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Business As Usual By Stuart Friedman

Great Leaders Give Without Expectation Of ReceivingStuart Friedman, Business As Usual

October 11 – It’s official. We’ve reached the fourth quarter. Personally and professionally, it’s time to look at who’s been good or bad, naughty or nice. When it comes to year-end/holiday bonuses, will you be the old “Scrooge” or the new, rehabilitated “Scrooge?”

You might be thinking, “The final numbers aren’t even in!” True . . . but though you haven’t closed out 2011, now is the time to look ahead.

Most business leaders who have been with their companies for some time have an intuitive sense of likely year-end sales and profitability numbers based on trends and typical performance. These leaders often rely on business savvy more than numbers-crunching to shape thinking about year-end giving and planning. And, in a year where many expect their final numbers to be less than superlative, their focus is likely to be on what didn’t work well.

  • Where did we fall short in sales?
  • Which 20 percent of the sales force produced 80 percent of the revenue? Who hit their goals and why?
  • Who did not hit their sales goals and why not?
  • Where did we fall short in profitability?
  • Which products/services were successful, profitable?
  • Did we define success for each product/service?
  • Which products/services were “loss-leaders?”
  • Where did we fall short in tightening our belts and decreasing superfluous expenses?
  • Where did we fall short in flawless execution? Were the right people in the right positions?

Yet before leaping ahead to 2012, business leaders must not forget to close out the current, particularly as it relates to bonuses. Trust me, if you’ve given out bonuses before and whether the economy is bustling or busting, your employees will expect some sort of year-end giving. Precedent is powerful.

I’m not suggesting you need to give bonuses and/or raises . . . but you do need to determine now whether you will or not. Do not put this off. The longer you wait and the closer you get to the holidays, the more emotion will play into your decision. Emotions do not marry well with gift-giving, especially when your money is the gift. There’s a greater chance of making a decision you’ll regret.

Last year after giving bonuses, a client said to me, “Those ungrateful people . . . not one of them said thank you!” When I asked if the bonuses had included a heartfelt “thank you,” the response was, “Isn’t the bonus enough? The economy sucks. Let them get treated this well somewhere else?”

Giving with strings attached is not being treated well. It’s business as usual!

You give from the heart because you appreciate employee efforts. As the leader, you set the tone. When you are grateful, your employees are grateful. When you feel resentment, they feel resentment.

You may be thinking “But Stuart, you say money is not the motivator. So why should I give them anything, especially money?” Money is not the motivator, but giving money and resenting it (and having employees resent you for resenting it) is a big de-motivator.

Of course, money is not your only option for year-end bonuses. Consider the following to show your appreciation:

  • Give time off with pay. Some industries close up shop when business activity slows. You’ll want to compare the cost of this approach vs. giving straight bonuses, and will need to maintain some minimal staffing during down time, but employees will appreciate extra days off.
  • Throw a holiday party. Some people really appreciate holiday parties and some do not. Survey employees using an online tool such as surveymonkey.com to get buy-in and to get suggestions for venue, activities and menu. Be sure to include spouses/family members. If employees opt for a party, form a committee to plan it. Give a budget and let the committee shoulder the burden for creating a satisfying, successful experience. You might even gain insight you didn’t know before about some employees (future leaders?).

Whether you decide to do something or to do nothing, always act from the heart. Communicate your plans early, clearly, and effectively to set appropriate expectations. People respond better to an expectation of receiving nothing than they do to receiving nothing when expecting something. You can’t control whether people will be grateful or not, but you can influence. Give because you want to, unconditionally. Your gift will be a clear conscience, satisfied employees, and a jumpstart on greater profitability in 2012. It’s your choice!

Stuart Friedman is president of Progressive Management Associates, Inc. He is a business visionary who helps his clients get their companies “Unstuck!” He guides organizations through cultural shifts by getting people aligned to strategic outcomes. He is a leading consultant, speaker, coach and author. Friedman can be reached at stuart@pma-co.com.)