Hokey ice cream motivational tactics

Dec 14, 2009

The first time someone suggested that I needed to have an “ice cream social” to help motivate my employees, I wanted to strangle the guy. Are you kidding me? We have professional employees. Sure— morale was down and employees were discouraged because business was bad immediately after 9/11. But no amount of ice cream was going to help! They wanted a clear direction to the Promised Land— and more work— not a hokey little social gathering at the office. I heard this suggestion again from our dinner speaker at a recent ZW conference. You should have seen the reaction from the A/E firm CEOs in the room. It was pretty uncomfortable, to say the least, and the line at the bar started re-forming quickly! What is it with some so-called HR experts or “people-people” that makes them so misguided? Their solution to every morale or motivation problem always seems to involve some sort of silly company meeting, social gathering, special award, or pointless giveaway! Don’t they read “Dilbert?” Haven’t they seen “The Office?” Don’t they know hokey motivational tactics don’t work? You cannot treat your highly intelligent professional employees like preschoolers. Well— you can— but doing so is a waste of time and the effect is often a negative one. “Employee of the Month” with a special parking space just doesn’t mean that much. Ditto for the special recognition on the break room bulletin board, with a letter from the president and a big gold star. It may actually backfire and make those who did get it feel like they are being talked down to and those who didn’t get it feel unappreciated and angry. One thing I have learned over the 30 years I have spent in this business is that you cannot treat intelligent professionals like young children and expect to get a good reaction. It just doesn’t work that way. Save the Ben and Jerry’s gift certificates and instead treat your people with the respect they deserve. Involve them in your business planning and share your financials with them. Give appropriate feedback and be ready to receive it yourself. Dedicate your company to doing something really good that helps people. Be honest and ethical, and watch your temper. These things will be so much more valuable than any hokey ice cream motivational tactics could ever be! Originally published 12/14/2009

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