Tag Archives: Motivation and Rewards

Unleashing Potential

Do you have employees who you are penning into a limited role — but whose skills and background (if not current position) enable them to contribute great things to your organization, if only “discovered” and given the chance to excel?

An under-employed friend recently shared her frustration at not being permitted to contribute at the level which she is capable. Empathizing with her plight (one that is shared by millions), I wonder whether companies need to attend more directly to this post-recession phenomenon.  Is there a way to unleash the potential of this vast untapped reservoir of talent, energy, and ideas?

Point of Reference: The Survey Says

While pondering this, I noticed that SHRM’s latest national job satisfaction survey included a shocker.  For the first time, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” displaced job security (63% to 61%) as the most important aspect of job satisfaction.   The bottom line: we want to be secure, but even more than that, we want to be fulfilled in our work.  President Kennedy once defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along lines of excellence.” In this way, we all want to be “happy.”

Recognize These People?

Do any of these folks work at your company?

  • MBA-educated customer service rep—She has fifteen years of prior professional experience, but when she makes process improvement suggestions, she’s told “We tried that once and it didn’t work” (with the unstated subtext being, “Besides, managers make those kind of decisions here”).
  • Non-degreed manager—You’re happy to have him managing the day-to-day HR affairs of your large retail operation (keeping you out of expensive lawsuits on a daily basis)—but when it comes to managing a high-visibility nationwide project, those are tacitly reserved for designated “high potential” (degreed) junior executives only.
  • Receptionist-Playwright—Did you know that your friendly receptionist spent a dozen years as a budget analyst and project manager for a major bank and, in her spare time, is a playwright who founded and leads her own non-profit, community theatre group?

If so, you may have individuals who are vastly under-employed—i.e., highly under-utilized assets.

Unleashing Potential

So, what can be done?  Each company and individual circumstance is different, of course —but just using the three examples above, how would it improve your organization’s performance if …

  • You sought out the MBA-educated customer service rep, let her know that you appreciated her process-improvement suggestions, and you wanted her to keep them coming.  Separately, you ensure that the status-quo manager changes their tune and opens up to change in no uncertain terms.
  • You realize that you’ve advertised a senior HR director role for months without success—all the while possibly having an ideal candidate in-house.  You loosen the degree requirements, focus on who can truly do the job, and invite the non-degreed HR manager in for a serious interview / career planning discussion.
  • You’re reorganizing a chronically under-performing department and are about to advertise for a project manager to lead the effort.  Then, you remember the receptionist’s background and wonder if this is the sort of thing she has done in a past life.  When she jumps at the opportunity and hits the ground running, you smile in satisfaction (and relief at finally solving the problem).

With managers at all levels just as overwhelmed as their employees—having little time to think deeply about the latent skills, talents, and experience of their employees—the “what if” above might strike some as unrealistic.  But what if it’s not?  It might just take some time and a  commitment to dig a little deeper to see answers that might be right in front of us.

Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

A discussion with a friend about his recent performance review reminded me that, as human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion.  Sometimes we can do something well, and still miss the point of the exercise.  This is such a story.

The Story

Looking somewhat dejected, my friend handed me a copy of his performance review and asked me to read it.  Seeing his demeanor, I was expecting to find nasty comments or low ratings on the review.  As I read through it, though, I saw that it was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments –even ending with a handwritten note from his boss thanking him for his service and looking forward to even greater success in the coming year.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he replied.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a Continue reading

Star Employees: Worth The Cost?

Apple's iconic CEO, Steve Jobs, left a legacy of products that have impacted the very ways in which we live and interact. Can the same always be said of other "star" employees -- or do the costs sometimes outweigh the benefits?

The passing of Apple’s legendary leader, Steve Jobs, brought with it a remarkable flood of poignant tributes from every corner.  Many noted his amazing impact – as inventor, leader, and visionary – on the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves.   There is no doubt that his influence and vision will live on in the products and company he created.

