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Stupid Motivational Tricks

December 28, 2006

This week a Wall Street Journal writer suggested a radical idea to America’s corporations. Jared Sandberg recommended that companies make a New Year’s Resolution to “Lose the goofy team-building exercises.” Think rope courses, paintball parties, firewalking and goldfish-swallowing.

Jared Sandberg’s article is titled “Can Spending a Day Stuck to a Velcro Wall Help Build a Team?” For an opinion piece, it’s properly balanced and correctly researched. But, it’s also a great reminder of the lengths that some companies will go to try to motivate and rouse their employees.

The bottom line, in his opinion, is that these sorts of crazy motivational concoctions are well, crazy. He quotes Margaret Neale of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business about such motivational approaches, “What they don’t do is improve team performance.”

Better yet is the vigorous discussion board that accompanies this article. It’s called “Cubicle Culture Forum” and once again – sorry, if you don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, you can’t get to the article or the forum links in this post.

My favorite quote among many on the Cubicle Culture Forum was this one: “I’ve been fortunate to work under outstanding bosses in good companies, and also had the agony of working under terrible supervisors in dysfunctional organizations. Not surprisingly, every “team-building” exercise I’ve been forced to participate in was in one of the latter settings.”

So, what does motivate employees? What can improve team performance? In this Dilbert Age, is it still possible to inspire the troops?

Perhaps the ways we look to inspire, encourage and build commitment should be changing just as much as the world around us is changing. The biggest change in the world today has to do with access to information. The Internet has made information instantly available, but, unfortunately not instantly retrievable. That actually takes some training and some skill development.

In fact, this instant access to information is why TIME Magazine chose, ahem, YOU as the Man of the Year. Thought you’d never make it, didn’t you? Of course, they also chose each of your employees as the Men and Women of the Year.

And, frankly, once your employees have been chosen as the Men and Women of the Year, you’re going to have to think of new ways to motivate them. Our suggestion, somewhat admittedly self-serving (but this is, after all, our blog), is to motivate them with information.

AFTER ALL:

Employees have been cross-trained, sensitivity trained, multi-tasked and quality circled.
They’ve been enhanced, advanced, mission driven and value positioned.
They’ve even been downsized, right-sized, smart-sized and out-placed.

Don’t you think it’s time for just plain informed?

What motivates employees? The same thing that motivates you. Trusted members of any team must have access to the information that will help them do a better job. This is a no-brainer when it comes to your senior staff. You would never think of keeping critical resources and information from them. But far too many companies continue to think that marching orders or stupid motivational tricks will somehow substitute for “information literacy” skill-building.

Today, you can no longer keep information from your employees, so you better help them manage the onslaught and develop the skills to effectively search the Internet and then put that information to use for your company.

What are people most interested in learning? Studies show that young people just starting out in business today will work for as many as 1,400 different companies – and that’s just before they finally finish graduate school. Get over it – and accept it. These folks are not going to work for you forever. If you don’t fire them, they’ll leave anyway. They’re movin’ on.

That puts career skills right up there at the top of the list for any employee. Teach me something that I can use to advance my career, and I will stay forever – or at least until the end of September.

Teach you employees how to navigate through the explosion of information available today and you’ll be almost unique. Most employers think that their employees already have these skills. Most employers think that they – and their senior staff – already have these skills.

Don’t think so? Here’s Gerhard Gschwandtner, the founder and publisher of Selling Power Magazine, “Any Tom, Dick and Mary can log on and search the Internet, that doesn’t require much of a brain.

In response, here’s Sam Richter, the president of the James J. Hill Business Reference Library in St. Paul, Minnesota (the oldest business reference library in the U.S.), “The comment that ‘Any Tom, Dick and Mary can log on and search the Internet, that doesn’t require much of a brain’ is just completely wrong. How do I know? I’ve trained thousands of sales people and executives over the past year on how to effectively use online search programs to locate information on prospects and 95% have no clue how to effectively use even popular search engines, much less the Invisible Web and other premium data sources.

Of course, you knew that. How do I know? Because you would not have read this far if you didn’t at least suspect that your company has to do something different to motivate the troops.

So what will you get if you decide to motivate your employees with information? Delight, surprise, thanks. But, you get more than that. You will get involvement – because they now have true tools to contribute every hour of every day. And, you will get ingenuity and creativity – because developing the ability to craft successful searches prompts you naturally to call upon your most creative abilities.

You’ll get motivated employees because they know the skills you are teaching them are skills they can use to advance their careers. And you just might be surprised. They may thank you so much that the career they choose to advance fits nicely inside your own company. And that will save you lots of recruiting money.

When it comes to motivating employees, isn’t it time for “just plain informed?

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6 comments

  1. […] I’ve been reading Hidden Business Treasures blog of late and have found some…well, treasures. Their post today – Stupid Motivational Tricks – provides an excellent suggestion to managers in regards to motivating their employees. We measure motivators using our assessments, but I think they hit on a more fundamental, over-arching principle that applies to all employees. Employees have been cross-trained, sensitivity trained, multi-tasked and quality circled. They’ve been enhanced, advanced, mission driven and value positioned. They’ve even been downsized, right-sized, smart-sized and out-placed. Don’t you think its time for just plain informed? […]


  2. Wait! Don’t forget that anyone can read Wall Street Journal articles online — even people who don’t subscribe. Simply head over to http://www.bugmenot.com and you’ll be able to read the Cubicle Culture Forum that was mentioned in this post.


  3. Erin is so right – however, in our article called Don’t Bug Me for a Password” we took the Fifth Amendment on whether http://www.bugmenot.com can be used to breach the paid sites. Better Erin than us. By the way, Erin writes one of the best newspaper columns in the country for the Summit Daily News up in the Frisco, Silverthorne, Breckenridge area of Colorado. You can read the archive of these columns (without having to use BugMeNot) by looking for a link at the bottom of her web site – http://www.timeforcake.com.


  4. In the end, what motivates employees is whatever is in it for them. Their goals, their dreams, their life. When you find out what they want and give them the tools to help them get there, well, they have a better chance of getting there. When you can tie their goals into your goals – you get what you want as they get what they want – it becomes a win-win.

    This is where information comes in. The more effective they are using technology, optimizing their time, finding what they need, focused on their work instead of the time-sucking job of finding what they need to perform their work, will make everyone happy.


  5. Paintball is great. What about “goldfish-swallowing”?

    Time management is an important tool making one more efficient to do multi-tasking.

    “…search the Internet, that doesn’t require much of a brain’…” Must be coming out of the mouths of cave dwellers.


  6. You said …

    “Career skills (are) right up there at the top of the list for any employee. Teach me something that I can use to advance my career, and I will stay forever – or at least until the end of September.”

    ABSOLUTELY right! This is exactly my own experience. I once worked in Cairo for an outstanding woman manager of a small, industrious university Public Relations department. And the thing I valued most from my three years there was what I learned about the then-brand-new Internet. Not the salary. Not the challenges. Not the creativity boost. But just plain, old-fashioned, selfish, me-first BENEFITS TO MYSELF.

    There ARE some fine corporate teambuilding programs out there. But it takes an insightful, well-delivered program to appeal to an employee more than a manager or supervisor simply teaching a valuable skill.



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