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Are your followers’ hands in your pockets? Featured

9:40am EDT July 22, 2002
You get to the mall that closes at 9 p.m. at 8:35 p.m. and the employees are running the vacuum. Quitting time at your job site is 4:30 p.m., and at 4:10 p.m., workers are putting their tools away.

My father, who ran a masonry contracting firm, used to say that when workers packed up before it was time to go, they had a hand in his pocket. The last 20 to 30 minutes of the day could very well be the difference between making a profit and losing money. So what is happening to the work ethic? And as leaders of our firms, is there any way to get it back?

There have been advances in worker productivity, but that hasn’t stopped the inefficiencies inherent in our companies. The first question we might ask is why “we” as a society are not giving our best. Here are some reasons to consider:

Negative attitudes. We all have negative situations and hardships that could dampen our spirit to give our all.

“What’s in it for me?” Without reason and purpose, it’s difficult to get motivated. We need to know why.

Nobody else is giving their best, why should I? Apathetic individuals around us can make giving our best effort feel unjust.

No direction or challenge. If we do not understand the higher purpose for our activity and/or we are not mentally stimulated and challenged, we tend to get bored and performance suffers.

Not being paid enough. This is the classic story of the chicken and the egg. Paying for performance beforehand seldom results in improved value.

I can’t do it my way. When we are not allowed to put our stamp on a project, we feel like an underling.

We tolerate mediocrity. If we don’t challenge and inspire others to a higher level of performance, many will not reach that level, and possibly don’t realize the performance they are capable of.

We want to work with our minds, not our hands. We have shifted from an agricultural to industrial to service and technological based society. Many people don’t want to do manual labor because they see it as unfulfilling.

Spread between the haves and have-nots has gotten wider. Although our country has never been more prosperous, the spread in incomes from the top to the bottom has never been wider.

How do we get the work ethic back?

Identifying the reasons for the problem is the easy part. The real question is, what do we do about it? Here are some ideas to consider:

Team-oriented incentive-based compensation systems. When we give others an incentive to produce at a higher level, it spurs their creativity and desire to give their best.

Accountability, no matter how small. Put every person in charge of something. When we are given a sense of purpose, we can take pride in ownership in what we are doing.

Create a team environment. This is a process, not an event. A great way to do this is to use team meetings to express the vision for the corporation and to utilize team-building exercises to get people to interact and discuss issues with team members they do not normally interact with.

Goal setting. Utilize goal setting to learn the aspirations of others and to try to find matches and opportunities within the company that will be mutually beneficial.

Flexibility. We need to become more adaptable, to help each other out and be flexible with work schedules to accommodate expected and unexpected demands on our time, both inside and outside the work place.

Standards of expectations, not rules. We must be clear about the high standards that we have but without the burden of a lot of rules. Nobody wants to be managed. We all want the freedom to do our best.

Getting the work ethic back will not be easy. It will require us to change. We have to change the command/control format in our companies. At the individual level, we have to allow unique talents and gifts to rise to the top with the caveat of being accountable for results.

These talents and gifts need to be layered over the overall vision and objectives of the corporation and move toward a mutually beneficial end.

Mike Foti (mfotigb@aol.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc. and president of Leadership Builders. He works with organizations and companies which want to influence and motivate their people as well as grow their businesses. He can be reached at 216-531-6363.