Helping Small Business Think Big


I was asked the other day to write a story about some event that occurred that taught me a key lesson about managing people and providing motivation.  So, although I changed the names and dates to protect the innocent, this is the true story I wrote:

           It was Friday afternoon, the tenth of April.  I had just finished a difficult performance review with Wes.  I closed it by reminding him of the key steps he needed to take to improve specific skills and then telling him that I would be watching his performance.  I also told him that I would watch for ninety days and then we would talk again.

This was really a fairly standard review, much like all the rest but it hadn’t been a very pleasant meeting.  Wes disagreed strongly with my assessment but he handled it maturely and returned to his station to continue that day’s work.  As he left the room, I made a few notes to myself and then placed his review into his file.  OK, that was done.  Now back to some other routine functions.  It was just another day at my company, an 85 person courier service in Seattle.

As time went by I noticed that, to his credit, Wes actually made some special efforts and began to improve those weak areas that were holding him back.  His interpersonal relations with the other office folks became smoother and he fine-tuned his understanding of the computer system.  It seemed like our performance review discussion was having the desired effect.

Summer rolled around and suddenly it was July.  On the morning of the tenth of July, I was busy answering emails, meeting a client at 10, visiting our airport operations office in the afternoon and, of course, just dealing with the standard daily events that flew rapid fire in my general direction;  All in all, a busy but normal day.  Late in the afternoon, I drew a breath and looked at my desk calendar.  I noticed a note to myself: “90 days for Wes” was all it said.  That was enough to jar my memory.  I still had a lot on my plate and it would be close to 7pm before I left for the night … but I knew what I had to do.

I went up to Wes’s work station and said, “Wes, can you stop by my office and see me before you leave tonight?”

To my immense surprise, Wes lit up and beamed back at me. “I thought you’d forget!” he said.  And that was when I realized how many times in the past I had forgotten!  When I casually told Wes that we would talk again after ninety days, it had not occurred to me that we would be taking me quite so literally.  I didn’t realize that the employee is taking me at my word and he is counting the days too!

Wes met me in my office at the end of his shift and we had a very amiable conversation.  I applauded his efforts and commented on the specific things he had done to improve.  In contrast to our last meeting, there was much more smiling and laughing.  And I couldn’t help but wonder how different it may have been if I had failed to follow up with him that afternoon.

As a business owner or manager, you can only do so much yourself.  Your business grows and performs well when your employees are motivated and engaged and feel they are valued and appreciated.  Showing respect for people starts with treating them as you would like to be treated.  Keeping that deadline with Wes told him that I valued him and respected him as a person.  Keeping my commitment to him was a small thing but it was pivotal to our relationship.  Wes became a trusted and long-term employee and returned value to me and the business many times greater than the value of those few minutes I gave him that day.

Sometimes credibility can be won with the stroke of a pen; A simple reminder to keep your commitment to another human being.  Keeping your promises is a key to maintaining motivation and gaining loyalty and reciprocated respect from your employees.  And it starts with the little things.

Books by Gary