MORE often than not, on the sidelines of conferences, meetings and cocktail parties, I would usually continue breaking the ice with some friends, clients, and corporate executives with the question: “What is your strategic approach to attract, motivate and retain employees?” In other words, how do you motivate your people? The usual reply comes in so many kilometric statements, which may be summarized into four words—carrot-and-stick strategy.
To validate their answers, the next question comes naturally from me: “What’s your turnover rate?” Almost invariably, they eventually admit they’re suffering from a double-digit rate, which as they know, is unhealthy. Then they come to their senses that the carrot-and-stick approach is untenable. And the blame immediately shifts to the workers who don’t know what they want in the first place.
But why can’t managers blame themselves? Is it pride? Probably, yes. Pride is the only disease that makes people sick except their managers. Since time immemorial, numerous motivational theories have titillated our minds, each emphasizing a different dimension of the management task and each advocating a new set of techniques, except that they appear to be not big enough to help solve a problem.
Take this story for example. There was once a Texas rancher who visited his old friends in Chicago. The friends decided to show him the big city. When he saw the stockyards, he said: “That ain’t much. We got branding corrals on my ranch bigger than that.” When he saw the skyscrapers, he blurted: “We’ve got tombstones at home taller than that.”
That night, the annoyed Chicago hosts decided to get even. They left rats in the Texan’s bed. When the rancher climbed under the sheets, the unpleasant surprise brought him quickly to his feet, screaming: “What’re those?”
“Those are Chicago bedbugs,” they answered.
Gaining his composure, the Texan replied, “You’re right. Young guns, aren’t they?”
As long as anyone in a management role operates with such arrogance of a reward-punishment attitude to motivate employees, he is implicitly assuming that he has control over the workers and that they are in no position to complain. “Beggars are not choosers,” or so he claims.
This attitude is a clear manifestation of a condescending contempt of a manager who knows nothing about the total rewards strategy. But what is it all about? A total rewards strategy consists of all available tools, both monetary and non-monetary approaches that are used by employers to attract, motivate, and retain employees.
It’s easy to understand what a monetary reward is all about, but not the non-monetary. In the first place, is there such a thing as zero-cash employee reward? Of course, there is. The first thing that comes to mind is job enrichment. It’s mutually satisfying as the employees are empowered to solve problems within their work area. When ordinary people are allowed to express their feelings more freely and to take on greater responsibility in decision-making, they feel a greater sense of mutual respect with management.
This is a win-win solution, if management can’t afford to pay big money to the workers, then the better approach is to allow workers to work on greater tasks and other related challenges. After all, who doesn’t want to be assigned to work on other projects in the name of continuing education? If not, allow the workers to choose a location or branch where his residence is nearby. This alone can work wonders for the workers who must suffer the daily grind of vehicular traffic in the metropolis.
The transport money to be saved can mean a lot to a minimum wage earner. But that’s not all. A zero-cash strategy can also mean allowing the workers to perform their jobs in alternative work arrangements that include flextime, compressed workweek, job-sharing, telecommuting, even part-time schedules.
Other popular employee perks that do not require sizeable investment include on-site child care, tuition fee loan, sabbaticals, and corporate citizenship—all in the name of ensuring work-life balance.
Unless the fundamental assumptions of management are changed, and unless the organizational structure is altered to match the demands of a changing workplace, you can’t simply motivate and retain ordinary people, much more the fast-trackers. Regardless of the practices implemented by an organization, people will avoid, evade, escape, deny and reject the command-and-control type of hierarchy.
Dave Ulrich is right in saying in “The Why of Work” (2010) that “leaders who focus on meaning create an abundant response.” Therefore, if you’re in management, swallow a little of your pride from time to time. It’s non-fattening, anyway.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.