Being a Great Boss vs Being a Great Leader - Leading & Motivating Your Small Workforce
By Al Berrios
You've probably read a hundred articles and books about being an effective manager. Should you offer stock options and other incentives, babysitting services, ergonomic work environments, educational and advancement opportunities? But you're not a mega-company with tens of thousands of employees, sprawled all over the world. So how can you improve your workforce's productivity without increasing costs?
Not all of us are charismatic, personable bosses. Many of us are obsessive dictators, unable to delegate, and arguably self-interested in our own well being. But being this way costs money, and if growth and longevity is the name of the game, as the bosses, we must adapt.
Since the work we do for our clients is often confidential, allow me to use my own experiences as a boss (supplemented by the many biographies on great leaders I've read) as the basis for this discussion. If you know me, you'd probably think I single-handedly do the work of 10 people, but since founding my firm 3 years ago, I've been privileged to work with over 50 wonderful associates. Without them, I probably wouldn't have made it where I am today. And keep in mind, that as a small consulting firm, no engagement is long-term, with some lasting about 1 week. So how have I been able to convince this many people to set aside their other obligations to work such relatively short periods for me, at peak performance, and always under-budget?
Always Be Recruiting, Honest, and Thinking Big
I never stop recruiting, always looking for students, graduates, or "freelancers" whose personalities are compatible with my firm's and mine. Once I've "targeted" someone, I periodically let them know about projects my firm's involved in. If budget permits, I then ask them to join my latest team. If they accept, I make it clear it's short-term, it's my money and reputation on the line, and as a result, I expect great things from them.
You're reading this and you're already thinking that you always do that or that you can't do that unless they're family. But think about your relationship to your family - you're more willing to work with them only because you've spent time with them, not because they're qualified. The same thing can be said of friends. But, as I'm sure you already know, working with people who know you personally can often hinder productivity, not help it. A great example of this is the Rothschild family.
A billionaire family before anyone knew how to count to a billion, the Rothschilds were the first multi-national investment bank only because the patriarch allowed his 5 sons to settle in different countries. In the 1800s, this family dominated every major exchange and market because they relied exclusively on family to run each bank. But when it was time to expand to America, no family member wanted to be that far from home, and the Rothschilds were forced to trust their interests to agents in America. Their prejudice and paranoia towards non-family agents ultimately displaced them from the top of the financial world they ruled with an iron grip.
The Key Is The Relationship
Now, think about the nature of marketing. Marketing is developing a relationship, then using that relationship to convert someone from someone who knows you to someone who trusts and wants what you've got to sell. Guess what, that's also how you manage your workers. The problem is most of us believe relationships start after you start paying them.
Goldman Sachs became the investment bank they are today based on this principle, not just because of their relationships with clients, but because of the relationships senior executives develop with their associates. Building a productive and low-cost workforce involves four components:
1) Remember their points of view.
Opening yourself (and other co-workers) up to everyone's point of view and feedback doesn't just keep ideas fresh, but lets your workers see that their contribution is welcome. I cannot emphasize how important this is. During an engagement for a beverage client, I allowed my team (all without advanced degrees at that time) to make their own interpretations of the data we collected from consumers. Some were so insightful, they went into our deck for the client, which the client loved. But the contribution from each of my twelve team members increased their working relationship and interest in working for the client, not the paycheck.
I'm not saying be objective. Pick a side and stick with it is the standard in any serious debate. But I am saying to acknowledge ideas and opinions smarter than yours. This will even allow you to work with people you don't get along with, because you can respect their perspectives, work ethic or reliability to arrive at mutually beneficial relationships.
2) Remember their feelings.
We're all guilty of it - superiority complex, condescension at co-workers, and the occasional curt and stern comments at irritating activity and behavior. Reservation didn't get us to the top, but it's sure going to keep us there.
Thus said, there are plenty of contradictory examples of blatantly unreserved executives (i.e. Sandy Weil, Lew Wasserman, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Milken) that have earned them despise and awe simultaneously. How? They dispensed complements to workers in moderation. These executives spent so much time reaming their underlings that the few cases of appreciation they expressed were more valuable than cash bonuses.
Compliments aren't the only things that affect employee emotions; whom they work with plays a huge role in their interest in their job, as analyzed in our 5-part series on HR strategy for retailers ("Love Your Customers? Then Love Your Service Reps").
3) Remember that everyone likes to know what's going on and be part of something greater.
Our shareholder behavior service is based entirely on helping senior executives develop transparency within their organizations for the benefit of all shareholders, including employees. I can keep a team working at peak performance for weeks without compensation because I regularly inform them about the status of the client and their pay. It's not exploitation, since anyone is free to leave at any time and everyone knows I can compensate them at any time. It's part of loyalty-development, because not only do they know exactly how their involvement contributes to the top line of the firm and client satisfaction, but it inadvertently creates a goal everyone works diligently to achieve - earning pay for work well done. This may be impossible for mega-companies, or unionized employees, but if you're dealing with 50-500 people, most of who you probably hired personally, simple goals like this can work magic within your organization.
John D. Rockefeller, Sr. convinced competitors to join him because his ideas were clear and his conglomerate greater than individual companies. When the leaders of his former competitors realized their role in the "octopus" known as Standard Oil, (and how much money they stood to make being a part of it), they worked diligently (often so aggressive, it resulted in anti-competitive activity) to achieve Rockefeller's goals.
4) Remember their priorities.
I used to believe that an opportunity to learn something new working at my firm was all the value an associate needed. But the reality is, all consulting firms, no matter how big or small, are simply a step in any career ladder, and no matter how good a boss I am, my firm is no exception. I offer letters of recommendation, references, and counseling anytime any of my co-workers needs them. If they need more flexibility with their time, they get it. If they need advances on their pay, they get it. If they need coffee, I get it. Whatever they need, it's important because your company is unfortunately not the center of their universe.
I learned this the hard way when I first got started. As a new recruiter in the market, I didn't realize I actually had to compete with other companies offering steady paychecks, medical benefits and job security. I was under the impression that working with a fun-loving, cool guy like me was all the incentive anyone needed. I was mistaken.
As part of al berrios & co.'s research comparing and contrasting grunts and leaders, we attempt to understand why some employees are more irrational than others when making decisions. Not-surprisingly, it's not just their aversion to risk, but their different priorities. What we bosses see as completely irrelevant, our workers see as extremely important. In this case, it doesn't matter whether we understand it, just recognize it. And when we remember their priorities, they'll gladly make us one of them.
Since you cannot recruit
and interview hundreds of people, it then becomes necessary to standardize your
relationship development process. There are psychometric examinations and other
attitude and aptitude tests that can be instituted across the board that will
filter out personalities the same way you'd do it personally. They work great,
but there's research (most notably from Dr.
Matthew Johnson at Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business) that questions
how effective it is to give numbers to a personality to determine it's "intangible
fit", as phrased by Stan Kravitz, executive at Metropolitan Temporaries,
who's interviewed over 12,000 job candidates and who I interviewed on the temp-staff
industry prior to his panel discussion on Career
Development this summer.
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