12: Sell the Dream

Great leaders focus their followers on the long-term "big picture" issues. (EN: I've seen this defined as the difference between "leadership" and "management" in other sources.) An employee who doesn't know the objectives of his company, or doesn't understand them, or doesn't see how they relates to his job, cannot see how to act in ways to support their company.

The mission statement is meant to do this, but often falls short. Some statements are lengthy and complex - people aren't inspired by things they can't understand. Others are short and catchy, but vague: given the guidance of "treat everyone as a friend" is a great principle, but doesn't point in a specific long-term direction.

The author goes on to present some actual mission statements that are flawed: incomprehensible, full of buzzwords, vague, trendy. (EN: it also stands to mention that a mission statement is often marketing to investors - so they're often very puffed-up and vague, meant to impress people into investing their money in an enterprise, not to guide the troops.)

A good statement must be concise (enough to me committed to memory), clear (as to what you will accomplish), values-driven (people are motivated by values to achieve objectives), and meant to be understood and practiced by the employees.

Start on the Right Foot

The author mentions an exercise done "several years ago" in which he was able to observe a number of teams. He was surprised to find that none of these teams started with a "who we are, what we do, why it matters" ritual, which he feels is critical to getting employees started off on the right foot. If they are not clear on their purpose, their actions may not follow (and may even be counterproductive), and morale depends on having a clear sense of purpose.

The author also notes that employers often forget that the employees are scrutinizing them as well. Just as a manager considers whether a person is a good fit and whether they should be kept aboard, an employee decides whether the company is a good fit and whether they want to stay aboard.

(EN: This point is often lost in the fluctuations of labor supply. A company values employees when it's hard to find them, then treats them very poorly when the economy takes a downturn - because there are fewer opportunities for good workers to jump ship - and doesn't remember to appreciate them until the labor market dries up again. But the employees remember how they've been treated, and the good ones are generally looking for opportunities to leave. As a result, it's good to hire great people away from competitors at a time when the labor market is glutted - chances are they are being poorly treated and reminded to be thankful to even have a job "in this economy.")

A red herring the author mentions a training course for employees who will work with the elderly - using props to simulate the condition of being elderly (e.g., glasses that are blurry, earmuffs to decrease sound) as a way to give them a first-hand sense of the difficulty and frustration their clients face.

Another thread: a company that suffered a fire that destroyed employee orientation materials taht had been used for years, even though they were not very effective. This enabled them to take afresh approach to orientation and design a course that was relevant and fun - a lto of teamwork and trust exercises, less lecturing on history and other irrelevant facts.

Another anecdote, about a conference call with a prospective client where he ran into one of those junior employees who was playing "stump the consultant" to impress his boss. He insisted that his team members are already tops at customer service. His response to the kid was a flat, "you're wrong." The company may believe its people are the best, but it may not be what the customers believe. He also makes the point that when employees are faced with an opportunity to do something unusual, their first through isn't of the customer or the company, but "am I going to get fired for doing this?" So training the employees wasn't the issue - training the managers was.

The author provides a list of common claims companies make, and how to test whether they are actual truths or merely propaganda:

Tell Them

The author refers to a "large southern restaurant chin" that provide a booklet to all employees that clearly communicates the mission and strategy of the organization in clear terms. For example, to "improve profitability" was backed by "increase same-store sales by 2% without increasing the average guest check" - clear, measurable, and focused. Few companies have such booklets. The values, mission, vision, objectives, and other strategic information is locked up in the boardroom, or mentioned in major meetings - where it does no good at all to the rank-and-file employees.

The author cites the development of "university" programs in fast food: MacDonald's, Basking Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, and a number of other chains spends serious jack on a multi-day training course for employees. Besides teaching basic skills, this approach educates the front-line workers (not just management) about the products and brands as well as the operations of the company - it's very intensive training for low-wage workers, btu informed employees deliver the brand to the customer far more effectively.

The author also mentions another chain that ensures that every employee does a ride-along on a service call as part of their orientation - so that even office workers have a clear sense of the firm's customer service interface.


Poor workplace performance, as well as conflict among team members, comes from four things that can all be addressed by coaching:

(EN: the author would disagree on that last point. Here, he says "personalities can be fixed ... but not legally" and earlier in the book, he advocated just firing people who don't have the right attitude. I cannot disagree more: character can be developed, and an effective leader can do it. I'll concede that there are the hard-cases where the level of effort required to square them up isn't worth the payoff.)

