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Rocks, Birds & Motivating Your Staff

Rocks and Birds (1)I was just watching a show on healthcare in the US and a doctor had a great analogy for patients and doctors that is perfect for employers and employees too.

If you have a rock and a target you can train yourself to throw the rock at the target. If you do it enough you can hit the target almost every time, and the times you miss you won’t miss by much.  You have the power over the inanimate rock.  You can exert your will on the rock through force and the rock doesn’t have anything to say or do about it.

If you have a bird in your hand and you want it to go at the target you have another situation on your hand.  In one way it should be easier, the bird is built and meant to fly.  But no matter how hard to try to coerce the bird to go towards the target, after your force is gone (a couple feet after you release the bird in the direction of the target) the bird can go almost anywhere and will almost certainly not go towards the target-why should it? It has its own free will and desires.  If you put the birds nest on that same target and release the bird in the direction of the target you have a much greater chance of getting that bird to the target.

In other words, to get the bird to go towards the target you have to put something on the target that interest or is important to the bird.  Our employees are the exact same way.

You can’t just shove an employee in the direction you want them to go and think they are going to get there.  You have to take the time to figure out what is important to them and what makes them want to be successful. Then use that information to help them achieve the goals you have set so you can create a win/win situation.

Everyone is different and everyone has different motivations.  You have to take the time to figure out what that motivation is for your employees.  Here’s a hint, it’s not always money.  As business owners and entrepreneurs we tend to go to that automatically, but sometimes it can even be a turn off.  We had a manager that tried a financial incentive system for our group of therapists that totally backfired and actually made several of them mad.  Many times people just want to be told they did a good job or shown appreciation that is genuine and from the heart.

You have to create incentive programs and rewards that are centered around your employees reasons for flying to the target, not your reasons…

This can be especially challenging when you are managing or motivating a group of people in a different place in like than you. If you are managing people much younger or much older, people in a different stage of life than you are in, part time vs full time, main job vs second job, it can be very challenging. I learned very quickly when I was managing a group of retirees at the golf course that our goals and values were very different.  “Managing the Millennials” by Chip Espinoza and Mick Ukleja is a great resource if you have younger people working for you.

Learning what makes people different doesn’t make them bad or wrong. In fact most people will be happy you took the time to learn about them-that being said, books are great, but only use them as a guideline because everyone is different.

Take the time to figure out what makes each person tick.  If you have a larger staff it may be hard to know for everyone, but each manager should know for their direct reports what is important to them.

You get to set the target for your business, but you don’t get to throw rocks at it unless you are a one man shop and even at that you are going to have to get somebody (probably a customer) to move towards that target.  Your force will only carry them so far, after that you have to make sure you have incentives and motivators that will help your staff strive for that target you have set.

Here are some ways that have worked well for us:

Make the work as interesting as you can.

Every job has boring parts, but do your best to not make any one person have all those duties (unless of course that is what someone really wants!)

Challenge your staff.

Not everyone will love this, but it will keep your best people on their toes and help you learn who your super stars are. It also keeps people engaged mentally.

Ask them what motivates them.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Show appreciation when they do something great AND when they do their job.

People want to be appreciated and recognized, when someone does something great call it out to everyone. The simplest manifestation of this is saying thank you when you leave-it is always the last thing I say before I leave and just after asking “what can I do for you and what do you need from me?”

Stand up for them and stand behind them.

If they think you will throw them under the bus if something goes wrong they aren’t going to work very hard for you. If an employee makes a mistake we claim and own it as a business, we don’t point fingers and place blame when talking to a customer.

Ask for help when you need it and involve them in your process.

To whatever level is appropriate for you, involve you people in some decisions, it gives them a sense of ownership

Fringe benefits.

we can’t offer full benefits but we let people play free golf and everyone gets a massage every month.

Do fun things with your staff.

I’m not talking about the Silicon Valley startup that spends a million dollars on the company game room. A night out at a local duck pin bowling alley or dinner together at a local restaurant can go a long way and is really fun!

Create a culture that is worth being a part of and then make sure each person understands what their part is.

Help them understand they are part of something bigger than themselves. People like to be a part of something bigger, give them that, give them something to be proud of saying they are a part of.

What is the higher purpose of what you are trying to do…something more than just money…what is the why?

Where is the end zone that doesn’t have anything to do with financial statements? Don’t be irritated if they don’t know what you don’t know…

Listen to them if you want them to listen to you.


Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if we employed a bunch of rocks, but it is all too rewarding to watch a bird fly…

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