- Chapter 26 -


There was a bar on the edge of town where local citizens celebrated on Saturday night.  A shortcut through a graveyard made the walk home considerably shorter, so this was the weekly route for some.  One night a man fell into a deep open grave which had just been dug.  After struggling for some time, he realized he could not get out, so he just sat in a corner to wait for daylight and help.  Another man fell into the same grave and was trying to get out when the first man got up and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Buddy, you can't get out of here." motivate, motivating others, motivataion, advice, advise, praise, reprimand, scold, reprimanding, scolding, solve problem, solution, employee, work, worker, personnel, personel, job workplace, worksite, office, inspire, inspiring, inspiration

BUT HE DID!  That's motivation!

When people think about motivating others, family members, employees, students, teams, or members of organization, their idea usually is to get them together and give a pep talk, either a rousing one of encouragement, or a dressing down with an exhortation to do better in the future.  Pep talks can have their place, but often they wear off by the second half of the game.  Some suggestions which might have more permanent influence are based on the principle that rarely can you make people do things, but you can create circumstances under which they want to, and even get satisfaction out of the fact that they did.

There follow a series of specific suggestions:

  1. Ask others for advice.

Who knows how to do something better than a person who is doing it every day?  Many employers, teachers, or parents mistakenly consider it demeaning to ask someone under them for advice.  However, not only do some amazingly helpful ideas come out of doing this, but it also imparts a good feeling, and it gives that person a sense of truly being part of the organization with opinions that are valued.  Suggestion boxes are good, but there is nothing like a personal approach.  "Charlie, how long have you worked here."

"Twelve years."

"You certainly have been a loyal employee.  You are so familiar with this activity, have you any ideas for improvement which would make your job easier and help us turn out a better product?"

Tom Murphy asked Jess Fortenberry, who worked out in the production yard, for ideas.  Jess wasn't much of a talker, but sometimes he made a suggestion worth considering.  More often, though, he would come up with something very obvious, maybe something Tom had in mind implementing himself.  A tempting response was, "Yeah, I thought of that myself," but instead Tom responded, "That's a good idea, Jess.  Thank you.  We'll do it that way from now on."  No wonder Jess was such a loyal employee.

An important aspect of the value of considering the opinions of employees is: PEOPLE SUPPORT A PLAN OR A PROGRAM WHICH THEY HAVE HELPED TO DEVELOP.

  1. Keep those around you informed.

Many workers complain about having to attend too many meetings.  On the other hand, there are many organizations in which there are not enough staff meetings to let people know what is going on -- both the good and the bad.  Even when there are too many meetings of other kinds, there may not be enough informational meetings.  People want to be in the know.  They are pleased when important information is shared with them.  Also, it is surprising how, when participants know what the end goal is, they can make intermediate steps more efficient.  It is frustrating and boring not to know the purpose of what they are doing.

We have always had periodic family business conferences and included children, even when they were quite young.  Grandson David, 11, attends now.  They learned a lot but equally important was the pride of being included in the family councils.

  1. Look for opportunities to praise people for their work.

This can become an attitude of mind -- a habit, which can be developed with purposeful effort.  Praise is so important to add meaning to any job or assignment.  It may sound like an obvious statement, but I am going to make it anyhow: everybody can do something well.  Observe what it is and praise that person for it.

Sometimes more effective than praise in general is to identify and express appreciation for a specific job well done.  This kind of recognition is especially welcome to anyone who has worked hard to achieve something.

  1. Look for opportunities to commend people publicly.

Personal praise is good, but to commend a person in a staff meeting of peers or in front of a class is even more gratifying to the recipient.  It is for very good reason that the "Employee of the Month" has become popular.  People enjoy seeing their pictures on the wall, or their names on a plaque.  There is a parking place by the front door of a hospital, which has hundreds of employees, labeled, "Reserved for Employee of the Month."

  1. Handle reprimands with care.

In almost all cases, they should be done privately.  I like to call a person in and begin with mentioning something which the individual has done well.  Then after a discussion of the offense, I cite some similar experience of mine, or a mistake I have made before pressing the point.

