A favorite topic for wannabe philosophers is what makes humans unique.
There is, of course, a level of arrogance in this question — it assumes we are unique. Usually, people who point out the obvious answer (our DNA sequences) are excluded from the rest of the conversation.
The socially acceptable answers fall into two groups: the self-congratulating (we’re intelligent, we’re self-aware, we have language, we use tools, and so on) and the self-flagellating (we kill, torture, rape, and enslave our own kind).
Both groups are wrong — the animal kingdom includes examples of all of these except possibly self-awareness, which is hard to demonstrate. I’m pretty sure my dog is self-aware. The cat may be also; cats just don’t bother telling you.
Humans do have one unique characteristic: We need to be unique. We need to be unique as a species, we need to be unique as a group, and we need to be unique as individuals.
With 5 billion people on this planet, that takes some doing, too.
We’ve spent the past three weeks reviewing how we as managers can use the five great marketing motivators — fear, greed, guilt, need for approval, and exclusivity — to motivate employees. Fear and greed, we’ve seen, each have a role to play, but their roles are limited, and you have to use them carefully or they’ll backfire. Guilt has no place in the workplace at all.
You can use employees’ need for approval very effectively as a motivator — it’s an easy, useful, and appropriate way to reinforce desirable behavior. It’s ethical, too; withholding approval when an employee has excelled sounds unethical to me, in fact. Best of all, it’s free. The hard part about giving approval is striking the balance between being overly easy and impossible to please. You need to demand excellence but not insist on perfection.
When you give approval you’re reinforcing behavior. The last motivator, exclusivity, is nonbehavioral. By recognizing every person’s desire to be unique among the 5 billion, you gain something more enduring: loyalty.
How do you use exclusivity to motivate employees? There’s nothing easier in the world than this: Simply recognize them as individuals. Get to know them. Remember their names, the anecdotes they tell about their children and pets, and what hobbies they enjoy.
Professionally, spend some time figuring out how to best express each employee’s unique contribution — something you’d lose that you couldn’t replace if that employee left. “You’re a hard worker, McGee,” satisfies McGee’s need for approval, but it doesn’t touch his need to be unique.
It’s when you say, “You’re a real sparkplug for this group, Travis — it isn’t something I can measure, but your ability to get people laughing when things get tense really makes a difference,” that you make him feel that you value him as an individual.
Think back. You undoubtedly had some managers for whom you gave the proverbial 110 percent. I’ll bet they all knew you personally and gave you a sense that they cared about you personally.
Now think about the managers you’ve disliked the most. Among their many unlikable traits, I’d put money on one: They treated you and your co-workers as replaceable parts. Managers who act this way do so for a simple reason — they’re motivated by a feeling of exclusivity, too. In their case, they gain it by feeling more important than the people who work for them.
Exclusivity is simultaneously the easiest and hardest motivator to use. It’s easy if you’re interested in your employees as individual human beings. If, on the other hand, you think of exclusivity as nothing more than a new technique, it just won’t work.
Employees are too good at spotting a phony.