An Open Letter to You, Manager

Dear manager,

Through the lens of an economics textbook, your job is really simple. You have to maximize outputs with minimal inputs.

But your job is so much more complicated than that, and if you are being honest with yourself, you’re failing brutally when it comes to truly maximizing your outputs.

Let me explain.

For most companies, the salaries, benefits, and bonuses that go to employees account for over half of all expenses. Yet the oversight given to that business input comes in the form of a perversely subjective, highly biased 1-to-5 performance rating, one day a year.

This is not another missive dog-piling on the ineptitude of performance reviews. This is a missive about corporate America’s failure (in particular, your failure as a manager) to pay the slightest amount of attention to how best to increase worker output the other 364 days of the year.

The cost of disengagement is real and it doesn’t have to be aggregated across the country to be eye-popping.

The biggest challenge we’ve faced at RoundPegg is simply getting executives to realize the massive return on investment they can get by focusing on maximizing the “intangible” outputs throughout the year.

For every worker who walks through the door, there is somebody who once cared about being successful within the confines of your company’s walls. At some point, they fail to get what they need from the job and ease back on the throttle. They ultimately match their performance to the amount of benefit they perceive they are getting.

Your employees are in control of their own effort. All you can do is lord the threat of firing over them…that will take months of documentation, dozens of hours of meetings, and several highly paid in-house lawyers.

The threat lacks credibility.

Ultimately, workers will give less than or equal to the amount of their perceived benefit.

Effort is not up to you.

But that’s not to say you can’t do something about it. In fact, you do with every action you take. Every perceived injustice, every assignment that doesn’t align with the worker’s goals, or every opportunity you’ve missed to recognize effort diminishes the left side, the input side, of the equation.

This problem can’t be explained away by dismissing the disengaged workers as anomalies. The odds are good this is a repeated pattern. At some point it’s time to look inward.

The good news is that the converse is true as well. You can build up engagement levels day by day, action by action, word by word.

Engagement is personal. Each of us needs something slightly different in order to want to provide our best. Here are seven things to keep in mind when working with your employees:

1. Take notes on every employee. What are their goals? How do they prefer to work? How do they make decisions? How do they communicate with others?

2. Forget about your goals. Assuming everyone is like you is the greatest hindrance to being a great manager. Take your goals out of the process.

3. Don’t assume everyone wants more money. 86 percent of the time, money isn’t the primary motivator.*

4. Assume everyone wants to be good at what they do. It’s far easier to dismiss our own shortcomings by blaming others, but it’s not productive to rebuilding the relationship. Have you ever walked into a job wanting to be a horrible employee?

5. Commit to recognizing effort every day. Put it in your calendar if you have to, but take the time to start the recognition flywheel spinning today.

6. Check in frequently. Engagement is not static. It will fluctuate throughout the month. Keep regular tabs on how everyone is feeling, what’s in their way, and how they perceive recent decisions and rewards.

7. Ask them what to do. Many will not know exactly what to tell you when asked how they can reach their goals or how you can make things better. They’ve never before been asked, most likely. Keep asking. Ultimately, you’ll get answers that you never expected.

Doing these seven things will, at least, help you start to understand what you can do to individually engage your team and start the process of building a culture of engagement.

* RoundPegg culture value data

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Written by:
A serial 'intra-preneur,' Brent has always found ways to create new ventures within existing companies. Brent founded Yahoo! Green and, alongside an amazing team, took it from conceptualization to launch in under 100-days. It remains the most popular environmental site online today. It wasn't until failing brilliantly in his last job that Brent fully recognized the pain of being a misfit within a company. Nothing existed that would help him ensure that this didn't happen again if he were to continue working for 'the man.' Enter RoundPegg. Brent graduated from Stanford's Graduate School of Business and, at least prior to having two kids, could usually be found road biking through the Colorado mountains.
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