he is looking to slash the wages of other workers- including those taking care of our loved ones. I am sure that they are hoping to call to light this important issue as part of their Healthcare Workers’ Rising Project but even more so my bet is that they are hoping to stir the pot to see how many retirement home workers they can touch who feel underpaid, overworked and not appreciated.
This is, to me, the key to unionization…how the employees feel. Sorry, managers but here we go again with those darn feelings getting in the way of business (yes, I am being sarcastic here.) If employees feel mistreated, the only way that they can see to initiate change in most cases is to band together against the people they feel are at the core of the problem- you guessed it, the managers. There is safety in numbers so by coming together they hope to be able to make things better while not jeopardizing their jobs. By doing this, there is an immediate Us versus Them mentality. The war has begun.
So what can you do if you would like to avoid the war and the union? Create an environment where the management and the employees work as one cohesive unit. Achieving this is not easy and there are many facets to be considered (we can look at these in depth more later) but two biggies are the company culture and management style. Deciding who you want to be as a company and what you value will determine the behaviors of the entire organization thus culture is critical (not just to union avoidance but the everything from attracting top talent to retaining them to giving your company the advantage over your competitors).
The culture has a big influence on management style- whether it is Control Management or Commitment Management. Control management is the one-sided, do as you are told style contrasted by the Commitment style which is a “everyone committed to working together style.” This, of course, in turn affects your employees’ feelings about their work and their ability to be heard as individuals. If they know they can impact the company and be heard with fear of reprisal then they will not feel the necessity of banding together against you.
The one common denominator in all union avoidance strategies is the employee…bottom line to avoid having to fight against unionization or to fight the employees period is to make sure everyone is working on the same side. There is no fight if there is no opponent!
The “Go-To” guy….every manager has one. You know who I am talking about, that person you count on for everything. Great person to have on the team to be sure, but by relying on them completely you are doing not only them but the rest of your staff a disservice as well.
Your “Go-To” can get anything done. They are fast and accurate and you trust them with all of the important assignments. Logical, I know, but the damage you are doing seems to defy logic and may happen so gradually that you don’t even realize there is a problem until it is too late.
Traditional motivational theories tell us that people need to have responsibility and need to feel valued to stay motivated. So by this logic, our top performer should feel great being relied on so heavily. But two things are at play here. First, it is important to note that one thing that can cause dissatisfaction is unfair treatment. Is it fair to keep burdening your A-player with extra work? Just because they can do it, does it mean they should have to? And let’s not forget the rest of your staff. How are they feeling when they see the “important stuff” going to the same person over and over? My guess is that they feel that you don’t trust them. That lack of trust (real or perceived) is a morale killer in and of itself.
The other consideration comes down to equity as well. Does the “Go-To” person receive compensation that is in line with the additional responsibilities or has it just become an expectation that this individual be given extra work or tougher assignments simply because you know you can count on them getting done? If the output (compensation) does not equal input (the employee’s capability and hard work), Adam’s Equity Theory, as well as others of course, tells us that the employee will become dissatisfied and will reduce effort, become disgruntled or disruptive and in extreme cases will leave the job, or should I say leave you?
The decision is not easy and will require work on your part but you have to choose to either distribute the responsibility (which is a terrific opportunity to allow other employees to shine) or come to the conclusion that you will continue on the current path knowing that there is a chance that eventually you will likely loose one or more truly valuable assets to your organization.
I just finished watching the movie about the NFL football player, Michael Oher. Of course, the movie is very inspiring and has wonderful life lessons weaved throughout. Today as I contemplated those lessons I had a thought not about what did happen to this young man but what could have happened. In one scene, Lee Ann walks on to the practice field and has a talk with Michael to motivate him to make the right plays. That scene was absolutely pivotal to Michael’s success and it occurred to me that it was because Lee Ann knew how to motivate Michael that he was ultimately able to succeed.
It wasn’t that the coach did not want Michael to succeed. He did what he knew to do to improve Michael’s performance- it just was not the right thing for this player. If Lee Ann had not stepped in, could Michael have ever reached the level of success he now enjoys? Or would he been doomed to mediocre performance because he never discovered the right motivation to become great? Is the same thing true for our employees? If we don’t find the meaningful way to reach each individual employee, could we be missing out on the opportunity to help make them great?
If there was ever a glowing example on why it is vital that managers get to know their employees and work to discover what motivates them on a personal level, this is it. So, how in the world can you figure out what makes your employees thrive? Start with the basics and work from there.
- Mission and Vision Statements– Do your employees know where they are going and why? With well articulated statements, an employee can understand their role in your organization and will feel part of the big picture. Everyone wants to feel part of something bigger than themselves- this helps achieve that need.
