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Ken Keller: Walls, Sticks, Glue and Gold

Posted: May 28, 2014 4:22 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2014 4:22 p.m.

The Great Wall of China is so large it can be seen from space.

When all the sections of the structure are included, the length of the wall is over 13,600 miles long.

It’s an impressive display of what humans can do when they set their mind on building something.

Sticks are used for a variety of reasons, including prodding both riding and pack animals. People use sticks to create fires, as a prop for walking and to eat food.

Glue is used to hold things together; it bonds paper to paper, and can be used in many useful ways, including on rosebushes and in fixing frayed shoelaces.

Gold is a precious metal. For centuries, people have died searching for it.

Since the year started, I’ve observed a few things worth sharing as it relates to these four words.

The first is that many owners, managers and employees are simply going through the motions. There seems to be a genuine lack of passion for anything other than to collect a paycheck.

The second is that many owners have simply given up trying to engage and motivate their employees, so rather than deal with this issue, they simply pretend that disengagement doesn’t exist in their companies.

The third is that companies often fail to offer a career but instead provide a job.

These four words, just nineteen letters, make the difference in how any organization performs.

The Great Wall of China failed to achieve its purpose: to protect against attacks and invaders from the north.

Sticks, figuratively, have become a common tool to motivate people. Glue is what holds individuals to their managers and the organizations that provide a paycheck. Gold is something of value, but many people are not interested in going for it.

It is up to the owner to change the meaning, context and use of these words from liabilities to useful tools to have a better business.

Walls are barriers and the more of them that exist in a company, the poorer the company performs. Walls separate people, functions and responsibilities and, in essence, create the silos that every owner says they are trying to reduce or eliminate.

If anyone wonders why no one seems to get the mission, vision and values of the company, count the number of walls that exist in the organization. People get comfortable behind walls. They are easy to hide behind.

It may seem that sticks are the last thing to be used to motivate people, but more often than not sticks are the first and only thing used.

It isn’t as if owners don’t have anything else to motivate employees, but using a stick and not a carrot is the default motivator because it is so easy. Yet the stick causes considerable pain that is not forgotten.

Every owner wants strong glue in their company, holding employees, vendors and clients together. This glue keeps the organization together through good times and bad.

But even the highest-quality glue loses its “stick appeal” unless it is refreshed from time to time. Using glue should be a high priority, but since it isn’t visible, it loses its power until suddenly it fails, often with serious consequences.

Gold motivates people. Now, not everyone wants gold in their portfolio, some people prefer to wear it around their neck in the form of a first-place metal. And some of them might prefer it on their wrist in the form of a watch.

It’s up to the owner to learn which form of gold each employee desires and provide the opportunity for it to be earned and awarded.

As an owner, you have the obligation to: count the walls; see how often the stick is being used as a first resort and not the last when it comes to motivation; determine how strong the glue is and where it needs to be refreshed; and determine what form of gold your people want.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together to learn, share, act, grow and succeed. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.


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