The $5k Break-Up: It's Not You, It's Us

May 19 2014, 6:20am CDT | by

By Shaun Spearmon

It’s graduation season again. Over the next two months, undergraduate and graduate students the world over will hear lofty speeches from notable figures encouraging them to go out and make their mark on the world. They will be instructed to follow their dreams and not simply resort to chasing the almighty dollar.

Last year I offered tips for maximizing new grad energy, but today’s employers face a different challenge. Unfortunately, the state of the economy and rising student loan debts will force many of these students to take the first offer with the biggest paycheck. Who could blame them for foregoing an all-to-elusive dream job to address the harsh, post-grad financial realities? However, sustaining a less-than-engaged workforce that is solely motivated by money is becoming an issue for organizations. A recent Gallup poll shows that “active disengagement” costs the US $450 billion to $550 billion each year. Enter the Pay to Quit concept. Mimicking a program created by Zappos, Jeff Bezos announced he will begin offering employees in Amazon fulfillment centers up to $5,000 to quit. Bezos and many of his peers have come to the realization that to not only compete, but more importantly to win, it is essential that their organizations shed employees whose hearts aren’t engaged.

As progressive and extraordinary as Amazon’s Pay to Quit program may sound, it shouldn’t be. We’ve all likely been in a relationship where it was mutually understood, albeit in silence, that it was going nowhere. We allow these relationships to linger on until something drastic or catastrophic happens that makes it easier to call it quits. However, delaying the inevitable is more costly and emotionally draining – and it can cause far more lasting damage. The relationship one has with their employer is no different.

Neil Sedaka nailed it: breaking-up is hard to do. Nonetheless, if you are in a relationship that is fatally flawed – personal or professional – somebody has to do it. Or perhaps, as a leader you can reduce the likelihood that a break-up with your new recruits will be required. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be transparent – don’t bury the headlines. It may feel a little uncomfortable, but to truly maximize the potential of your newest recruits, put it all out there – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There’s absolutely nothing sexy about secrets in a relationship, and there’s nothing more counterproductive to your organization than a bunch of fired-up employees that haven’t received a clear vision of how they can add value. If you want to reduce the ramp-up time for a new employee, have an honest conversation with them about: the organization’s opportunities to win, why the organization is uniquely positioned to seize these opportunities, and the barriers that stand in the way. The disengagement that comes after their excitement wanes is the opportunity cost for delaying this dialogue 60, 90, 120 days. This should sufficiently motivate you to want to have that conversation as soon as possible.
  2. Extend an invitation to act…NOW. You’ve given your newbies the opportunity to look under the hood of the organization. Now they’re not only well acquainted with the image projected externally, they’re also fully aware of the baggage (past failures, missteps, and oversights) – information strictly reserved for those members of the organization’s “circle of trust.” Your transparency didn’t send them running for the exits, but don’t celebrate yet. You invited them to join your organization because they have the potential to make the team better. Invite them to act. If they’re bought-in, they’ll eagerly accept the invitation. The younger generation is frequently stereotyped by its impatience and inability to stay put. While this is a sweeping generalization, it is a trait that can be leveraged for good. It is fair to say that Millennials – and new hires in general – desire to make a meaningful impact, NOW! So let them. They are likely the primary source of the innovative ideas that will advance the organization. At a minimum they may create the space for organizational efficiencies simply because you’ve given them the authority to challenge the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” rationale. Moreover, the trust and clarity established at the beginning of this relationship should provide the confidence that your newbies are acting in the best interest of the organization. Help them help you.
  3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 Over and Over and Over… “Failure to communicate” is frequently offered as the root cause for many terminated relationships. However, in any relationship, communication is omnipresent. It is the message – be it active, passive, or passive aggressive – that seals the fate of a relationship. In other words, the question is not whether both parties in a relationship are talking to each other. The real question is what is being heard. All relationships require consistent, timely, and thoughtful communication. Without it, the message that gets communicated, perhaps inadvertently, is “It’s not important” or “I don’t care.” Steps 1 and 2 describe a dialogue between you and your new people that yields engagement. These conversations should not simply occur during the first few days of employment or just during the annual performance review. Relationships – professional and personal – are strengthened by constant, real-time feedback. Steps 1 and 2 set an expectation that you will provide real-time information regarding the organization’s strategic imperatives, its opportunities, and its barriers. Moreover, you set an expectation that their role is critical and therefore they have an invitation to act. However, simply having an annual “check-in” makes that invitation feel disingenuous. Disengagement sets in and, for some employees, the Pay to Quit incentive begins to look very attractive.

A program like Pay to Quit is not the silver bullet that will rid today’s organizations of disgruntled and disengaged employees. Meeting financial obligations and/or maintaining healthcare plans are reasons enough for many people to just keep their heads down, mouths shut, and clock in and out of a professional relationship they are fully aware is going nowhere.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hopefully, organizations seeking to employ Pay to Quit will be forced to first hold up a mirror and take a good look at their relationships and how they are maintained. Believe it or not, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.



Shaun Spearmon
helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations at Kotter International. Follow us on @KotterIntlFacebook, or Linkedin. Sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.

 
 

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