At the same time, a relatively small proportion of these retrospectives noted the downside of Jobs’ brilliant characteristics – a demanding nature that could often demean employees.  It seems that his famous creative and inspiring temperament simultaneously wrought “the bullying, manipulation and fear that followed him around Apple.”  This has led me to reflect this week on the costs and benefits of “star” employees in  organizations.

In Jobs’ case, his inordinate gifts seem to have far outweighed – though didn’t excuse – his negative impact. Of course, as founder/CEO, his role was quite different than the “hired hand” position of even the most valuable employee.   I wonder, though, if the benefits of “star” employees in organizations outweigh the true costs in many cases.  Here are a few examples from throughout my career.

Product Creator / Collaboration Destroyer

This employee is revered for their ability to consistently create products that take the company’s line to the next level.  To the good, they can serve to inspire other employees to “raise their game” and Continue reading

Doing What You Were ‘Meant To Do’

Did you ever meet someone who was doing exactly what they were meant to do? If you’ve ever been responsible for hiring someone who was a perfect, passionate fit for their job, how did that make you feel … and what effect did it have on the person, the organization, and everyone they came in contact with?

What a difference it can make when we place "the right person in the right seat" -- where they were meant to be

“I Love This Job”

A scene I’ll never forget: Cold, dark mid-winter morning.  Sophomore year in an all-boys, Catholic high school.  “Modular” (trailer-like) classroom.  Western Civ, second period.  Teacher walks into the room — and slams his grade book on the desk!  He had our attention. We all sit up, expecting angry words about poor grades on an exam, or assignment, or something like that.  What does he say instead? Loudly, boldly he exclaims: “I love this job!”

(He might have actually said, “I love this place” — but the point is the same, of course).

A Tale of the “Right Fit”

Mr. Haig. 24 years old. Skinny. Passionate. Utterly sincere. Being paid probably Continue reading

Is There Anything Better Than …?

Has it been a “long winter” in your workplace the same as it’s been in mine?  

Do you get as much satisfaction from making job offers as the American Idol judges show when telling participants they've made it to next round?

Here in the northeast US, the blooms of spring can’t come soon enough for most of us. While this is true every year, this came home to me the other day when I realized that even the most even-tempered, easy-going, always-a-smile-on-their-face-and-a-kind-word-for-all people in the office were sniping at co-workers and generally walking about with forlorn looks (or worse). Despite the fact that Punxsatawney Phil has guaranteed the early arrival of spring, it sure seems like everyone can still use a few encouraging thoughts.

For my part, I thought it might be a good time for some reminders of the best things we get to experience as HR people … Continue reading

Hope Springs Eternal in (and for) Encouraging Leaders

Spring Training, Vero Beach, Florida, 1994, by...

The opening of Spring Training brings with it an annual revival of hope and encouragement

They say that “hope springs eternal.” Given that much of the country is burried under mountains of snow and/or bracing against freezing temperatures in what has been a challenging winter all around, I thought, “What better time for a few hopeful and encouraging thoughts?”

As a fanatical baseball fan, there’s nothing better — or more hopeful — than the Continue reading

An Unexpected Lesson (or two) from “Lombardi”

The other day, I had the good fortune to take in the Broadway play, Lombardi, about the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi.

The legendary coach, Vince Lombardi

Told with humor and emotion, the show was terrific, the cast was uniformly outstanding, and the production (as theatre in the round), was intimate and engaging.  (Note: It is only running through March — so if you’re a fan of the NFL, or of great leaders, definitely make plans to see the show, if you’re anywhere near New York).

Growing up as a sports fan, I had read a number of books about Lombardi and the great Packer teams of the 1960′s.  My brother, who accompanied me, played football for four years in high school — so we were both looking forward to the show and even got in a football-and-red-meat frame of mind with a steak dinner at Ben Benson’s Steakhouse in the Theatre District before the show. Continue reading