Learning how the company makes it, that is.
In an Ernst & Young LLP survey, 59% of employees said that the best way to motivate them is for managers to show them how their jobs help the company make money.
Most employees have no idea how what they do impacts profitability. Our speeches about the bottom line fall on deaf ears. Efforts to reduce expenses end in frustration. Employees don’t really believe that anything they do (or don’t do) makes a difference.
In The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard tells the story of a friend who was a frustrated manager. He couldn’t motivate one of his employees no matter what he tried. One day, he saw the employee at a bowling alley. The employee bowled a strike and went wild celebrating. The manager realized that while the employee wasn’t motivated at work, he was clearly motivated in other areas. This led Blanchard to make the following analogy.
If we made the bowling alley reflect how we motivate in the workplace, the pins would all be behind a large curtain so that the bowlers couldn’t see them. The bowlers would roll the ball, it would pass through the curtain, and the sound of pins falling down would be heard. However, because of the curtain, the bowlers would have no idea if they hit two or five or ten pins. What fun is that?
What makes bowling (or video games or just about any sport) fun is that we get immediate feedback on how well we did. We don’t need to wait for a third-party supervisor to pass along the data; we can see it for ourselves! We know right away whether we just made things better or worse. Then, we take that information and use it to inform our next attempt. If we made things better last time, we do more of the same. If we made them worse, we make adjustments.
If you really want motivated employees, show them how their actions translate into dollars. Lift the curtain, and let them see the pins!
I went bowling a few days ago with my youngest son. We played a tendon-stretching seven games before calling it quits and abandoning our last three paid-for games.
When we started, I asked my nine-year-old if he wanted me to have them put up the bumpers. (No way! Bumpers are for babies!) Game one – 34 points. Game two – 26 points. (Sure you don’t want the bumpers, son? – No, Dad. Bumpers are for babies.) Game three – 22 points. (How about those bumpers, buddy? Nope. Bumpers are for babies.) Game four – 7 points. (I think the bumpers would be a good idea, son. – Uh uh….bumpers are for babies.) Game 5 – 6 points, made in one, lucky roll sandwiched between 19 gutter balls.
His body language said it all. Discouragement. Frustration. Defeat. I tried my best to pep him out of it, to give him some pointers that would help – nothing did. But sometimes it just takes a third party’s permission to help us see the alternative. One of the bowling alley attendants saw my son’s struggles and offered to put up the bumpers. (Sure, I guess…)
Game 6 – 100 points. Game 7 – 96 points.
His body language said it all. Excitement! Enthusiasm! New life!
Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be. We set up “bumpers are for babies” rules and force ourselves to live by them, but they lead us into failure after failure. A wife has a rule about having to be the house cleaner her mother was even though it’s not her strength. A husband has a rule about being the handyman that his dad was even though it’s not his gift.
- “I must make straight A’s.”
- “I must do it all myself.”
- “We can’t ever have an argument.”
- “Our kids have to be perfect and impressive like the Johnson kids.”
- “I have to be a size 8.”
- “Everyone has to like me.”
- “I’ve got to live up to my brother’s reputation.”
- “I have to prove myself to them.”
All these rules make life so difficult and discouraging. They define failure and success in unrealistic ways that ignore how we were created. Everyone can be good at something, but it’s not necessarily what your parents or your neighbors or the world says it should be. It would be so much easier if we could just come to terms with our weak areas and start investing more time into our strengths. It’s no fun trying to measure up to someone else’s yardstick.
Why is it that bumpers are only for babies? Who says? Why do I care what they think anyway? Am I “bowling” to earn their approval or to enjoy the game? I only get one trip to this bowling alley. Why should I waste even a minute of it trying to be something I’m not?
If you’re rolling gutter ball after gutter ball in any area of your life, give yourself permission to throw up the bumpers. Hire someone to clean your house or do your handywork. Cross some unrealistic goals off your list. Lower your expectations, and learn to like yourself exactly the way God made you. Save your energy and your efforts for what you do best. Your new motto is: Bumpers are Brilliant!