Reaction to promised promotion and incentive question

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My recent article, a response to a readers question about her potential promotion and how to deal with her coworkers performance issues, prompted a strong reaction. Here is one reader’s opinion:
 
Dear Joan:
I found it hard to believe that the potential manager would be writing to you about this, for a ‘promise’ of a promotion in three to five years! My first reaction was, are you kidding me? Do you have anything in writing? Are you content to wait three to five years to get a promotion? The whole premise for the article seemed flawed to me. As you responded, three to five years is a looooonnnng time. I could understand if she wrote you about a promise in three to five months, but not years. And it’s just a promise – completely worthless.
 
As to the issue she raises [her coworkers make long personal calls and surf the net], it is totally valid. Last September, I was promoted to manager of my peers (12 staff) after working for my company for over nine years, so I totally relate to her issue. Our offices are scattered around our building, plus three people work offsite. In our main office here, we do not have cubes – each person has their own office (no doors). But I see the chatting going on, and the phone calls, and the other non-work activities.
 
 I’ve already made two general announcements to my group about being expected to work 40 hours per week. I have always believed in leading by example, and not micro-managing people, and my previous manager was of the same mindset. We effectively handled all our tasks on time, with high quality. I’m mostly ok with my staff’s behavior and work ethic-- mostly.
 
We have flexible hours, and people are also allowed to work from home on a limited basis. In return for this ‘trust,’ people are expected to meet their deadlines, and when crunch time is upon us, people are expected to work extra hours (we are salaried, not hourly). I won’t accept excuses when the crunch time starts because I’ve found my company to be very generous to me, to all of us, with time. So, I expect the same of me, and my staff. I’ve not led us through this cycle yet in my new capacity, so navigating it when we get to crunch time will be a challenge for me. But I do have plans to talk to two staff to clarify my expectations. And I’ve already talked to another staff about my concerns regarding work hours and quality.
 
I’m finding management to be very challenging, because you need to balance the carrot versus stick approach. Yes, I’ve read the 1 Minute Manager, and I’ve just read StrengthFinder, and I have read a few other new manager articles. In the end, I’m finding that I have to cater my approach to the individual. Some want to be told what to do, so I need to be more hands on. Others want to lead their own way, and I stand back and offer guidance. And in the end, I try to reward the top performers with a bigger salary increase. Management is very challenging!
 
Finally, to the submitters point about the strong workers getting unhappy about the slackers. I’d like to ask you how a manager can ‘reward’ the strong performers without making it seem like favoritism. The only official reward I have is my praise, my ability to assign higher visibility projects, and my ranking input that I can use to award top people with a higher percentage salary increase, when we are giving increases. Can a manager do more? Unfortunately, bonus payouts are part of the newer employees’ contracts, so they are fixed percents.  I never thought much of that ‘employee of the month’ stuff, because it seems like that is something that everyone eventually gets when it’s their turn.
 
I’d appreciate if you have any suggestions on how managers can provide incentive to staff, especially if salary increases are minimal, and I have no ability to influence bonuses.
 
Answer:
It sounds as if you are off to a good start in your new leadership role. I agree with your assessment-- that you have to get to know each person to figure out how to walk the fine line between too hands-on and too hands-off. I also like the fact that you have stated your expectations to the whole group, and you are also following up with one-on-one expectation-setting meetings with violators. Now the real work begins: holding them to the expectations. You have already mentioned your expectations about work hours twice in a general meeting—you shouldn’t have to mention it again. If you keep talking about it in general, and do nothing, it will make you look like all talk.
 
You specifically asked about how to reward good performers so it doesn’t look like favoritism. Whoa! Let’s back up. “Favoritism” is when someone is granted something special because the boss likes the person more than the other employees. Good performers deserve to be rewarded and if the poor performers don’t like it—too bad. So, your praise, special projects, extra visibility, extra salary dollars are all great ways to reward good performers. Another way to make strong performers feel their hard work is worthwhile, is to confront slackers and not let them get away with violating work rules and poor quality.
 
And while you are learning to manage each person a little differently, why not have a conversation with each person about what they find satisfying about their work and what their short and long-term career goals are? Ask each of them what skills and abilities they would like to develop on their current job and offer your feedback, as well. If you really want to stand out as a good leader, you will help your staff exceed their own expectations. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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