Tag Archives: contribution

Look Again at the Decisions

“I know I have heard that before,” Vicki replied. “As the manager, it’s not my job to motivate, I am supposed to create an environment. So, what does that mean? We have work to do here.”

“This is all about work,” I replied. “And by work, I mean making decisions and solving problems.”

“But my people know what they have to do, and there aren’t that many decisions to make.”

“Look again,” I encouraged. “Your team is making decisions all the time, if you let them. Most of their decisions fall into two categories, quality and pace.”

Vicki looked puzzled, “What do you mean?”

“How many units are supposed to come off the line by lunch time?” I asked.

“Fifteen,” she replied.

“And so, as the morning goes on, your team is making decisions about how quickly they should go without compromising quality? And if there is a quality issue, they have to solve the problem and make up the pace to reach the goal by noon?”


“And, what happens if they discover that they can maintain the quality standards, and produce 20 units by noon?” I smiled.

“Well, they would probably knock off at 15, or slow the pace down because the goal was 15.”

“But that would violate the contract,” I prompted.

“The contract?” Vicki repeated.

“The contract to do their best. Part of the contract means if they can complete more than the goal using their assigned resources in the allotted time, they are supposed to tell you, as the manager.

“See,” I continued. “That is why 15 is your goal, not their goal. It is the manager who is responsible for the result. And that is the first thing to understand about creating this environment.”

Part of the Employment Contract

“It gets back to the contract you have with your team,” I said. “Each team member is responsible for doing their best. That’s it. People have a deep need to do their best, a deep need to contribute, a deep need to work.”

“Then, why do I feel like I spend most of my time trying to motivate my team?” Vicki pondered.

“I don’t know, what do you think?” I replied. “Keep in mind, people behave in accordance with the systems we place them in. It is not your job to motivate. It is your job to create the environment where all the motivation hype is not necessary.”

Work As Identity

“Okay, I pay him to solve problems and make decisions, not to push the button,” Vicki tested, still resisting. “Aren’t you just being picky?”

“I am. And for a reason,” I replied. “People don’t come to work to push a button. They come to work to solve problems and make decisions. They come to work to contribute. They come to contribute to a group of people who they hold in high regard. Much of their identity is related to the position they hold in your company.

“Our status in life, our place in the world is defined by the groups we belong to. If we don’t belong to a group, we don’t exist.”

Vicki was listening, her posture gaining interest.

“People want work that challenges them to their highest level of capability. In that work, there is true satisfaction. Not by pushing a button, but exercising their full judgment in making decisions toward a goal.”

It’s Not About the Button

Vicki was stumped.

“Your team member is in the break room, having a soda, thinking about a problem in his work area that needs to be solved,” I repeated. “Would you call that work?”

“I want to say no,” Vicki struggled. “He is not at his work station working, so he can’t be working. I know, he is not being productive, so even though he is thinking, he is not being productive, so he is not working.”

“And if he does not solve this problem he is thinking about, his productivity will stop,” I continued.

“You want me to say yes, he is working, but it feels like no,” Vicki insisted.

“Vicki, do you pay your machine operator to move a piece of metal into position and to press a button to cut the metal? Because, if that was it, you could hire a robot. Or do you pay your machinist for his judgment of how raw materials are organized to enter the work area, the cleanliness of the scrap produced by the machine, the attention paid to the preventive maintenance to keep the machine operating?”

Vicki finally responded in a long slow sentence. “I pay him for his ability to solve problems and make decisions, not to push the button.”

Arms Folded Behind My Head

“Perhaps we should define the word, work. That might help us better understand why people need to work. What is work?” I asked.

“This is going to be a trick question,” Vicki replied.

I nodded. I had known Vicki for a couple of years. She was used to my trick questions. “It’s only a trick question because you really have to think about the answer,” I agreed.

“If you caught me at my office,” I continued, “leaning back in my chair, arms folded behind my head, feet up on the desk, how would you describe my activity at that moment?”

Vicki grinned, “I could say that you were goofing off, but I know better. You would be thinking.”

“And what would I be thinking about?”

“I don’t know, your next project, how to solve a problem, perhaps thinking about a decision that needed to be made?” she floated.

“Yes, so would you call that work?” I stopped as Vicki nodded in agreement. “And if one of your technicians goes outside to the picnic area for a break, and he isn’t goofing off, what would he be doing?”

