Category Archives: Motivation

Why Do Mission Statements All Sound the Same?

If I broke in and stole all the mission, vision, value statement plaques, mixed them up and replaced them, would anybody notice?

Timespan gives us insight.

We are very good at planning. Planning is temporal, mostly short term, rarely extending out more than 12 months. And, we are good at it. We can imagine the specific requirements, resources, people, interim checkpoints, quality standards, inspections, proofing and format of the final output. All of this is tangible, concrete.

Beyond tangible concrete ideas, are intangible conceptual ideas. Measured in timespan, those ideas are further into the future. And we are not very good at thinking in those terms, much less expressing ourselves in writing.

But, we are told we must. We must think about the future. We must think about the future of our organization and we must do so in the form of organizing documents, mission, vision, values. And, we struggle

Sure, we can dream, but most dreams lack meaning, and it is meaning that drives our organizing documents. Those organizing documents are in the pursuit of meaning. A company can dictate a purpose, well laid out in a plan, but to gain enrollment from our teams, the mission of the company seeks to define its meaning. Without meaning, it all falls apart, eventually.

Meaning is seldom found in a 12 month plan. Meaning requires us to think further into the future. We are mostly ill-equipped to do this. We don’t spend much time thinking conceptually and when we do, we all sound the same. Hence most mission statements sound the same. “To be the premier provider, serving our customer with value add, providing shareholder value for their investment.”

What is meaningful about what your organization does?
What is captivating to your organization’s imagination?
What is helpful to your community?
What will sustain your organization beyond your 12 month plan?

It’s a Question of Values

“I understand that it would be helpful to know about Julio’s value system,” Nelson pushed back. “But what am I supposed to ask him. Are you honest?

“My guess is that he would say, yes. Yes and no questions seldom give us much information that’s really useful. And remember, this would be most helpful if it’s about the work he is doing.”

Nelson was still puzzled. “I am supposed to ask him how he values the work?”

“He won’t understand the question if you ask it that way. Try these questions.

  • Before we ship this product to the customer, what is the most important thing we have to remember?
  • When the customer receives this product, what is the most important thing they look for?
  • When we show up at the customer’s location, what do you think the customer expects from us?
  • Before we leave a customer location, what is the most important thing we have to remember?
  • When you look around at your team mates, thinking about their work, what do you find most helpful to you?
  • What do you look for in a new person joining the team?

“All these questions will give you insight into Julio’s value system related to the work.”

Compliance or Commitment?

“And what if he is just not interested in the work?” I asked.

“At this point, I don’t really care if he is interested in the work,” Nelson protested.

“I understand, but if he is not interested in the work, then the best you will ever get is compliance. You will never get commitment.”

“So, what do you mean interested? It’s work. It’s not supposed to be interesting,” Nelson pressed.

“What are those things we are interested in? What things do we have passion for?” I stopped. “We are interested in those things in which we place a high value. And it doesn’t have to be the task, it just has to be connected to the task. A bricklayer may be stacking brick with mortar, not very interesting, but he may also be building a school for his children.”

“I get it,” said Nelson, “but we don’t build schools. How am I supposed to know what Julio is interested in? How am I supposed to know about Julio’s value system?”

“You are his manager. That’s the work of a manager.”

It’s Not Working Harder

“The difference in the two jobs was night and day,” Caitland explained. “The higher paying job had a better title. Managing Director, I think. The other company had lower pay, a lower title, but the work was more interesting, more challenging, in the end, more satisfying.”

“What was it about the work that made it more satisfying?” I asked.

“The Managing Director job was just that. I managed and I directed. Actually, it was a glorified supervisor position. Very frustrating. I was supposed to make sure the work got done, but I felt like I was putting my thumb in the dike. I could easily see better ways to achieve the goals, systems that we could create to more effectively solve the same problems over and over. But my boss was resistant. He said that creating those systems would be a waste of time, there were always too many exceptions.”

“And why was the other position more satisfying?” I repeated.

“A lot less stress, even though we produced more than double the output of the other company. It’s funny, I never fixed a problem while I was there. I only focused on systems. I would fix the system and the system would fix ten problems. We seldom worked overtime, but were much more productive.”
As we wind into this holiday season, Management Blog is winding down its publishing year. We will see you in January 2024. Until then, have a Merry Christmas. Enjoy the time with family and friends. See you soon. -Tom

What’s the Difference in the Work?

“As a manager, if all you can offer is money, what kind of issues do you constantly face? More importantly, if we are trying to get some work done around here, how can we bring out the best in people?” I repeated.

Caitland hesitated. “I guess my experience is from my first few jobs. Money was the only reason I worked. It’s how I put myself through school. The only reason I worked was for the money. And if I got a better offer, more money, for another job, I jumped on it.”

