Do your employees actually care about working for you, or are they just going through the motions?
If you feel like it’s the latter, have you tried motivation exercises, extra employee perks, rah-rah speeches and a ton of other gimmicks to get them switched on…to no avail?
Have you gone on firing sprees in the hopes of finding better employees, people who are really going to plug in and help you take your company to the next level? Do you find that promising employees hit the ground running, only to peter out after a couple of months?
The problem may not be your employees, and it may not be your perks. The problem might lie in the company itself.
Some companies engage in unethical practices. It’s easy to fall prey to this temptation. You’re there to make money, and sometimes doing something just a little bit underhanded makes making the money that much easier. Burying a hidden charge in the fine print or making customers run through 97 hoops in order to cancel their recurring billing arrangements may do a great job of keeping the company cash flow strong. But at what price?
This is just an example, of course. There are dozens of ways that companies can trip, fall, and roll right off of the moral high road.
The thing is, your employees are aware of these moral failings. Most of them keep their mouth shut, because they’ve got families to feed and the job market’s tight. But they don’t have any love for you or your company thanks to these unethical practices. Most of them are just waiting for the day when they can find someone else to work for.
They don’t identify with you, the company owner. Not really. In their eyes, you’ve got more money than they’ve ever dreamed of touching. They’ve never been a company owner. They have been the little guy, getting screwed over by bad company practices. They know how it feels, and they don’t really feel good about participating in it.
You may not even be the source of the unethical practice. It could be a manager who is encouraging it to massage his metrics because he’s hoping to score a big bonus or a big raise. These sorts of cancers crop up in organizations from time to time, and it’s important to catch them and eliminate them before they metastasize.
In Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink reveals that most employees are motivated by feeling as though there is some sort of greater meaning or purpose to their work. Can any employee really feel as though they are engaged in that meaning or that purpose if they know that some arm of your organization is actively engaged in screwing over other people?
Employee disillusionment may well be a symptom to a much greater and deeper problem within your company. It may be a sign that you’re looking at all the wrong metrics. That you’ve sent the message that profits are all that matter, no matter what it takes to get there. That you’re okay with salespeople who lie to make the sale, with customer service agents who promise one thing just to get a customer off of the phone faster but who deliver another to maintain some other almighty metric, or that products and services can be shoddy if it shaves a few bucks here and there. You might not have even meant to send those messages—it may have happened when you set your company’s metrics, and attached rewards and punishments to those metrics.
Thus, you must make sure that you are evaluating the impact of each and every one of your policies on a regular basis. You must understand how your policies affect your customers in particular. Then, improve upon them, both to improve the customer’s experience and to make employees feel good about working for you.
Highlight the ways that your company improves other people’s lives every single day. Make that your company’s mission. The money will follow. For example, at InternetReputation.com we help companies stay in business that would otherwise have a hard time doing so, because we help protect and defend them from spurious, defamatory attacks. We know what we’re good at, we know what we stand for, and we know why we’re here. We also make sure that none of our policies hurt the very people we’re trying to help. I’m happy to report that right now, at least, we’ve got a team who responds to that mission, who cares about it, and who comes into work every day ready to make some magic on behalf of our clients.
I also know that one careless decision from the captain’s chair could bring all of that crashing down: a billing policy that I don’t really think through, or a performance metric that emphasizes numbers over relationships. Constant vigilance and a commitment to integrity keeps our organization healthy, and it will help yours, too.