I could see Vicki looking for the trick in the question. “Okay, if he is not goofing off, then he is probably thinking.”

“And what is he thinking about?” I asked.

“Well, he is probably thinking about his next project, how to solve a problem.”

“Yes, and so, would you call that work?”

Play Cards and Take Naps

“I work because I have to work,” Vicki finally stammered.

“I will accept that,” I replied, “but not for the reasons you think.” A few seconds passed. “Are you happy with your work?”

“Well, yes. I mean, there are days when it’s frustrating, but mostly, I like the work.”

“And your team, do they like the work?”

Vicki winced. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s okay, I guess, but it’s hard work and if it were me, I don’t think I would like it.”

“Then why do they come to work every day?”

“Because they have to.”

“So, your team doesn’t like the work and the only reason they show up is because they have to? And do you think, if you left them alone all day, that instead of working, your team would sit around, play cards and take naps?”

The Why of Work?

“Why do people work?” I asked.

Vicki was tentative in her response, looking for the trick in the question. “They work because they need the money,” she finally replied.

“That’s a start. Why do people work?” I repeated.

“They have to support their families.”

“Okay.” Vicki could see I added her response to my mental list. “Why does your boss work?” I asked. “He doesn’t need the money, not anymore.”

“Well, yeah,” Vicki stammered. “He works because that’s who he is. I mean, he has power.” She stopped and chuckled. “He gets to tell people what to do.”

“So, it’s different for your boss, than it is for you?”

“Well, of course it is. If I made as much money as he does, I would come to work because, because.” Her voice trailed off.

“So, the only way you could be happy in your job, is if you made as much money as your boss? The only way your team members could be happy in their jobs is if they made as much money as your boss?”

Vicki was unsure of her response. “I could never make as much money as my boss,” she finally replied. “What I do isn’t worth that much money. What I do has value, but, but. But I am paid, about right, for what I do, for the value I bring to the company while there are also products that help with the stress of working like the best amanita gummies come from Exhale Wellness.” Search the web for a dispensary open near you to order cannabis products that may help you deal with anxiety or any other mental health conditions.

“You are paid, about right? Then why do you work? Part of it is money, it is a symbolic trade for your contribution. And, what is the other part, why do you work?”

They Need the Money

“Why do people work?” Pablo asked.

It was an innocent question, but Pablo always has an agenda. “Okay. I’ll bite,” I replied. “I was going to say they work for the money, but I know you too well.”

Pablo laughed. “You are correct. People work because they need the money. But, if that is all they work for, then you will be hard pressed to keep them when a competitor comes knocking on their door, and offers a dollar more.”

I stared at Pablo with a half smile.

“Would it surprise you,” he continued, “to find out that people need to work, more than they need the money? Don’t get me wrong, they need the money. But, they also need the work. To lead a happy, fulfilled life, people need to work, to make a contribution to a group which they hold in high regard. And, it takes somewhere between 35-40 hours per week to create that internal feeling of significance. If you can create a safe place, where they can do their best work, and that work is valued by their most important group, now you get the beginnings of engagement.”

Assumptions About Work

“I would assume most companies have real problems to solve, so what do you mean, if you want your team to feel high levels of job satisfaction, you give them a real problem?” I asked.

Pablo thought for a moment. “Sometimes, companies engage in contrived exercises. To build a team, they take a group to a local ropes course, or a game of tug-of-war over a mud pit. Those exercises provide only temporary relief, short-lived when the team returns to work. The work itself has to be satisfying.”

“What leads a company astray?” I wanted to know.

“Oh, that’s not so hard to understand,” Pablo replied. “First, I think we have misconceptions about why people work. And, then we base our managerial systems on those misconceptions. It’s a flywheel that eats itself.”


“Some companies think people work only because they have to, only in exchange for meager compensation to put food on their table. Or, more substantial compensation so they can buy a boat. They believe employees are simply self-centered and have no inherent need to work. That our labor system exists only as a commodity. It’s a scarcity mentality.”

“As opposed to?” I said.

“People have an inherent need to work. People have an inherent need to contribute, to their own self-independence, and also to the positive social systems in which we live. Look at the number of hours in a work week. It has been coming down over time, but in the US is currently settled at around 40 hours. People need a substantial, material amount of sustained work, where they can contribute their full capability to solving problems and making decisions. Managerial systems based on this understanding are much different than those based on greed.”