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When You Turn Your Job On, Does It Return the Favor?

By Bill Catlette
In late December, a piece by Dave Gershman in The Ann Arbor (MI) News reported the story of John Schultz, who allegedly was fired from his grocery store job after aiding a store manager in apprehending a shoplifter.

While on break, Schultz apparently responded to a call for help by a store manager who, with other store employees, had observed a "customer" stuffing about $350 of merchandise into his backpack and leaving the store. A five-year store employee whose job as a fishmonger has taught him to handle slippery items, Schultz apparently followed the guy outside, grabbed him, and was restraining him pending arrival of the gendarmes. When the manager caught up to him, he reportedly told Schultz to let the guy go, which he did.

End of story, right? Wrong. Schultz was called in the next day, Christmas Eve, to receive not a bonus or commendation for going the extra mile, or even a cookie, but, get this - a pink slip for having physical contact with a customer. Yikes!

The article quotes Kate Klotz, a company spokesperson, as saying that Whole Foods' policy is clear and listed in a booklet that all employees have to acknowledge receipt of before they can start work. "The fact that he touched him, period, is means for termination," said Klotz. I see.

Let's assume for the moment that the story occurred just as reported, and that Schultz wasn't in the process of doing anything extreme, like removing the suspect's fins and tail with his fishmonger's knife while awaiting the authorities, or further direction. Let's also assume that today, another "customer" in the same store is similarly observed confusing his stuff with Whole Foods' stuff by Mr. Schultz's former co- workers. Question: What do they do? I'll give four to one odds that the correct answer is, nothing.

Most of us understand perfectly well that we don't want untrained employees spontaneously engaging in Wyatt Earp-type or other unsanctioned behavior, particularly that which involves a real risk of people getting hurt. Yet, we must be really, REALLY mindful of the effect that our actions as managers can have on the discretionary effort of our workforce.

Towers Perrin's latest Global Engagement Study, and our recently released book, Contented Cows Moove Faster go to great lengths to establish that a lot of unspent discretionary effort, or Oomph as we call it, is going home with our workers every day. Those of us who operate any sort of labor-intensive enterprise can ill-afford not to improve in this area. Perhaps the easiest, lowest hanging fruit lies in the things that we can simply stop doing in order to more reliably tap into this reserve.

1. Stop punishing people for trying (really trying). Doing a complete smackdown on someone who has vacated their break and answered a call for help by putting themselves at risk, with no aggrandizement potential, has a lasting, chilling effect on the inclination of others to go "above and beyond the call of duty." We need to realize that when a person, any of us, makes a snap decision to really "pull on the company's oars," we're not always going to get it right. If we lack the ability as an organization to tolerate an occasional errant but well-intentioned stroke, then we have no business asking our people to go above and beyond, let alone telling them they are "empowered."

2. Stop paying those who should be cooperating to compete with one another. More so perhaps than any other systemic impact, our compensation schemes often blunt discretionary effort by rewarding people for competing when they should be cooperating. Make sure that what your incentive programs cause people to do is exactly what you are looking for.

3. Stop hiring for "good enough." One of the things that most annoys high performers is to have to share your workspace and oxygen with turkeys. Eventually, most either power back a notch or two, or they leave. Make sure your recruitment and selection procedures are geared for those with Oomph in the tank, and a demonstrated desire to be "extra milers."


Want a more engaged workforce? Want the performance benefits of creating a great place to work? Bring Bill Catlette or Richard Hadden in to speak or conduct leadership training for your organization, or to keynote your association's next convention.

Contact Bill (901- 853-9646) or Richard (904-720-0870), and let's talk about how we can make your next meeting a colossal success!

Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC

phone: 904-720-0870
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