Who’s on Board? Part II: Keep the Good Ones and Lose the Pinheads

Leadership Principle
Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus (the topic of the last post) is clearly very important. But what do we do once all the right people are on? The answer is: KEEP THEM ON THE BUS!

I used to work for a healthcare company that wasn’t known for the way they treated their employees (they focused on other things). In the emergency department where I worked there was a wide variety of people. Some were really effective and great to work with, and some were…….. not (to put it mildly). Everyone agreed that the best employee we had on the team was a nurse named Ana. She was great with the patients, fun to work with, and amazingly efficient. She could do the work of two people in half the time. I loved when I got assigned to work with Ana because it meant everything would go very smoothly and everyone would have an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately the leadership and culture of the organization did not give proper value Ana’s hard work. I remember her telling me once not to overachieve because it would put me at a disadvantage. Crazy right?? Basically she felt overworked and underappreciated. After a while it appeared that she’d had enough because she transferred to a different division of the hospital. What a shame. The emergency department lost its best employee. They failed to keep the right people on the bus.

Scriptural Support
Jesus was in incredible leader. He was very patient with His disciples and trained them very well. He gave them positive feedback and showed that He valued their efforts. He created a culture that kept the right people on the bus for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the wrong people did not feel comfortable on the bus and they self-ejected. So, instead of keeping the wrong people and losing the right people, he kept the right people and lost the wrong people.

So What? How can we avoid losing our best people?
It all comes back to culture. How does our culture motivate and inspire our best people? Are they compensated fairly for their above-average efforts? Who do we cater to in our communications and policies? The highest achievers or lowest common denominator? The emergency department that I worked for the latter; they catered to the pinheads and lost their best people. After a while, these kinds organizations become full of pinheads.

Comments: What do you think the emergency department should have done to keep Ana?

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3 thoughts on “Who’s on Board? Part II: Keep the Good Ones and Lose the Pinheads

  1. One of the concepts that I like to share about building a good culture is called stewardship theory. It is often viewed in comparison to agency theory. Agency theory points out that one of the problems that arises whenever an owner hires someone to do work for them, there is likely to be a different in what is most important to the principle (the owner) and the agent (the employee). One of the main things agency theory talks about is how to compensate employees in order to overcome the “agency problem” – the problem of agents not being motivated to do what is best for the owner (and, in most cases, the business) without appropriate compensation. Business schools have been criticized for decades for perpetuating this so-called problem by teaching it – thus teaching students to effectively plan to get every dollar they can in order to do their job. In your example above, Ana was feeling the struggle of not being paid appropriately for the work she did, so she encouraged others not to work as hard. Not working as hard would be an example of the agency problem.

    Stewardship theory, by contrast, encourages owners and employees to see their relationship differently. Instead of being an agent hired to do a job, the employee is a steward hired to put the owner’s resources to their best use. I find this concept much more in tune with the gospel, as it makes me think of the master who gave his servants so many talents. The worst servant did nothing but keep the talent hidden, while the rest doubled the talents they were given. Unfortunately, stewardship theory has never really caught on as strongly as agency theory among management scholars (and, therefore, within the classroom). The main criticism is one offered by some of the strongest supporters of stewardship: if one person in a relationship acts as if stewardship theory applies and the other operates under agency theory, then the one operating under stewardship will be taken advantage of.

    In the end, how is it really all that different? It’s about creating a culture where the employees feel more a part of the firm, which can require different language to be used and different approaches to be taken in sharing resources (especially information). The idea is to encourage employees to do what is in the best interest of the firm because that is really in their best interest. Compensation can be similar, but the reasons why compensation increases have to come across differently. In the end, one of the main hopes is that stewardship principles help engage the intrinsic motivation – the inner drive to accomplish something – of the employee, rather than the extrinsic motivation – the drive to receive a reward. Studies have shown time and time again that people who are intrinsically motivated experience greater success and productivity.

    So a big part of getting (and keeping) the right people on the bus is to find people who act as stewards, who are instrinsically motivated to do their best regardless of the reward – and then to reward them from the profits of the business in ways that encourage them to continue to act as stewards.

    • Robert I love it!!! I’m a huge fan of stewardship theory (as you just taught it to me). I just finished a book by Dave Ransey called Entreleadership. Dave definitely uses stewardship theory and as a result the culture and results of his organization are very high. It seems like more of a long-term approach that may be difficult to implement in the beginning. I love learning about ways to improve company culture. Thanks so much for the insights.

  2. I think it’s harder to implement in an existing organization, but reasonable to implement in the beginning of a firm. That said, I think people will buy in and follow it even in an existing organization if you are consistent in following it. I really believe that most people want to be good and do good. If I can find it again, I’ll share a talk with you given by an economics professor to some young single adults about a study he did to try to disprove something said by John Rockefeller. Someone asked him once why he was so giving of his wealth. His reply was simply to say that he believed God would take it away if he did not share of his wealth.

    The economics professor found this notion very counter-intuitive and set out to show it was wrong. What he said in the talk was his study actually confirmed what Rockefeller was saying, so he filed it away. Still, as he continued to pursue it, he finally talked to friends in the psychology department. They pointed out that they knew it was true and it was obvious: being giving makes people very happy, so they want to do more of it. That feeling then encourages them to achieve more to be able to give more. The result is that being giving can lead people to become wealthy.

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