Reprinted from Chris Mittelstaedt’s column Eureka on Inc.com
I discovered my first lesson in how not to motivate people at the bottom of a kitchen sink.
In 1986, when I was 16 years old, my friend and I worked as dishwashers at the local Friendly’s restaurant in the King of Prussia Mall. One day our manager told us that if we worked hard over the next month, he would promote one of us from the steamy back room to the coveted mall window spot. The mall window spot was the dream job that turned a run-of-the-mill teenage boy into a blue-and-white-checked-polyester-shirt-wearing God of Ice Cream Charisma.
For the next few weeks, I worked harder than I had ever before. At the end of the month, my manager pulled me into his office. “Chris,” he said, “you worked really hard, and I appreciate that. ” I was sure I had the job locked up. Right before I was about to tell him that I had been practicing wrist rolling techniques for the perfect application of jimmies on a double scoop, he let the hammer down. “I can’t give you the job.”
I was stunned. “You’re the best little dishwasher we’ve ever had. I need you,” he said. I quit a few weeks later. I never forgot the lesson that hard work does not always earn the promotion.
I don’t ever want to be like that manager who squashed an enthusiastic employee’s morale because he couldn’t see past his own needs.
Here are five things I try not to do:
1. Create competitions in which one employee will be promoted, and the other won’t.
You may think it’s a great way to create internal competition, but someone is going to lose and hold a grudge against you, the winner, and the company. Instead, look for win-win ways to develop your whole team.
2. Be blind to your employees’ goals, dreams, and job satisfaction.
The more you know about what motivates your employees and the more interest you have in their happiness and success, the more they will bring that enthusiasm to work. Even if you can’t provide a job for them that satisfies 100% of their hopes and desires, there are always ways to incorporate what they love into what they do.
3. Hold someone back because he does his job well.
Have you ever said to yourself: “He is sooo good at what he does that I can’t afford to change his position”? Be honest. If so, start planning to help your employees grow and grooming others under them, or you will probably lose them.
4. Reward just the squeaky wheels.
Squeaky wheels often get the grease, it’s true. But there are also folks who don’t self-promote but deserve development and congratulations nonetheless. Do you know who they are? What are you doing to recognize them?
5. Assume an employee doesn’t understand the bigger picture.
In my case, the manager chose not to help me understand how I fit into the overall success of the restaurant. He communicated that I was important only in so far as the work was concerned—but he really could care less about me on a broader level. Most people want their work to make a vital contribution. It’s the leader’s job to help them see how to get there and to show them a path that has potential successes along the way.