Now that I have your attention, please listen carefully. Engaging and motivating people is not a transaction. It is a life long mission. Just like romance, an obvious point for anyone who has made a long-term relationship work successfully.
I’m reminded of an incident early in my career. I had the good fortune at age 32 to work directly for the CEO of a substantial business. As a new member of his leadership team, I was very concerned about growing and keeping some very talented people, starting with paying them enough so they could afford to stay. When I gave him my recommendations, he proposed that I adopt the beer can approach to people management: enjoy and chug the contents, then pitch the can and buy a new one. That way, he said “we get a continuous infusion of fresh talent and we never have to pay people big bucks.” “Fine, I responded but do you have any idea what it costs to replace people with fresh talent? It means that our most senior people and our best managers will need to devote countless hours to recruiting, on-boarding and developing fresh people instead of taking care of our clients, developing products or focusing on sales. Is that really what you want?” His response: “I never thought of it quite that way.”
Fast forward to later in my career when I held a senior position with a company that, like many, managed its bottom line and quarterly earnings by regularly restructuring the workforce. Termination decisions were made by who was connected with important client work “when the music stopped” rather than who was really the most talented. As soon as an employee, or executive, was between assignments, he would feel that there was a target on his back. Past accomplishments didn’t matter. To quote a senior HR executive there: “You never know when your number will be called.”
I’m not describing rare and unusual situations. This has become a legitimate way to manage in today’s economy. But is it worth it? Can you ask your people for innovation, creativity, quality and passion when you view them as beer cans? Is emptying the current crop of beer cans your people management approach? All too often, the answer is yes, despite the fancy programs for developing talent and all the “best place to work awards.”
My strongest message to any CEO is “pay attention to your people.” All the time. Don’t flip-flop or turn a blind eye to all the bad behaviors from which your are insulated. A happy confident crew is an engaged crew.
And remember, lust lasts just three weeks. Love lasts a lifetime.