that’s why they pay you

You know the drill. Someone complains about how tough their job is or how much they dislike their work and the immediate response is: Duh! Of course it’s not fun. That’s why they pay you. They know you wouldn’t show up otherwise. We snicker and think: Yeah. Get back to work, slacker. You’re not paid to have fun. Suck it up and cash your check on payday.

What a load of bassackwards crap! (to use the technical term)

On the surface it sounds right and it’s kind of humorous and I’ve certainly bought into it before. Dig deeper and we see it’s a kneejerk response that gets everything backwards and wrong.

It is true that if we didn’t pay people they wouldn’t show up. But it’s not because we’re compensating them for the opportunity to inflict misery on them. It’s because of opportunity costs. People need to feed, clothe, shelter, and take care of themselves and their families and they have only so many hours in a day to do it. Waaaayyy back when, they did all this themselves through hunting, gathering, and whatnot. Today people provide specialized skills in exchange for money to trade with others for the goods and services they need. Even if they absolutely loved, loved, loved their jobs we’d still have to pay them. Otherwise, they’d have to: 1) learn to hunt and gather; 2) starve; or 3) find someone else who will pay them for their skills.

We don’t pay people to endure us, we pay people because they bring knowledge and skills that we can repackage and sell through the products they create or the services they provide. In effect, the company becomes the middle man between the employee and the consumer and hopefully adds some value along the way by combining the talents of the employees to produce more/better/faster than they could do on their own.

If it were true that we pay people because we knew they wouldn’t do the job otherwise then the most miserable jobs in the worst working conditions should (by this logic) earn the most money. So, people become fieldhands and work in slaughterhouses for the money??? Um, no. Conversely, how often have you heard of someone getting a cut in pay because they are too passionate about their work?

The idea that pay and misery are directly correlated makes no sense yet we cling to it. How many employees think that their mere presence is enough to justify a paycheck? How many managers think that their employees would be happier and more productive if they could only pay them more? How often do we justify subjecting employees to unnecessarily rigid work conditions, nanny policies, or toddler-tantrum leaders with a dismissive, “Well, they get paid…” At best, it’s a lousy excuse for pathetic, apathetic, lazy leadership and really bad business decisions.

And employee engagement is down? People are dreaming of working elsewhere? We’re afraid of what they might say about us on social media? Huh, weird. Probably just coincidence. I once heard someone say, “People don’t leave because it’s difficult. They leave because it’s not worth dealing with anymore.” Seems pretty true from my experience and observation.

People aren’t compensated for occupying desks, their difficulties, or as a license to abuse them. People are paid for the value they provide through the problems they solve and the results they create. That’s not revolutionary, just too often forgotten by both employees and the company.

So why do people keep showing up for work? Hopefully, they’re getting appropriately compensated for working on the problems and results they enjoy, find fulfilling, and inspire them to do their best. Ultimately, leaders need their employees more than employees need their leaders. Over time leadership gets the employees they deserve.

What thinks you?


the fast and furious way to organizational shrapnel

Kris Dunn over at HR Capitali$t (you should be reading his posts daily) recently posted Is Giving Employees a Yes/No Vote in Firings a Better Way to Go? It’s an interesting piece about software company Valve’s unusual practice of terminating through employee vote.

It got me thinking about the danger of copying innovative pieces from other companies without also using all their supporting systems. Removing the key leadership responsibility of performance management from leaders and putting it into the hands of peers is a very good plan for disaster. It’s not too hard to imagine the workplace devolving into the Lord of the Flies anarchy of a 6th grade popularity contest.

It’s also pretty easy to make the mistake of off handedly dismissing it as “it’ll never work”. Remember Puttnam’s Law: It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. Us humans like to downplay and ignore innovative success despite evidence that it seems to be working.


My only knowledge of Valve is from reading their Employee Handbook and their organization is completely unlike  99.99% of the companies out there. It is as flat of organization as you will find so the management structure as most of us know it simply doesn’t exist. In their structure, the employee vote doesn’t undermine performance management, it supports it. And it works because all the supporting systems work together. Analyzing or adopting this one component in isolation of the rest of the system is futile.

Consider it this way. Highly modified cars often have giant turbochargers, use nitrous oxide, run on exotic fuels (not available at your corner mini-mart) and can put out 4,5, or even 10 times the original power. But, installing a huge turbo or filling the trunk with nitrous bottles in your economy car after a marathon weekend of The Fast and the Furious is a quick shortcut to turning your engine into very expensive shrapnel. Yes, turbos, etc. can provide big-time power, but all the supporting systems (engine block and internals, transmission, differential, axles, etc.) must also but upgraded. Radically changing one component of interrelated systems rarely works.

