I've thought a lot over the years about what motivates people to perform well in their jobs. Of course there's the obvious things like paychecks, raises and bonuses. Most people also perform to the best of their abilities because of having pride in a job well done. It certainly is difficult to hold your head up at work if you aren't pulling your weight, at least for most of us. I think that there's another factor involved in performance - how much respect you have for the managers of your department or workplace.
For some reason the other day I remembered a department head that I last worked for over twenty years ago. C was the head of the teller department in our bank in downtown Denver. This included a teller line, a drive-through facility, and a small teller line in a private banking area (you know, for those high-wealth customers). As a person who was a couple of levels up the management chain, she had a great deal of power and therefore a lot of people had the tendency to be yes-people around her. Although I had the utmost respect for her authority, I've never been that kind of person. I fondly remember the time that she told me that she always liked me because I didn't act afraid of her. I gave her the respect necessary in the business setting, but I always spoke my honest opinion to her. Anything else, in my mind, would have been unworthy of both of us.
Something that was great about C was that she never considered herself too important to chip in and work on the teller line when it got busy. You see, in those days if the dozen or more tellers had more than two people in their lines, it was considered unacceptable. There was a doorbell near the support area where C and others had their offices, and a manager would ring it when it was quite busy. In fact, C would sometimes ring it when she felt that the lines were too long. When the doorbell chimed, all of the people in the support areas would come out and open a teller window so that the customers could get through the lines quicker. C often joked that people tried to keep her from running a teller window, because every time that she did, her cash drawer was out of balance.
When you work for someone who is a higher-level manager (and may even have words like assistant vice president in their job title) but knows how to do the job that you do, it's very impressive. C was definitely a team player who led by example. The customers were important, and she did not consider herself to be too important to serve them. This was something that I found truly impressive, and it made me want to work harder and better.
When I first started working in the support area, I used to react negatively and with anger when I heard the doorbell go off. It didn't take me long to realize that the interruption would be what I made of it. I would hear the doorbell and smile, happy to return to the customer contact that I so loved. And it was always a good way to prevent having to figure out the errors in C's cash drawer!
When my health began to decline, C was a kind supporter. After I came back from a week's vacation which I had spent with pneumonia in both lungs, C heard about it and changed that week of vacation time to sick leave. And the following month when I ended up in the hospital because lupus was attacking my kidneys, she personally got the paperwork rolling so that I would receive short-term leave coverage for my absence. It was because of her fairness and care for her staff that I was willing to stand up for her until I fell down. Seriously, I think that she is part of the reason that I went from being hospitalized to returning to work in about two weeks. I know that it wasn't because I felt good or strong!
Several years later, after taking some time off from banking, I found myself in a job for the same banking corporation, but doing a different type of customer service. I had wanted this job for a long time, but Liz had been working in the area that was the predecessor for this department, and in those days siblings and other relatives weren't allowed to work together. This was telephone customer service, and after I finally got used to the various procedures I absolutely loved it. Something that's interesting about banking customer service - from time to time even a seasoned representative will receive a call that involves something unknown or new.
When that happened to me one day, I couldn't find the people I reported to at their desks, so I went in search of someone to help me with my call. The first person I saw was P, the head of the entire Denver call center. Now, I liked P a lot. Whenever she asked me to work extra hours as I was walking out the door at the end of my shift, I never said no. And when Gram was dying and I couldn't get approved for FMLA time because Gram was not my blood relative, she approved the unpaid leave anyway so that I would be able to keep my job. And when Gram died on a Friday evening preceding my week's vacation time, she told my manager that three days of the vacation should be changed to funeral leave.
So, as I said, I was seeking some help with a problem and saw P heading out of her office. When she realized that I had a question, she said not to bother asking her for any help because she had no idea how to do our jobs. Not only that, but she seemed to be proud of not knowing anything! It made it difficult for me in the following years, especially when I became a trainer, to have her setting performance quotas for the phone bankers. She knew the bottom line, but nothing about the service experience. How could she expect half a dozen requirements to be filled in ninety seconds when she had no idea what steps and efforts were involved? She never knew that I felt this way, but she knew that I dealt with her with the respect that her position deserved and required.
Yes, we do a lot simply because it's the right thing. We do it because we are paid for it. We do it because we have our own self-respect for a job done to the best of our abilities. But a manager that treats people well will often get something from their staff that goes beyond all of these things. This is the person you will gladly work yourself to the bone for, because of what they do for others and what they do for you. It is because of who they are, and having a boss like that is beyond comparison.
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