A family member gives me clothes for Christmas every year. And every year, said articles of clothing are a shade of beige. When the clothes-giving tradition began, I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t really wear this color, but the style is okay, so I suppose I could wear this.” This was my first mistake. The next year, I opened a gift box to find another beige item. “Would you mind if I exchanged this for something in a different color?,” I asked. “I tend to look better in jewel tones.”
“But you wear the outfit I got you last year, and it’s the same color,” came the response. “Besides, beige goes with everything. It’s very practical. You should wear more of it.”
We had a similar exchange the following year and the year after that. I now open my gift, express gratitude, and take advantage of post-holiday sales when I visit the store to make an exchange. Last month’s dark beige sweater is now a very smart red jacket! This is not to say that I feel good about this annual ritual. It actually hurts my feelings and makes me sad.
These beige items reminded me of an experience with a new manager who was eager to be the world’s best boss and set about implementing a series of management tips and tricks to get the best out of his people. Despite his good intentions and a lot of hard work, the department was rocked with constant conflict and everyone seemed miserable. After a little time spent with the key players, it turned out the most cantankerous individuals were not getting what they wanted. The people who sought recognition for their efforts didn’t feel like they were receiving enough praise. Others were annoyed by the manager’s efforts to reward them with public praise and “stupid picnics and award certificates,” when what they really wanted was more autonomy or responsibility. And yet another group felt slighted when some of their work was taken away when they noted how busy they were. These folks were motivated by achievement and their complaints about being “so busy” were simply strategies to make sure everyone knew that they were getting a lot done.
At the end of the project, the manager had a better sense about what motivated the members of his group and he’s had more success now that he is customizing his approach based on individual needs and preferences. He admits, however, that he finds it challenging to ask people what they want and says he finds it annoying to have to do what he calls “detective work with grown-ups.” I appreciate his perspective, but give him credit for taking care not to give his folks the work equivalent of beige sweaters.
How do you find out what motivates your colleagues and employees? Has anyone ever asked, “What can I do to make you happy to be here?”