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Feature   April 1, 2013   by Murray Voth, TACT

What gets you up in the morning?

s a parent, manager, coach or trainer, there is always a tension between using positive or negative reinforcement. Are we going to coerce proper behavior out of the people we lead, or are we going to draw out the best they have to offer? Are we...


s a parent, manager, coach or trainer, there is always a tension between using positive or negative reinforcement. Are we going to coerce proper behavior out of the people we lead, or are we going to draw out the best they have to offer? Are we going to be encouraging and uplifting, or are we going to use fear and anger? As individuals our past experiences and our personalities could lead us to use one approach more that the other. Chances are, we will go with what we have experienced the most or are the most familiar with. In some of the work I do, I use the expression that managing people is like herding cats. They seem to have minds of their own.

Hang on a minute — they do have minds of their own, so if we need someone to change their behavior we need to change their mind first. Many employees will change their behavior without changing their minds, but that only happens out of fear of losing their job, or getting yelled at by the boss. We all know what that looks like — their bodies are at work, but their minds are elsewhere. For an employee to buy in to changes in their work place, there are several questions that need to be answered for them first. We all have multiple currencies that we trade in when it comes to our personal, employment, and business relationships. Did you notice I used the term “buy in”? Where would that expression come from if it was not about what an employee spends or commits to at their job?

Chances are 99.9 per cent of you reading this article have been an employee in your lifetime. Meaning, you have had a boss or a manager to report to. Then why is it that when we become business owners and managers, we don’t know what it takes to lead our employees well? Think back to what it was like when you were an employee — what did you like or dislike about how you were treated? Who were the best and worst people you worked for and why?

The Four Keys to Employee Engagement

Before I go too much further into changing an employee’s mind, I need to spend a few sentences on why we would need to do this.

A business exists to provide a service or a product required by society and to create wealth. The first happens when there is a demand for our services or products and the second comes in the form of wages for an employee and profits for the company. Companies need to respond to marketplace conditions constantly. There are always changes in demand, competition, pricing, costs and many other factors. Sometimes there needs to be a complete revamping of the current business model to something new and different. In order to do that, the owners, managers and leaders in a business make decisions to respond to these market forces and create change that will keep the business profitable. This is where the challenge comes in rallying the team to make the changes. Not everyone is willing to change quickly, or in some cases at all. People will not change unless the change lines up with their ethics, financial expectations, and their standing in the community.

Donald Cooper, in one of his articles, refers to four currencies that are important to our customers. They are money, time, feeling safe and feeling special. I am going to adapt the concept of these currencies to our ability to engage our employees and have them willingly join in to making the changes required by our business.

Daniel Pink in his book “Drive” mentions external and internal motivation. I would put money and time as an external motivator and feeling safe and special as internal motivators.

What I mean by this is that the initial motivation for an employee to come to work is to get money to live. They are motivated by money to pay their bills and enjoy the things that money can buy. Many studies have shown that if people have “enough” money to live on, they can now focus on other things that motivate them in life and the work place. I will expand on that in a moment.

When it comes to time, employees are dedicating between a third and a half of each day towards working, especially if they have a long commute. If they are just at work for the money, or are there in body but not in spirit, a day on the job can seem like an eternity.

However, like we said above, if we take money off of the table and work is now about other factors, the day goes by much faster, in fact when we have had a great day at work, we can hardly believe the day is over. Some of you have never experienced this and must wonder what it is like. My hope is you will find a company to work for that is aware of these concepts and works hard at putting them in place.

Feeling safe has several layers of meaning for an employee. The first that comes to mind is job security. If someone is always worrying about how secure their job is they will have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand. Another is control over the flow of work, studies of assembly line workers in the past showed that they ha a very high stress levels, because the assembly line never stops. Nowadays there are stop switches along the way that a worker can use if they feel there is a quality or safety issue developing. Of course there are the obvious safety issues like equipment and protective gear — these should all be in good working order, and tested and inspected on a regular basis. Feeling safe also means that as an employee I feel part of what is going on. If I am informed at regular intervals of upcoming changes, or better yet have been part of the discussion of creating these changes, I will feel much more secure and safe in my job.

When it comes to the topic of feeling special, I am not referring to pink balloons, confetti and chocolate cake. Feeling special at work could be different for each individual, but there are some common principles that managers and owners need to understand and sincerely integrate into their business practices. The overarching principle of this section is acknowledgement. As human beings we all need to feel acknowledged in any relationship we are in, whether parent or child, marriage, the community or the work place. In the work place acknowledgement comes in many forms, some obvious and some that are more subtle. Starting with being greeted at the beginning of the workday by coworkers, managers and owners, and having their name remembered and used (this is more obvious in very large companies). Being shown appreciation for a job well done, or for having gone above and beyond the call of duty. Feeling like you are part of a team, that you are asked for your opinion, that you feel like you have been heard. And most of all that you feel like you are contributing to something bigger than yourself. These are all part of feeling special at work.

What Happens When Employees Are Not Engaged

The Gallup research organization has research that states that only 35 per cent of employees in North America are fully engaged in their work. Essentially this means that all four currencies are in play for them, and this in turn brings out further internal motivation. Several other internal motivations that engaged employees bring to the work place are pride in their work and in the company they work for, care about quality, and the desire to serve, not only their customers but also the people they work with.

We spend thousands of dollars in marketing and advertising to bring customers to our doors, only to have them experience completely disengaged employees, managers and owners. We should spend more time and effort on discovering where we stand as a company in terms of employee engagement and work towards improving that. You w
ill find that employees are more open to change and joining in to make the required changes happen, when the changes are aligned with their four currencies.

Some of you from an earlier generation might be wondering why I would spend so much time on this topic. You are thinking that if the employee wants to keep their job, they should just do what they are told. But the days of an employee putting up with just about any working conditions just to bring home the bacon are over. In today’s business environment, the most successful companies by any scale of measurement are the ones with an engaged work force. As someone who spent a whole career training young people as gas attendants and cashiers to give their best, and to have received multiple customer service and volume growth awards, I know that these principles work. And if they work with young people earning just above minimum wage, they work with mature individuals whose career is in your company’s hands.


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