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What`s in It for Me? Published: Sunday, May 21, 2000 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

The acceptance of responsibility is important to the success of any performance improvement initiative. For some people, particularly well trained independent professionals and owner-operators, we have almost automatic expectation that they are committed to high performance standards and the importance of meeting customer expectations. The premise is that, it is their business and success rides on their performance. For other people, we too often expect them to put forth a minimal effort or to be indifferent to the performance of their unit. The challenge, of course, is to transform the later attitude to the former.

Indifferent or cold people develop their negative attitudes over a long period of time, events throughout their lives contributing to their outlook of today. For some of them their work experience has instilled a deep-seated distrust of the organization or hostility toward supervision. This is the case in an "us vs. them" environment, and organizations have found the need to develop more positive working environments.

Nevertheless, our strong belief is that people would like to do a quality job, to be viewed by the organization as valuable contributors, and to have a reasonable opportunity to develop and use their capabilities. However, here we are face with an interesting paradox: The more success they experience the more they want. This is a very optimistic view of human nature and does not eliminate the obligation to be grateful for what has been accomplished. In most instances, people demonstrate a strong commitment and acceptance of unusually high work standards. People are not born with a innate reluctance to be cooperative. It is illogical to assume that only certain types of employees want to be successful. This unempirical conclusion could have been spawned by traditional work and management philosophies. Again this hasn`t been our experience either.

People who are committed to high performance meet important personal needs at work. This is clearly true of professionals of all descriptions and others in a surprising assortment of occupations. Even employees in the most menial and repetitive jobs can exhibit the same sense of commitment that we expect in highly educated professionals. The underlying personal needs are driven by human nature, and the importance of meeting those needs is confirmed in a variety of work settings and research ventures.

Within an organizational context, an employer can manage its reward system to help employee satisfy their needs. There are some cultures that place a heavy emphasis on financial rewards, but there is almost an endless opportunity to use none financial rewards with the same degree of effectiveness. The purpose should be to create a balance between the two. Every time a supervisor talks to an employee it presents an opportunity to reward some aspect of the employee`s importance and contribution to the team and to the organization.

Organizations cannot ignore the importance to financial rewards. This is deeply entrenched in our societal values and in the expected component of work. As some told us: "if we are successful, we will all benefit from that success." This is part of the underlying logic for early interest in profit-sharing and, more recently gain-sharing or what we prefer a goal-sharing system. This mutually acceptable "quid pro quo" is the foundation of a kind of psychological contract.

Under traditional wage systems, we are buying an individual time hour by hour with the expectation of minimal acceptable effort. This is a tragedy. Such a system does not buy commitment and does not give anyone a reason to expect sustained and above-the-norm effort. Organizations need to consider their performance standards and expectations in designing a reward system. The needs should be covered when a psychological contract is defined. If high standards are not incorporated into the game of work, high standard can only be introduced by fear or by modifying the reward system to provide a "quid pro quo" for accepting the new works standards. Raising the bar is an interesting strategy for achieving high performance. Once we have the will, we start creating the solution.


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