“Did you ever take a job, based on compensation, that you wished you hadn’t taken? Even though the money was better than your previous job?” I pressed.

She nodded her head. “Yes, but, in my mind, I told myself they were paying for a lousy job and that’s why the money was better. Funny. They were paying for a lousy job.”

“And have you ever taken a job that was so interesting that the money didn’t matter?”

Again, Caitland nodded. “Yes, don’t tell anyone, but this job, I would work for free.”

“So, tell me, what’s the difference in the work?”

Ten Cents an Hour More?

“But, you can’t make your living if you only work for free,” Caitland pushed back.

“No, we do have to survive. We need food and shelter. And we will work to make sure we have those things in good supply,” I replied. “But if that is the only meaning someone gets out of their job, what do you think happens?”

“That’s easy. If they find another job that pays ten cents an hour more, they’re gone. Or worse yet, they come back and try to negotiate for more money every other week.”

“So, as a manager, if all you can offer is money, what kind of issues do you constantly face? More importantly, if we are trying to get some work done around here, how can we bring out the best in people?”

How Much Are They Paid?

“Thinking about your team, what is it that you think people really want out of their job?” I asked.

Caitland was looking for the trick in the question, but her answer jumped out, shaking her head, “It’s money. Just ask them. Especially today.”

“So, you think money is the prime motivator?” I followed.

“You mean, it’s not,” Caitland baited.

I smiled. “Have you ever heard of Encyclopedia Britannica?”

Caitland nodded. “My parents owned a set. When I was a kid, we used to copy out of it, for our homework assignments. We had a special heavy duty bookshelf. Those books weighed a lot.”

“And what happened to that company?”

“I’m not sure. When CDs came out, there was a company called Encarta. A whole encyclopedia on a CD.”

“And what happened to that company?”

Caitland stopped. “I’m guessing they are out of business, too. Now, I just use Wikipedia.”

“And how much money are the writer’s paid to work for Wikipedia?”

Caitland smiled.

Feeling Part of the Team

“Caitland, you have been a manager for a while in this company. I know you’ve received awards, plaques and certificates for things you have done. But I only see a couple up on your wall,” I observed.

“You’re right,” she said, leaning over to open a long file drawer. “Look at these. I actually think it’s company policy to only give out awards that fit in file drawers.”

“But, aren’t you proud of the recognition?”

“You, know, it’s nice. But after a while, the plaques are all the same.”

“How so?” I asked.

“You want to know what really makes me feel a part of the team, I mean the management team. Every Wednesday, the three top executives in the company go to lunch. Two months ago, they asked me to go with them. In that lunch, they shared some exciting news about a new product launch. It made me feel an important part of what’s going on around here. I would trade all of my plaques for more of those conversations.”


Victoria was stumped. She had always thought the only way to motivate people was to create a bonus or incentive program.

“So, if a bonus is off the table,” I started, “what could you create as a positive consequence?”

“I suppose, if I am around and notice something good, I could give them an attaboy,” she floated.

“And if you are not around?”

“That’s the problem, when I’m not around, things grind to a halt.”

“Have you ever heard, What gets measured, gets done?” I asked. “Why do you think that happens?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because people think they are being watched even when they aren’t being watched.”

“Don’t be naive. People know exactly when they are being observed and when they’re not. Here’s why What gets measured gets done. Knowing that something was done correctly, one unit completed to the quality standard creates a positive consequence. But only if it was measured. If no one notices, then there is no positive consequence. If it gets measured, there is a positive consequence.”

“So, then I would still have to be there to count all the completed units?” Victoria resisted.

“No, they’re adults. They can count their own completed units, and post the number on the white board by their work station.”

“What white board?” Victoria asked.

“The one you are going to purchase and put up tomorrow.”

Ply Them With Money

“Maybe, I will have to give them some more training. That might perk them up,” Victoria replied. “The J-curve says that productivity on anything new will decline before it gets better, but more training might be the ticket.”

“And what else?” I prodded. Victoria was getting push back as her team took on more responsibilities.

“I guess I could talk to them, as a group, let them know how much I was counting on them,” she added.

“Those are both things that you could do, probably won’t hurt, but probably won’t have the impact you are interested in,” I explained. Victoria’s face twitched. She was looking for more approval than I was giving.

“Both things you suggest,” I continued, “occur before you get the behavior you want. Most managers go there. It’s not that it’s bad, just not very powerful. The power is not in what you set up before the behavior, but what you set up after the behavior. Consequences. And the most powerful consequence is a positive consequence.”

“You mean like a bonus?” Victoria guessed.

“A bonus is a reward, not a consequence. An immediate positive consequence is more powerful than a reward. Rewards are always delayed, can get taken away, the qualifications may change. Immediate reinforcement is more powerful than an uncertain reward.”

“I don’t know. If I can’t ply them with money, what can I do?” Victoria cringed.