In The Workplace

I’m the operations manager of a medium-sized enterprise. We have a hard-working employee who has been with us for five years. We’d like to recognize him for his consistent and extraordinary contribution to the organization over the years, except that we can’t promote him due to lack of vacancy. We can’t reorganize at the moment due to the pandemic, during which two-thirds of our workforce are working from home. How do we ensure that this particular employee remains committed to us and properly motivated? — While Lily.

A housewife was gone for the evening with her old-time friends, leaving her 12-year-old daughter to set the dining table for her father and ten-year-old brother. Her father watched this “maternal” performance with amusement, but her brother kept challenging her sister’s authority:

“So, if you are a mother, how do you make beef stroganoff?” her brother asked. The girl answered: “I am too busy to answer your questions right now. Go and ask your father.”

It’s easy to speculate about what would motivate workers. However, most of the time, it’s an exercise in futility. If you truly want to motivate a hard-working employee, then the best approach is to ask him. Go and ask that person. Hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. There’s no better way.

But first, it’s necessary to outline your goals and possible counter-offerings. The key to your current situation is seductively simple — proactive, two-way communication with the concerned employee under your supervision. Assess and continue to re-assess the career goals of your employee. That’s because not many people are interested in securing material rewards that accompany a promotion.

Instead, experiment by giving them additional, challenging, and at times difficult tasks. Whatever it takes, don’t assume. Once again, go and ask that person in an informal set-up where he could be put at ease.

Face-to-face interaction is indispensable. However, during the pandemic you can opt to continue communicating with your workers via other means like e-mail, phone, or individual chat. Make it a habit. Otherwise, you create undue suspicion when you initiate conversation out of the blue about career goals.

As a result, even though you rightly feel explanations are not in order, it makes sense to carefully manage the communication process to minimize unforeseen issues. Here are the things that you can do to create and maintain an ideal work environment, not only for the employee in your question, but for everyone:

One, never think of promotion as the only way to reward people. Besides, not everyone has the capacity, much more the interest to perform management jobs. Many of them hate the pressure of dealing with recalcitrant employees and show impatience in solving issues with peers.

Two, know the specific career aspirations of your direct reports. Explore how you can help them within your authority. When you’re fully informed, it’s easy to offer assistance and advice. And make it happen. One good approach is to assign them special projects. If they do well, give them more challenging tasks. Adjust as necessary.

Three, monitor performance without becoming a micromanager. Agree on specific goals, timeline, resources to use, and limitations. Be ready to answer promptly all questions or clarifications that may be raised. Whenever possible, try to challenge the person to give his best shot.

Four, be firm but compassionate when you reject an employee request. This is pretty basic. There are times you must decline some requests, including an application for vacation leave under certain situations. If that happens, offer a different schedule.

Five, offer a transfer to another position or geographical location. This could be the last resort. If the worker fails to live up to your expectations in the new tasking or special project, have a heart-to-heart talk with him. Explore the possibility of offering a transfer to a new job, if not to a branch located near his residence.

Last, provide as many opportunities as possible to your worker. If nothing works in your attempt to help the employee realize his career aspirations, or the current situation is simply beyond his ability to do the job, then you will have to take some action, including returning him to his original post. Be as discreet as possible.

People managers have to wear many hats. Your job has been made more difficult due to the pandemic and it ought to give rise to some reflection on whether your effort and time produce any value to the organization.

Therefore, the key to being a successful manager is to decide what really makes for a valuable contribution in the eyes of your employee, other workers, and top management. Some tasks are more important than others. Some don’t make a difference. Your employee may excel in some of them. The challenge is to fully understand the meaning of real and true contribution.

Your time is valuable. For you to be effective, you must use your time and company resources wisely. That means performing only those tasks that make a real contribution to profitability. In doing that, ensure that all your workers do the same thing.


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