People should not always be mollycoddled.  There are occasions when a good chewing out is in order for carelessness, rank insubordination, or repeated failures.  On the other hand, there are other occasions when individuals should be helped through mistakes.  If someone has failed in some way, not intentionally, if it is a pure mistake, and that person is probably expecting to be bawled out, gratitude results if the matter is handled quietly.  Gratitude improves future performance, or helps to sustain performance that is already good.

Jenny Flanders directed a crew in my office charged with filling out forms every month, involving many, many details.  These were applications for leases on Federal lands in eight western states, with complicated descriptions such as: T. 10 S., R. 30 E,, Sect. 12, SW 1/4 SE 1/4, Sect. 14, E 1/2 followed by many similar designations.  On one occasion, she made a mistake which cost me several thousand dollars.  The dear woman was devastated; I mean really in an emotional state.  "Jenny, Jenny," I said, "don't worry about it.  You and your crew handle thousands of details, and there have hardly been any mistakes in the eight years you have worked here.  You do a great job and I appreciate it."  It was an interesting switch, having the employer comfort the employee when there was a mistake, but Jenny could not have been more loyal and hard working, and she deserved such comforting treatment.

  1. Provide opportunities for others to solve problems.

It is so unfortunate when a person nurses a grievance in the work place or in a family situation and just lets it smolder, especially one which could be solved with some intelligent effort.  Often there is no one to turn to, or very frequently a person is "afraid" to bring the matter to the attention of one who could help, or there is a desire not to "complain."  A family or organization is much better off if there is an acceptable mechanism to handle such matters, and if people can be made comfortable about seeking help.  Of course, sometimes grievances or perceived grievances are without substance, or they are personality problems of the people themselves.  It is up to the person to whom the problem is brought to distinguish the real from the unjustified.  In any case, there is a cardinal principle to be considered in the work place and in life itself: People like to be heard.

When I hire a new person, I say emphatically that if he or she has a problem, please come talk to me about it.  Don't let it smolder.  Do my employees respond to this invitation?  Not as frequently as I would like!  "He's too busy," they think, or "I hate to bring up my petty problems," although they may not be petty at all to the person who has them.  On the other hand, there have been grievances eliminated by talking them through, sometimes very easily.

Blessed is the family in which grievances can be expressed and considered and in which such occasions are not taken as a opportunity for harsh lectures or discipline.

  1. Admit when you are wrong.

It is amazing how many teachers, or parents, or supervisors feel that the admission of a mistake is somehow demeaning, or that it undermines authority when just the opposite is true.  An individual who admits a mistake is usually admired.  Confession indicates bigness, a confidence that a mistake can be made yet it is possible to pick up and move on.  It clears the air.

  1. Identify what others do well and help them build on their strengths.

This can involve redesigning positions to take advantage of what they do well and what they like to do.  The two are usually the same.  Now, I know that there are organizations in which there are job descriptions, and a person is told, "Do that and nothing else.  Don't try any of your own ideas."  It is unfortunate for the person and for the organization if such rigidity prevails because flexibility and willingness to adjust can be most helpful.  Build on strengths, and shore up weaknesses.  When I consider some of my employees, what they were hired for, and what their jobs turned into, I believe I see confirmation of this principle.

In the apartment business I benefited from the services of some very good managers.  The position called for a great variety of skills: being a salesperson, a resident "social worker" for the tenants, a bookkeeper, a supervisor of employees, and a person with reasonable knowledge of mechanics, air conditioners, garbage disposals, hot water heaters, etc.  Obviously, no one person can excel in all of these.  My assignment was to find out what my managers did well, and get them help in other areas.  If they had fine personalities for sales and relationships, but were poor with bookkeeping, I got them some assistance on the books.  If they had other skills and interests, but were duds in mechanics, I beefed up the maintenance department.  The same line of reasoning applies to identifying skills in a team or a family.

  1. Give people and family members responsibility up to the measure of their capabilities, but give them the authority to go along with it.

