Nothing for You!

By on October 20, 2020
Nothing for You!

It was hard to believe. Her look was a mixture of boredom and annoyance as she barked out “nothing for you.”

I had called this big box drug store three hours previously to confirm that a prescription I needed would be ready. They assured me that it would be. Four hours later I appeared at their drive through window ready to pick up my meds. I was asked for my name. I gave it and the response was quick and harsh. “We’ve got nothing for you.”

I told her that I had been told three hours previously that my prescription would be ready for pick-up. Her look of annoyance got more intense and after a couple of minutes of looking at her computer screen said, “Yeah, we do but it’s not ready, come back in fifteen minutes and we’ll have it.

I know that what happened to me is not unusual, we’ve all experienced variations of it. Several years ago, my wife and I were in a big box hardware store looking for an item. We saw an employee and asked if he could help us find it. He replied, “First I’ve got to call a buddy of mine. Be with you in a minute.

The key issue is what drives these kinds of detachment from work? To state the obvious, neither of these employees wanted to be where they were. Neither of these employees were experiencing any kind of joy in the work they were doing. For them work was drudgery, endured because they needed the money. Their life at work certainly didn’t have to be that way. If their management teams had understood the profound impact of these three drivers of engaged, high-performance employees, they wouldn’t be.

  1. Clearly understanding what their employees’ value.
  2. Being fully aware of the power of transparency in all of their operations.
  3. Understanding the power of positive reinforcement.

First, understanding what employee’s value.

A leading management consulting firm asked thousands of employees this question, “what do you value most about your company?” And thousands of managers were asked, “What do you think your employees’ value most about your company?” The answers were both surprising and enlightening.

Managers said that the top three things their employee’s valued were:

  1. Good pay
  2. Job security
  3. Promotion and growth

Employees said that the top three things they valued were:

  1. Interesting work
  2. Full appreciation of work done
  3. Feeling of being in on things

Good pay was number 5 on the employee’s lists.

What’s the significance of this disparity? The answer is simple. Lacking an understanding of what employees’ value greatly weakens an organization’s ability to respond effectively to their needs. And not being able to do this results in an unmotivated, unhappy, disengaged workforce.

Just like the pharmacy employee who told me, “Nothing for you.

Second, understanding the power of transparency in all of their operations.

Employees need to know as much about the organization’s operations, its future plans, its financial performance, as its owners do. How can employees be expected to feel engaged in an organization without this information? They can’t.

A number of years ago, I was consulting with a company that kept its employees in the dark about its operations. While I was there, they were having their parking lot repaved. Halfway through the repaving the contractor quit working. Within days, employees on the production floor interpreted this as a sign that the company couldn’t pay for the work, that the company was going bankrupt, that they would soon be unemployed. The fact was that the contractor quit working because of a shortage of the type of asphalt they were using. As soon as they got it, work started again. While one can chuckle about the absurdity of what employees believed, its implications are very serious. No knowledge, no feeling of attachment to the organization.

It was very different with another company I worked with. Here the owner made quarterly reports to all employees about all aspects of the company’s operations, including sharing detailed information about its financial performance. And what a difference it made. Employees could see the way in which their work impacted the financial performance of the company.

Without this knowledge, employees will justifiably feel that they are being exploited by the organization’s owners.

Employees who feel exploited cannot be expected to be productive employees. It’s always amazed me that this simple insight eludes so many leaders.

The response of the pharmacy worker who said, “nothing for you” is what could be expected from an employee who feels exploited.

Third, being fully aware of the power of positive reinforcement.

Gallup’s landmark 2017 study “State of the American Workplace” found that only 33% of American employees were engaged in their work. The study observed that the old ways of doing business simply weren’t working. The old command and control mindset no longer worked. Employees could not be expected to deliver top performance simply because the organization paid them a salary. As I observed earlier, pay was number five on a listing of what employees’ value.

A study conducted by Forbes found that many workers felt unhappy on the job, that their work was not valued. They were indifferent about the work they did. And what’s often the impact of this indifference? Disengagement. Poor quality work. Decreased productivity. High turnover. The inability to compete successfully in the 21st Century marketplace.

The study also found that many workers felt unappreciated, that their work wasn’t valued although happily from 2012 to 2016 the number of employees who received recognition for doing good work, who said that their opinions counted at work, increased. Still I’ve heard comments like this from too many employees, “The company doesn’t care about me, why should I care about it.” Here’s a comment I heard from an employee that I’ll never forget, “If the company wants any of my ideas, they’re going to have to pay me for them.” Exactly what an employee who felt exploited by his company could be expected to say.

Just like the pharmacy worker who said, “Nothing for you.”

I once had a plant manager tell me, “I pay my employees to do good work. That should be enough.” I asked him if pay alone was getting 100% performance from his employees. He was silent. He knew it wasn’t. Pay was number five on the list of what employees’ value.

I learned about the power of positive reinforcement a number of years ago. I saw what a difference it made if managers understood the power of simple phrases like “you’re doing a great job and we really appreciate what you’re doing,” if they understood the power of positive reinforcement.

During a seminar I was facilitating for a company in Philadelphia I had an employee tell me that he’d never forget getting a $100 gift card from his manager. He said, “I brought the gift card home and my wife and I bought a very nice lamp with it. Every time I look at that lamp, I feel proud of the work I did to earn it.” It wasn’t the lamp but what it signified.

The owner of a company I worked with mailed handwritten notes to the homes of employees telling them how much the company appreciated their contributions to its success. An employee who got one of these notes told me how much it meant to her and how proud she was to show it to her husband and children. A simple gesture. A powerful gesture demonstrating the power of positive reinforcement.

Transforming a workforce from one in which employees feel exploited into one where they feel valued takes a management team who understand that:

  • They need to make all employees’ aware that the work they do is highly valued.
  • Through the power of transparency, they need to develop an “owner” mindset in their employees.
  • They need to make full use of the power of positive reinforcement.

If my pharmacy’s management team adhered to these three imperatives, I’d no longer hear “nothing for you” barked out at me when I arrived to pick up a prescription.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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