Leader Volume 8, Number 10
Essentials for Motivating Employees in a Changing Environment
and Ms. Boyett are principals in Boyett & Associates
(Alpharetta, GA; fax 770-667-9906; email@example.com
www.jboyett.com). They are co-authors of Beyond
Workplace 2000 (Penguin, New York, 1995) and The Guru Guide (John Wiley & Sons, NY, 1998).
In the past,
business and workers had an unspoken, but very real, agreement.
Business said to
the worker, “If you will sacrifice your mind, body, and spirit
for the good of the corporation—or at least to what your
managers say is for the good of the corporation—then we will
keep faith with you. We
will provide you with a sizable measure of job security and
predictability and we will seek to provide you with a steadily
improving standard of living.”
Motivating employees was relatively straightforward,
although seldom easy. It
was a matter of a simple exchange, the employee’s loyalty and
commitment in return for job security.
In the new
economy, the days of lifetime jobs and simple commitments are
over. Employers readily announce layoffs. Employees just as readily leave for better offers.
In an ironic twist, the new-economy knowledge organization
proclaims people to be its most important asset then treats them
like they are disposable. Balancing
the corporation’s need for flexibility with employee demands for
respect and fair treatment is becoming increasingly difficult, and
effective management of human resources is critical.
How do you motivate your people to higher and higher levels
of performance when all of the rules have changed? How do you motivate your employees when the simple exchange
of the past isn’t simple any longer?
Last year, we
completed a project designed identifying the best ideas shared by
top management thinkers about workplace best practices to deal
with a changing environment.
And, as we enter the 21st century, we can
guarantee that continual change will become the norm. Here are
four practices most management experts feel are essential for
getting the best performance from employees.
These practices all focus on motivation.
Provide Meaning and Purpose in Work
Employees need to
have a reason for their organization’s existence that extends
beyond the stock price, next month's sales, and year-end profits.
Companies must have a product, a mission, or simply a
vision of the industry that employees find exciting and
energizing. These employees may not be with you for the long term but,
while they are part of your workforce, they want to accomplish
Merck is a good
example of a company that provides such a purpose. This
pharmaceutical manufacturer promotes itself as a company that puts
people before profits and backs up that commitment with action
such as putting a below-market price on its anti-AIDS drug and
giving away medicine to developing countries.
Maybe that's why in a recent survey, 97 percent of
Merck’s employees said they were proud to work for the company
and 86 percent said they thought their work had special meaning.
Merck demonstrates a higher purpose than profits.
Be Work/Life Friendly
Given that an
estimated 87 percent of the American workforce has some kind of
family responsibility and 78 percent say that finding work/life
balance is a major priority, it’s little wonder that a key to
motivating employees is being work/life friendly. Offer your
employees a range of benefits such as flextime, compressed work
weeks, telecommuting, job sharing, on-site child care, banking and
dry cleaning. More
importantly, it means working with employees in a genuine effort
to be flexible. The
best companies today recognize that employees have lives outside
the workplace and that they can no longer neatly separate work and
family, career and the rest of life.
These companies don't just help employees manage their
lives outside of work, they allow employees to bring their life
into their work.
MIT and the Families and Work Institute examined the consequences
of reengineering work with the family in mind.
Share the Rewards
In our knowledge
economy, time is becoming increasingly disconnected from value.
The number of hours a person works today doesn't count
except when these hours add delay or unnecessary expense, and then
they count against the company and not for it. Today, value lies in the knowledge and skill which are
applied to create, innovate, produce, service, entertain, and
excite—not in hours expended.
This change in perspective is leading best-practice
companies to replace traditional compensation systems that tie
base pay to hours, position and job content with compensation
systems that tie base pay to skills and/or competencies, and to
provide incentives tied to group and/or company performance rather
than to individual performance.
The latter practice usually consists of some combination of
corporate-wide profit sharing and/or stock ownership or options
coupled with gainsharing and/or group incentives in major
operating units. Employees
today want to share in the financial rewards of what they produce,
and they want to be compensated for the value they deliver, not
the hours they invest.
Open the Books
If you really
want to motivate your employees, you have to quit keeping secrets.
You have to “open the books.”
Two practices that are not typically found in most
organizations are critical:
and Financial Education. You must make a concerted effort to
educate your employees about the business.
This usually involves mandatory training for everyone in
the company. Wabash
National, a trailer manufacturer and open-book company, has its
employees take six hours of training, covering topics such as how
to read financial statements and balance sheets, how the company
makes money, and the meaning of terms such as “gross profit,”
“net profit,” and “depreciation.”
Other companies have employees play games to learn the
meaning of financial terms such as “assets,”
“liabilities,” and “equity.”
The idea is to make everyone in the company “business
definition, open-book management means just that—opening the
books, sharing information, giving every employee access to the
financial and operating data. The very idea of opening up the company’s books strikes
terror in the hearts of many CEOs.
They are terrified that a competitor will get hold of the
numbers. Relax, if
you are worried about sharing the numbers, your fears may not be
totally unfounded, but they are most likely exaggerated.
If your competitors get some of the numbers, so what?
If yours is a publicly traded company, they probably
already have access to a lot of numbers anyway.
And if you are privately held, the amount of information
you can hide may be a lot less than you think it is.
Even if your competitor finds out something new about you
from your open books, that doesn’t necessarily mean that
anything bad will happen. He
might be able to use the information to beat you on a contract,
but he still has to deliver on the contract.
To do that, he has to be either the low-cost producer or
offer something that you can’t offer.
At best, anything
your competitor can learn from your open books gives him only a
short-term tactical advantage, and that pales alongside the
benefits that come from educating your employees about the
numbers. Quit worrying so much about what your competition might
find out about your business, and start worrying about how much
your employees don’t know.
Your employees’ ignorance is going to do you a lot more
harm than your competitions’ smarts.
Just get the numbers out.
As we conducted
our research, we were repeatedly struck by how different the
expert’s “ideal” workplace is from the one most of us know.
In the old workplace, few workers expected meaning and
purpose from their work. At
most, they hoped for a measure of job security and a slowly rising
workers assumed that they had to adjust their lives to their
employer’s demands and could expect little, if any,
accommodation in return. Work
and one’s personal life were to be kept completely separate.
A share in the rewards?
Not likely. If
so, not much. Of course, an employee might occasionally get a small bonus,
but it normally amounted to very little and was presented more as
a gift from his employer than as a earned share.
Finally, every company kept secrets.
Only those with “a need to know” were allowed to know,
and the prevailing wisdom was that most employees needed to know
very little. Times
really have changed. Employee
expectations are certainly much different.
You can’t motivate them any longer with the offer of a
simple exchange—their commitment and loyalty in return for a
job. Maybe that is
why these four essentials are so essential.