Dear Dave: I am in sales, and I try hard to take care of my customers. My company gives all salespeople dollar targets each month and this makes sense, because we run on money and not magic. However, it has been quite difficult to get psyched-up to go to our biweekly sales meetings, because all we ever receive are threats about being replaced if we don’t hit our individual sales goals. Rarely are we given tactics to hit our sales goals – just warnings and intimidation. Are all companies this way? —
Dear F: A wave of anger just washed over me as I read your note. First, no, not all companies motivate their staff through threats and intimidation. Second, the best companies motivate their salespeople – and all of their staff, for that matter – through building pride in the company and its products, consistent and ongoing messages of the purpose of the company, and by stimulating the workforce to have a passion for success.
What I call the 3-Ps of success (pride, purpose, and passion) are enduring, essential, and productive elements of a success formula that is practiced by the best companies. If you hear stories about companies that treat their employees and customers with care and pay attention to their needs, you are not hearing ghost stories. Great companies put people before profits!
That is why it is phenomenally important to “check the culture” of a company before choosing to work there. There is an “internal culture” and an “external culture.” The internal culture is the way employees think, communicate, behave and make decisions. The quality and caliber of the internal culture will impact the external culture made up of customers, suppliers, shareholders, and other important stakeholders. Customers, for example, know quite well if a company has their best interests in mind. They see it in their everyday interactions.
Accordingly, if managers want to make more money, they need to motivate their staff beyond threats and instill a sense of purpose in them that brings pride in everything they do. Simply – as management guru Tom Peters puts it – “The brand inside is greater than the brand outside.” I believe if any company’s leadership is committed to their staff, their staff will be committed to them. And customers take notice of this – and they like to buy from those they like.
Sadly, and wrongly, it is all too common for management to only focus on the importance of attaining financial targets. I understand that financial targets are necessary, but they should not be the only measurements and drivers of success. There are “real people” behind the numbers, and they require training, inspiration, leadership, and growth. In addition, they need to know that they matter more than money. If they are developed, directed, encouraged, and rewarded, profits will be made.
Putting people before profits
When employees are backed up against the wall of financial targets, they become nervous, frustrated, and anxious, and this causes them to make even more mistakes. Don’t get me wrong: I like money, but I like the motivation and the wellbeing of employees even more. Your manager must realize that financial results are outcomes, and the true drivers of employee performance are the loyalty and dedication employees feel for their company, the belief they are doing important work, and that they are a valuable part of a success equation – not just a cog in a machine.
If you have a trusting relationship with your manager, you can take the bold step of asking her or him to spend more time in meetings discussing the purpose and impact of the work your team is doing. Be careful to not come across as someone who is belittling your manager’s performance; rather, mention that you have found that your greatest motivation comes from loving what you do and realizing you are part of something great. I think your manager will get the idea and realize that your team needs an explanation of the purpose of their work.
You can also build up your own sense of pride, passion and purpose by helping your coworkers with theirs. It won’t cost you a nickel to tell a colleague that some work they had done was quality and helpful. You can help a new hire understand that they are part of a winning team that helps and supports each other. And you can even reach out and help your manager when she or he is obviously down in the dumps and appears to be beat up a bit.
I am sure you can find more things to help your colleagues believe they are doing important work. And the more you help them, the more you will feel fulfilled. It just works that way.
Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.