What Most Business Owners Don’t Understand (But Should Learn)

posted by Russ, October 4 in lifestyle design with tags ,


I’ve been pretty forthcoming here on Idealist Cafe when I’ve talked about my desire to free myself from the corporate world. I have also been fairly open about this in “real life” and even at work when talk to co-workers. I don’t see that there is any harm in letting people know that I have goals and aspirations that are different from the place I am currently in. I don’t think this makes where I am today or the capacity that I work in any less significant or meaningful, it just means that there are other things waiting for me down the line. To me life is an evolution and what may work for us one day may not work the next, and there is not anything wrong with that.

Well, (un)fortunately for me, the other day this information made it to my boss, but was delivered a bit differently than I would have liked. I don’t know how it came to be, but essentially he approached me saying he heard that I am not really happy at work, and that I may not be there much longer…

In an interesting twist of irony, that same day the owner of the company met with me (and the rest of the company) and gave us stock options. I am pretty sure that I also got the largest share of anyone. I don’t mention that to toot my own horn, it is a small company after all, but to be fair I do play a critical role and when it comes to be, my decision to leave would likely impact the company.

The following day I was asked to lunch with the owner. I only assumed he had caught wind of it all, and was going to see what was going on and pep talk me into feeling better about working there. I turned out to be mostly wrong. He just talked about business, how things were looking up, how it was a great opportunity for us all, etc etc. He didn’t once ask me about my intentions, my goals, or even a single thing about what I’m sure he had heard earlier. In fact the one time I chimed in to talk about something, he interrupted and gave his own answer, assuming he knew what I was going to say. I’m sure in his mind he was soothing me, and with the previous day’s “gift” of stock options, he probably left the conversation feeling better about things.

But for me, nothing has changed. I am working here still today, but my long term plans and goals have not wavered.

So let me tell you managers and business owners something:

Talk of future opportunity, possible long term financial gain, and office stability doesn’t do a thing to change the fact that most of your employees get up every morning and give you eight hours of their day, and it doesn’t change things when they return home each evening. Some may be lured by the long term financial gain, but for those who are “working to live” and not living to work, it doesn’t mean a thing.

And let me also say something that I’m sure most of my readers know, but most business owners don’t:

Money and paper promises can’t buy back yesterday. If you’re not doing something you’re happy doing, no amount of money can change that. Sometimes there are just realities that good intentions can’t fix.

But I digress. I tell you this all to get to my main point, which I think is a question that most business owners probably don’t think about, and if they did, I’m willing to bet probably don’t have an answer for.

How do you motivate an employee who’s not motivated by money?

Simple I say. Don’t offer them money…

Offer them life!

I imagine that a large majority of employee’s frustration with their work doesn’t stem from a dislike of their job, but rather frustration with the way in which they’re required to work. For example, I do software and internet development. I don’t necessarily mind the work, but the fact that all I need is a computer and an internet connection to do it, yet I am expected to put in 8 hours a day at an office just does not make sense. And on top of this there is office drama to deal with, which only adds more negative energy to the end of my day. These two simple facts make doing something that I don’t mind turn into a tedious daily problem for me.

Sure, there are some people who are not happy in their field. Nothing will change that. And I also know that there are some lower tier industries where the only option is hourly work, by the clock, while being watched. But for the purposes of this article I’m talking about professionals; people who have good, strong work ethics, but are just frustrated with lack of control over their lives and their work.

First and foremost, I should hope that any good manager or business owner knows that to get good work out of people you have to trust them. I think a lot of owners miss this simple fact. And second, most people don’t like chaos or lack of direction. Clearly define what you want and expect from people, and them let them loose.

But most importantly, hard working, intelligent people want to have a life in addition to a job, which means they want freedom.

Some things that represent freedom:

  • Flexible working arrangements. There are many ways of doing this.
  • Ability to work where you work best. For some this might be an office, for others it might be the coffee shop. Working with employees to evaluate the needs and requirements of their job, and letting them work how they want to accomplish them can go further than a trivial bonus.
  • Ability to work when you work best. This might be early in the morning or it might be late at night. It also might mean 3 hours one day and 13 the next. Trust your employees. For many people the 9 to 5 model simply does not work.
  • Having no one watching over you. Don’t check up on or watch over what people do. Being bugged daily is enough to drive anyone crazy. You don’t want your husband or wife doing it to you, so why would you do it to an employee?
  • I noted above that money can’t buy back time. An offer of extra time off as compensation for hard work means a lot. Why not? People will work harder when there is light at the end of the tunnel. They will also have more focus knowing there is a tangible reward. Why work hard to get something done when you have to be in the office until 5 anway?

I think people who make earning money their main goal, especially traditional entrepreneurial types (NOT lifestyle entrepreneurs), have an incredibly difficult time wrapping their head around the fact that not everyone is willing to work more for more money. But it’s a simple thing to grasp, really it is.

So all you managers and business owners out there: learn to understand it, learn to embrace it, and learn about non-financial incentives that can motivate people, and you will be much more successful in your ventures.

Originally posted on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 6:11 AM .

4 Responses to “What Most Business Owners Don’t Understand (But Should Learn)”

  1. Nicole says:

    I relate to these words 100%! I just stumbled upon your blog today and I couldn’t have said it better myself. I generally enjoy my job. But my manager is time micro-manager and clock watcher. I am at work 8-5, M-F, no matter WHAT. And so help me if I don’t take my lunch at the exact right minute, or my boss will be in my office 3 minutes after my scheduled lunch time, chiming “Don’t forget to take your lunch.”

    It’s a beautiful day today! Can I work 12 hours when it rains and take off early today to go ride my bike? Please?

    Thank you for the post – it makes me feel so much less crazy! Cheers!

    • Russ says:

      Thanks for the comment Nicole, glad you stumbled your way in here! And also, you are not crazy, I think we’re the sane ones.

      • Nicole says:

        I supposed the next question is, what happens when there is NO incentive? Time back incentives are infinitely more important to me than monetary rewards, but what happens when you have neither? I work for the government (of sorts) and we are on a raise freeze. It seems to me that this could work to my advantage in using time rewards as leverage for a 3 year no-raise situation…

        Also, we are the sane ones! You never get time back. Time well-spent = infinite joy.

        • Russ says:

          I agree. I often think that people usually feel at the mercy of their employers, but really I think people have more leverage than they think. Of course this could go either way, and depends on your industry and management.

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