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The management lesson taught by greedy athletes

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Robert Lentz

by on
in Leaders & Managers,People Management

As I write this, the local pro football team is engaged in a familiar dance with an emerging star: Management wants to pay him a certain crazy number of millions of dollars per year, but his agent would like just a smidgen of an increase over that already astronomical amount, thank you very much, or the man with the golden arm walks.

How many times have you shaken your head over the greed displayed in a situation like this? But if you were that football player, you’d likely make a similar demand.

Don’t think so? Imagine this scenario:

You’re making $60,000 at a job and are content with that. One day you happen to see a colleague’s paycheck. Barry’s a decent employee with the same job title as yours; he came aboard a year after you did and sometimes needs help to get things done. Oddly, some casual math reveals that he’s making $61,400.

Hmmm. He’s getting paid more for the same job. But you know you’re better. It’s only a measly 2% difference ... but why the bump over you? Wouldn’t you like to know?

What if you asked about it and management had no good rationale, merely saying that $61,400 was the negotiated agreement?

The issue isn’t the $1,400. What you want is a tangible acknowledgement of your worth. Barry just doesn’t offer what you do, and there are companies out there that would celebrate that fact tomorrow.

Admit it: You’d very politely express the position that greener pastures await you if you don’t make more money. Before seeing Barry’s check, it was never even an issue.

That 2% just became the difference between staying and leaving. The dollar figure is meaningless; you seek appreciation and the rush that comes when you know someone needs you ... and says it.

Many athletes have contracts specifying they are to be the highest-paid player at their position, always. The figure on those future checks isn’t even known; the real perk is the implied proclamation that they’re the king.

We all seek the sense of power that comes from being considered valuable. If you sense your methods of appreciation aren’t engaging your employees, consider whether what you’re offering makes the employee feel famous. “You’re doing a great job” doesn’t; “We’d be lost without you” or “There’s nobody better here” come closer. The latter statements stir the ego and make the theme from “Gladiator” play in their head.

What might be the biggest “fame simulator” of all is an unexpected increase in pay: a raise that comes because you were emotionally driven to offer it, rather than ordered to by the calendar or tradition.

Ego. Vanity. They lurk in us all. Nudge them when employees don’t see it coming, at just the right moment, and they won’t be after you always for more dollar signs. They’ll have gotten something they secretly want even more: the star athlete treatment, without all the new IRS worries.

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