- Human Resource Strategies– Your employees are your greatest asset and your HR policies need to reflect the fact that you understand this and that you are striving to care for your employee’s best interests. This would include basics like compensation and benefit packages as well as internal motivators like training and development opportunities.
- Extra-mile incentives– Performance based incentive programs help to motivate employees to go the extra mile. Identifying opportunities to provide bonuses, flex time, additional education resources, and anything else that rewards the employee for high performance or enables them to increase their performance levels can be great motivators.
- Daily encouragement– Please do not discount the impact of a kind word and the gift of time. Sincere appreciation and acknowledgement of the employee is a hugely, often overlooked way to motivate your employees. A simple thank you, giving your employee your time to listen to their ideas and concerns, understanding and providing the tools that they need to be effective in their jobs are effective daily things that managers can do to help your employees become successful.
There is no magic formula to employee motivation because what moves each person is as individual as the person himself. It is an understandingly daunting task to uncover this information but using the basics above begins you on the path to providing the strong foundation needed to create a motivation program that will develop super-star employees.
The way you treat your employees will determine whether they just “show up for work” or if they give it their all. I am surprised how simple the concept is yet how difficult it is for business managers to grasp.
Every day I hear from employers about how the employees don’t care, how they take advantage of things, how they are unreliable. And for a small percentage of these conversations, I do believe that there may have been some poor choices made in the hiring process but for the majority, the blame lays squarely at the feet of the manager. How can I say such a thing? Simple, because the same people that are telling me about the employee issues they are having are usually the ones working very diligently to create processes and policies that treat the employee as no more than a number. So, why the surprise when the employee acts that way?
This, my friends, breaks one of the cardinal rules of employee relationship management. Rules? Okay, rules is a harsh word and we all know rules are made to be broken but there are a few “best practices”, if you will, that simply have to be given credence. Here are a few of the biggies:
- They don’t call it the “Golden Rule” for nothing. Really, if you can follow this you have got the majority of this employee relationship thing licked. Treating your employees the way you would like to be treated is huge but honestly I think it is quickly and easily lost in the shuffle. Let’s face it, you have a hundred things to worry about so analyzing the psychology behind every process or policy you implement seems daunting. But even a moment to pause and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were them?” will be a great start.
- Trust is a two way street. Don’t take for granted that your employees trust you. Why? Because it is not automatic and has to be reciprocal. You have to earn their trust and you have to trust them. Sure, this is hard- no one said working with people was going to be easy- but it is a critical step in creating a relationship with your employees that paves the way to people who will go the extra mile for you.
- Give them opportunities to grow. This goes hand in hand with trust. You may find the occasional individual that is happy doing the same thing over and over again and that is great. However, many need to grow…notice I said need and not want. This is not optional. If you trust the employee, you can give them new experiences and chances to expand their skills. Not only does that make them more valuable to you, but it also fulfills the employees desire to learn and grow- a win-win situation.
- Create allies with communication. Everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd and by keeping them abreast of any changes not only quells rumors, which can quickly sap morale, but makes them feel part of the big picture. Of course I am not suggesting complete transparency but I am definitely warning against keeping everything as closely guarded secrets and “need to know” status intelligence. Holding back information that could have been shared makes the employee feel that they were not worthy of the consideration- you never want an employee to feel that you do not value them, NEVER!
Whether your employee makes minimum wage or 100k a year, at the end of the day, each and every employee is a person. People are unique, unpredictable, a real handful and a true joy. They are the greatest asset any company will ever have …now the trick is to always remember this and to treat them as you would any precious commodity.
I am such a strong believer that people want to do a good- if not great- job at work. I have never heard of anyone waking up and saying, ” I think I am going to go be a screw-up at work today.” People want to succeed. So if this is the case then why do so many companies feel that they do not have a good, talented workforce? They ask where can they find people that can get the job done…maybe the question should be, “what can we do to empower our current workforce to be successful?”
There are a lot of answers to this question including setting realistic goals and making sure they have proper equipment and tools to get the job done. In my eyes though, the most frequently overlooked way is to make sure that the employees are trained. Manager’s favorite lines to this are, “they can learn on the job” or “they have experience so they should know what to do”. Both of these are true- but they are not enough. It is imperative that a company is SURE the employee is trained. This is too important to leave to chance.
A manager I was having this discussion with really believes that training is spoon feeding the employee and that they should take it upon themselves if they feel they are lacking a skill or knowledge in an area. Okay, fair enough, as long as you are fine with the idea that the employee may or may not know what skill or knowledge is lacking. Proactive training is not such a crazy idea as long as the employee AND the employer are active in the process and get to enjoy the fruits of the labor.