The Squeaky Wheel

Jun 05, 2006

There’s an old expression frequently heard around these parts— “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” My experience is this one really applies to the people who work in A/E/P and environmental firms. Those who ask for the most, get the most. Complaining is usually rewarded. Who am I talking about? Those who constantly ask for more— more money, a better title, special perks, a better office— more goodies for themselves. Not to say that some of these people don’t deserve all they are asking for. Some actually do. These are not all just selfish, greedy people who cannot be pleased. The good ones should have their needs addressed. The bigger question is why do these people— the deserving ones— feel it’s necessary to ask for anything in the first place? The answer is that too many companies are simply not ready to recognize their best people and fully expect those who are to complain. The unwritten human resources management policy is “don’t do anything until someone gripes.” It’s a bad policy. There should be other ways to figure these things out before good people have to complain. Once they complain, it may be too late. They could be angry and resentful that they had to ask in the first place. They want you to understand what they do and how they contribute and reward them without asking. Here are some of the ways to head these problems off at the pass: Have regular sit-downs to talk about career development issues and how things are going OUTSIDE of the normal performance appraisal. You simply cannot have a good two-way conversation with your direct reports during performance appraisals. The employee wants to know how YOU feel about what they are doing. You are the evaluator. What I am talking about doing is something different. This is where you seek out information from the employee— opinions, ideas, and feelings. Here’s where you can hopefully anticipate their needs before they have to come right out and ask for what they want. Have more frequent pay reviews. I have always said that once a year is not often enough to look at pay. I prefer four times a year. It doesn’t mean everyone gets a raise every time, especially the more senior people. But junior people/younger people are another matter. They need very frequent reinforcement that they are doing well, as evidenced by a tangible pay increase. You can argue with me all day on this one— I won’t change my mind. Don’t follow my advice and you will have a significantly higher turnover rate for your younger/less experienced people, in particular, than your other staff. And you won’t just lose your duds. You will lose your best newer people. They are the ones most likely to get a better offer. Tune in and be brave. You may find that you need to get much more tuned-in to the little comments your people make. These are the things that indicate how they are really feeling about things. Of course, you need to spend time with your people, both at work and sometimes out of work, to hear these comments. If you are one who sits in your office and makes everyone set up an appointment to speak with you, you probably have some people working for you who don’t feel their needs are being met. And you need to be brave. The reason I say that is that many companies are not geared to taking care of the needs of their people. You have to go to bat for your people who deserve it. Management may not have a process, budget, or desire to single anyone out over the others, but that doesn’t make it right. It may mean you have to stick your neck out every once in a while. Sure— the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It’s always been that way. But why wait ‘til your wheels squeak? Do some preventative maintenance if you can to avoid problems later. Originally published 6/05/2006

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