Below is an email I sent to all Benefitfocus associates
This morning I was going through the Atlanta airport transferring from Terminal E to Terminal A. As I got off the train and began my walk to the escalator, I got behind a lady and her young son. He appeared to be four or five years old.
As they got to the escalator, he began to scream and pull back. The mother got on and pulled at his arm. He was yelling, "I don't want to, I don't want to." I was thinking the same thing to myself.
She pulled him on and as we rode up, he looked behind us toward the bottom of the ride. His mother said, "Do you want to go back to Chicago?" He said nothing. She added, "Do you want to go see Mickey or do you want to go back to Chicago?" She pressed, "We have to get on another plane if you want to go see Mickey." About half way up, he turned and looked forward. Mickey it was.
In motivating people, we have the proverbial carrot or the stick. We are all pulled forward by something we want, or we are pushed from behind by what we want to avoid. This mother was using both the carrot and the stick simultaneously.
As you manage your day-to-day work, take a moment to consider the associates that you lead. Keep in mind that managing tasks and workload is a bit different from leading. We need to do both. We make decisions on how to allocate our time or our team's time, and we also lead folks forward.
Certainly the retired management styles of the past have gone with their sticks. Carrots have been the way of leadership since the 1980s or so. I think we all respond better to a positive picture of the future, a boost, a promise of seeing Mickey. Under pressure we all probably revert to the quick, "Do you want to go back to Chicago" type of stick (note: I like Chicago, just FYI).
As you lead yourself and your team, it is helpful to step back for a moment and think about this concept of motivation. Tap into the engine that is already in your team and help them see a positive way forward. It may take a bit longer to see change and it may take more investment of time. It may even be strange to some people as they are not used to it when coming from other corporate cultures. But be encouraged, my friend. You are building a great thing: something that is benefiting the world, laying a foundation for improving our massive healthcare system and making your own corporate culture for people to thrive in.
We all need a momentary push from immediate concerns. I am not arguing that in any way. We all need a quick tug to get on the escalator. Those short little day-to-day alarms are part of everyone's life. What you can provide as a leader is that calming pat on the back, that reassurance that your team is on the right path, that painting of a bright future. That is what is in short supply in this world and you can provide it. You can be the one to let them know we are on our way to see Mickey.
This is why ‘Celebrate!,’ a core value at Benefitfocus, is so important. Periodic stops along the journey to recognize what great folks you have, what great work they are doing and to just make things fun.
This is also why ‘Together,’ another Benefitfocus value, is recognized as core to who we are. Be it a small pull onto the ride, a little push from behind when needed and certainly a view of all the carrots ahead.
I think Benefitfocus has the best management team in software today. It is a pleasure to create this wonderful thing together.
On to see Mickey!