What thinks you?


one reason your engagement efforts will fail (and no one is talking about it)

There is a BIG reason your employee engagement efforts might fail. It’s prevalent, it’s pervasive, and no one is talking about it. I can sum that reason up in one word. But, first a little back story…

Employee engagement is a huge topic right now. Lots of buzz, plenty of debate, data collecting, teeth gnashing, and program development in action. As with any hot issue, there are HR departments, survey firms, and consultants everywhere swinging into action as I type.

But what if it’s all for naught? Tim Sackett and Paul Hebert both recently offered some great counter-perspectives to employee engagement over on Fistful of Talent. Good stuff that’s worth a few minutes of your time. I’d like to offer up my own concerns about engagement.

To be clear: engaged employees are a great thing and all organizations should be striving to fill their payroll with engaged people. BUT: I do not define “engaged” as “happy”. I believe they are two separate things that happen to have correlation and overlap, but I’m skeptical about one causing the other. My working definition of “engagement” is “giving a damn”.

People who truly care about the results they are creating in their jobs aren’t always happy. They’re frequently frustrated, irritated, and torqued off at the people and processes and policies between them and the outcomes they are trying to create. Engaged people take ownership and responsibility and that doesn’t always bring sunshine and rainbows and unicorns.

So what’s the reason engagement efforts will fail?


Look around: it’s night of the living dead out there. The world is filled with zombies. Not the fever-infected, brain-eating kind, but the breathing-but-not-really-alive-stumblilng-through-today-without-a-purpose-just-to-make-it-to tomorrow kind.

Walk through the grocery store, stroll through the mall, look at people going through their day. There is  a frighteningly large and significant percentage of folks disengaged from their own lives. They are comfortable enough that they don’t have to worry about food or shelter, but with the basic needs met they don’t have any sense of higher meaning. There’s a pulse, but nothing in their lives to get the heart racing. We are in a golden age of enlightenment where the knowledge of all humanity is accessible instantly and for FREE and they shuffle about in their own self-imposed dark ages. Purpose is displaced by distraction.

If someone doesn’t care enough to show up for their own lives, how on earth will we get them to care about the work they are doing? If they have given up on themselves, how will they be an active part of our cause?

Zombies. The apocalypse is already here and it’s on our payroll.


flashback friday: do you have a job or a career?

[Today’s flashback is a short piece I originally posted on September 5, 2011. Enjoy!]

I was watching Chris Rock’s “Kill the Messenger” the other night and was really struck by one of his comments. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said that you know you have a career when there’s never enough time. You look at your watch and it’s already after 5pm so you plan on coming in early the next day. With a job, there’s too much time. You look at your watch and it’s just after 9am and the day stretches out ahead.

Absolutely brilliant! It doesn’t matter if you’re overpaid or underpaid, hourly or salaried, educated or uneducated, or what field you’re in or company you work for: if there’s never enough time to accomplish all that you’re excited about getting done, you have a career; if time is your enemy, you have a job. There’s a lot of people with college degrees in high paying jobs and there’s a lot of people just getting by (for now) who are forging their career.

So, what’s the scoop? Do you have a job or a career? If you have a job, what would it take to get a career?


shrinking comfort zones: the quick path to nowhere

Your comfort zones are either expanding or shrinking – there isn’t any middle ground. Either you’re stepping across the line, challenging yourself, moving a bit into the unknown and pushing back the boundaries OR you’re backing away from the line. Each time you step back so that you can stay with the familiar and comfortable, the line draws in, so you have to step back again, and again it shrinks.

The world it is a changin’ (duh!). Jobs are moving off shore or going away or radically evolving. A sure ticket to failure is to stand still, refuse to change and insist (insist!) that the world not change either. Problem is, the world’s changing whether we like it or not. The jobs of tomorrow are not going to look like the jobs of today. Want to stay employed? Stay relevant. Challenge yourself. Learn. Grow. Push your boundaries. Take on challenges you wouldn’t normally take on.

The more we try to stay safe by not changing, the more at risk we are of being completely behind. My prediction is that anyone who isn’t focused on improving and developing new skills each and every year will soon be either underemployed or unemployed. BUT, I’m not necessarily referring to technology. Technology facilitates a lot of changes, but is becoming more and more user friendly (anyone remember punch cards?).

The biggest growth potential that I see needed is in change, communication, and relationship development. As an HR pro or manager or employee, can you have the tough conversations you need to have? Can you hold people accountable? Can you influence people who don’t report to you? Can you use technology to enhance your communication instead of complicating it? Can you develop the trust and relationships that will enable you to get twice as much done with half the angst? Or do you leave it up to other people who are “better at it.”?

You’re either moving forward or falling behind in direct relationship to the rate you are pushing your comfort zone. Avoiding the difficult or unpleasant parts of the job – often the parts that involve other people – is a fast track to irrelevance.