I liked the way it jolted managers. It made them work smarter, push harder and think of new ways to contribute.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s sad when people lose their jobs. But it’s also sad when once-talented, once-driven folks get flabby and complacent and realize, “With all this job security, I can coast.” That kind of attitude creates a black hole. Initiative gets sucked in and disappears. People adopt an entitlement mentality. They keep demanding more. I hate that.
Signs of slippage
It can happen to any employee at any age. From office clerk to middle manager to product designer, they start getting comfy. Too comfy. They slack off. They put in 60 or 70 percent and decide that’s enough. They know they can pack up tomorrow and find another job in a jiffy.
These “early retirees” retreat from view. First, they start avoiding accountability. If they see me coming down the hall, they duck. If we’re in a meeting and I ask for volunteers, silence. If I delegate a project, I’ll hear excuses like “I’m too busy” or “I’ll have to abandon that other thing you asked me to do.”
Another clue is shooting off at the mouth. They spout opinions or make snide comments. Not only do they seem to laugh off the company’s core values, but they act as if they’re free to ignore the consequences.
Make performance pay
It took me awhile to realize that these aren’t bad or lazy people. They’re just trying to enjoy what they perceive as leverage. They survived downsizing and maybe they figure they’ve earned the right to kick back.
Well, I don’t let them. But rather than antagonize them, which is what I did at first, I pour on the incentives.
They get cash bonuses for exceptional work. Paid time off to do volunteer work of their choice. Quarterly so they’re always trying to reach short-term goals. One manager I’d almost given up on even scored a month-long sabbatical after going out of his way to revamp our back-office operation.
Privately, I view the retire-on-the-job crowd as a bunch of trained seals. By rewarding desired behavior, I try to condition them to show up, work hard, think independently, be honest and contribute.
One tactic I’ve just started is to partner an eager intern with a coasting veteran. I give them an assignment with a tight deadline and a big bonus if they work together to pull it off. The newcomer’s enthusiasm seems to rub off on the veteran. Voila! Back from retirement.
“Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.