It is wise to give employees and family members as much responsibility as they can handle, but without overdoing it.  Most people like responsibility.  Individuals like to perform and, of course, an organization benefits if they do.  However, you have to be sensitive not to overload them.  Let them stretch, but only to the level of comfort and not to the breaking point.

With regard to having authority accompany responsibility, there is nothing which makes people draw back more quickly than having their decisions reversed.  If a person has been given responsibility, and in his or her best judgment does something which turns out to be a mistake, correct it for the future.  A reprimand is not in order.

An apartment manager bought some hot water heaters once which were too small to provide sufficient hot water to the residents.  It was costly to replace them.  Her motive had been an effort to save money on the purchase, and I did not fault her.

My apartment managers in other cities assumed responsibility and ran what were more than small business operations on their own, although I certainly kept in touch with what was going on.  On my visits, they would sometimes refer to "my apartment" as if they owned the building, and then be embarrassed.  But I would reassure them, responding, "The more you look upon it as yours, the better I like it".

When a tenant telephoned me directly with a complaint, which happened amazingly infrequently, I listened patiently and told the caller that I was sorry there was a problem, but that I had faith in my manager and I had to, and wanted to, back her up.  I also pointed out what my life would be like if word got around that all you had to do was to call Mr. Bell and he would overrule the local authority.

  1. Make it a policy in an organization, and publicize the fact clearly, that there will be no glass ceilings, no artificial barriers to promotion and responsibility.

Let all know that they will be treated equally and fairly regardless of race, creed, color, gender, ethnic background, or any of the other societal prejudices which hold people back.  This is only proper human behavior, but, from the viewpoint of motivating others, almost everyone will work harder and will be more efficient if it is known that his or her aspirations might be realized.  It is a wise idea to write a letter to that effect to those in charge and state that it should be posted on the bulletin board and kept in the files.

  1. Ask questions and things happen.

When I visited our apartment managers, I asked them what policies they set and how they did things.  It was clear to them that my questions were not challenging or confrontational, just posed out of interest.  It gave them a chance to tell of all the good things they were doing, which, in turn presented me the opportunity to praise them for their performance.

During these conferences, it was especially helpful, and gave a manager a particular boost if she told of something which I could recommend to other managers.  For example, Kay, at Port Arthur, Texas, worked out a deal with a nearby restaurant for two free meals (but no drinks or tip) for which she held a drawing every month for those who got their rent in on the first of the month or earlier.  The restaurant received good advertising; the residents liked it; and we got our rent sooner.  Kay was especially pleased when other managers adopted the plan.

Another result confirms the remark "Ask questions, and things happen."  In describing their activities to me, the managers frequently thought of improvements they could make and were glad to tell me about them once they had put them in practice.  And, of course, very important is the fact that I could make suggestions to them as they responded to my questions.

  1. Make others stakeholders in the policies of the company or the family.

To the degree that people contribute to a plan, they are committed to carry it out.  As the expression goes, help them "to buy into it", though this expression is used more frequently to imply commitment, not just financial support.  Motivating employees is especially important in the changing environment of business.  The days of the "big man" are over, defined as a man at the top who issues edicts and all below follow them.  The value of initiative at all levels is being recognized, sometimes called "intrapreneurship."  We are entering an era in which strategic decisions are being pushed downward in organizations, and employees should be encouraged to conceive ideas which can be put into practice, and not "I just do what I'm told." which was an expression so frequently used, and encouraged, in the past.

  1. A final word of wisdom from a large employer: Don't tell employees how to do a job.  Tell them what the goals are, and then step back and watch their ingenuity in action.


Many of these same principles described above as to how to motivate those beneath you can apply to motivating those above you: a boss, principal, supervisor, coach or parent.  Points to remember:


After reading the above, some employees may retort: "That stuff would never work in the big outfit I am in."  Or one may say: "You don't know my boss.  That jerk would never do such things."

Fortunately, many of these principles are being applied in large corporations today.  They can be adjusted to size, because to a modified extent, some or all of these ideas can be helpful in various situations.  These principles represent an attitude of mind on the part of authorities.

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