A supervisor who pays adequate attention to his charges should be able to recognize where there is conflict or stress, and should consider which of the four causes is to blame, and plan a course of action to address it.

Decisions, Decisions

When a team player is not performing to standards, determine the reason. In some instances, a person is not able to perform due to lack of skills, and training can remedy this. In other instances, the employee may be able to do the work, but there are obstacles that prevent him from doing so. In other instances, the individual is capable of doing a better job, but chooses not to. This is a matter that requires corrective action.

It's mentioned in passing, but is probably important to draw out, that you must also decide whether the level of performance is an issue. If your standard is to type 120 words per minute and the employee can only type 115, it may not merit action.

However, a major mistake companies make is waiting for a problem to arise before taking action. An attentive manager should be able to identify possible areas of concern before a crisis arises and take preventative action. Or if everything is going just fine, these same approaches can be used to improve performance that is already good.

Behavior Modification

Rewards, bonuses, and other forms of premiums are used as methods to shape employee behavior by encouraging and rewarding positive performance rather than discouraging or punishing bad. The phrase "behavior modification" has negative connotations, but fundamentally, that is what managers do in developing employees to be more effective.

There are hidden dangers in performance metrics, in that employees will engage in behavior that is damaging in some ways in order to suit the metrics. One example is a fast-food restaurant that focused on quick customer service - and saw a drop in revenue because employees were no longer attempting to sell additional items in order to process orders more quickly. Another example was a sales contest that offered rewards for selling the most units, so salesmen offered the lowest price and piled on sweeteners in order to close deals - so the unit count went up, but the profit margin dropped and the expenses added up.

The author provides for using reward-based metrics:

  1. Contest term - This may depend on the interest of workers (EN: the author uses the term "maturity," but I find this is dismissive) - in some instances, employees are more motivated by a small reward each week rather than a larger one paid out on the month, quarter, or year.
  2. Reward - The reward must be appealing to the workers. A gift certificate for an Chinese restaurant has no appeal to workers who don't like the cuisine. The author even mentions a contest where the winner got to go to dinner with the boss. He also mentions that an over-the-top reward could be damaging, motivating employees to "cheat" to win or sabotage one another.
  3. Scoring - The scoring must be visible and objective. If the employee doesn't know how well he's progressing, he won't be motivated.
  4. Achievable - If the goal of the metric seems insurmountable, employees will not feel they can achieve it, and will not be motivated to try (and may even be discouraged).
  5. Individual - While you can pit employees against one another to create a sense of competition, it can also undermine teamwork - and it is a reward for only one person, regardless of the effort others put in. Better to have a goal each employee.

An example the author provides is a restaurant that offered employees an immediate $5 cash reward for each sleeve of large drinks they sold. It had a clear term (the shift), an appealing reward (cash) that was not so much to encourage dishonesty, clear scoring (number of drinks sold), was fairly easy to achieve, and everyone could earn it..

(EN: The author's fondness for contests and metrics is a bit disappointing in this context. In many instances, virtually all I'm aware of, incentives have to do with aspects of performance that are easily and objectively measured, but have nothing to do with long-term success. Over the long run, your business thrives from delighted customers - and motivating employees to sell more, work faster, etc. has nothing to do with satisfaction, and is likely to be detrimental to it.)

The author also mentions team incentives - where the crew is rewarded for achieving a common goal (e.g., a sales promotion that gives everyone the same bonus if they team meets its goals). This can overcome some of the negative effects of a contents that pits employees against one another.

The author also warns against punishing good performance. He presents an anecdote of a very efficient worker whom the boss scheduled on off-nights (Monday through Wednesday) because he was the only one who could handle the job alone - otherwise, he'd have to schedule two people those nights. The problem was, the worker wanted the more profitable weekend shifts, and when he learned that he was being given less profitable shifts because he was efficient, the solution to getting a better schedule was clear.

The author also mentions that there are conflicting motivators from outside the workplace. He tells a story about a young man who was a great worker, until he got a girlfriend and started showing up late and was always distracted. Though he doesn't indicate how he dealt with this, there's a general tip for bosses to attempt to discover what motivates an employee, as an individual, and leverage that. In some instances, it may be obvious - but in other instances, you may need to ask. A detailed example is provided, but it's fairly straightforward: to one employee, money may be their chief motivation, whereas another might be more interested in a more flexible working schedule (especially in service industries, a night off on the weekend is a very rare thing).