Employees: Let Them Do What They Can, That’s Why You Have Them There

Small Business Forum: If you want truly engaged employees, work with them to find their natural contribution and provide opportunities for them to make it.

Over the past twenty years I have spoken most frequently with managers and business owners on a common topic, employee performance. The theme is almost always the same, “How can I get more from my employees!”

I have two responses to this question and neither managers or owners like them very much.

Here’ the first:

  • You want more; OK, what are you willing to give up?

;The virtually predictable immediate response to this question is, “Give up? Why should I have to give anything up?” (This statement has often been generated from the fear that the only way to improve performance is to pay more.)

The conversation goes on with me explaining that I am not talking about giving up money, it is much worse than that; I am talking about giving up control! Now I can see the hair stand up on the back of their necks.

My second response;

  • “Do you want more or do you want their best?” ;

This response usually evokes something that sounds like, “Huh?” and a look of confusion from the manager or owner

These questions are really closely related.

As a new owner of a small business back in the 1990’s one of the biggest challenges I faced was realizing that every day would be an opportunity for me to choose between control and contribution insofar as how I related to the people in my employ. The classic mistake I made early on was thinking that because I owned the business I should manage it. Eventually I got over that and along the way I learned that what I believed and preached as a coach/consultant was in fact true, with the addition of the right conditions…people really do want to contribute. In fact, people will give you their best for free; they make you pay them because they are doing what you want.

OK, maybe you don’t believe what I just said but at least consider that there is truth somewhere in the statement.

Don Tennant posted a nice piece on November 2nd in the IT Business Edge. If you look over what he’s talking about it may not seem right on point but it is close enough and when it comes to people, “close enough” often gets the job done because when others pick up on your sincerity they will start to pull their own weight.


Our business grew quickly in the early going; we needed to move twice in the first five years. Each time I found myself with the logistics of moving to deal with, phones, computers, files etc. and of course some amount of decorating the new surroundings.

I was in an out of the office a lot, as a consultant we didn’t make a lot of money in our own office so being out was where I needed to be. But the administrative staff was in the office all the time. When it came time for the moves I gathered my people, we identified what needed to be done and then they along with me determined who would do what. As often as not I wound up setting a budget and paying the bills. They did everything else; chose the paint colors, the carpet patterns, the light fixtures, the office layout etc. In each case they beat the budget and I ended up with a great place to be when I was in the office and they created surroundings for themselves that gave them something to look forward to each day.

  • Simple, you bet; easy, not so much. Control is a tough thing to let go of and yet the release of it is the highest form of recognition and your most powerful management tool.



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