Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The merits of appreciation vs. compensation

By Dick Hirsch

If you’ve been in the workplace for awhile, can you remember when you received your first attaboy, by whom it was issued and the circumstances surrounding the event? Furthermore, can you cite those same conditions related to your most recent attaboy?

If the term attaboy is unfamiliar to you, let me express my regret before I define the term.

An attaboy is a compliment from your boss, recognition for a job well done, often asserted in the presence of co-workers, but sometimes given privately in a thoughtful moment during a meeting with the superior. Although not present in many vocabularies, the term attaboy was developed in the early 20th century as an accolade for exemplary work performance. That was before gender was as much of a concern as it is today. The female version is attagirl, but to keep this simple I’ll stick with the original.

It is possible you may never have done anything that merited an attaboy, but I doubt that. It’s more likely that your boss or bosses over the years have always figured that any special recognition or compliment was unnecessary when you were getting a paycheck. That is not true, according to those who probe the psyches of workers at every level. Quite the opposite is the opinion of the experts; compensation apparently is not as important as many persons believe.

An entire brigade of psychologists and other consultants keep busy by investigating the attitudes and workplace behavior patterns of people who work for a living. Sometimes they are hired by state or federal agencies but usually they are retained by the owners and managers of large corporations who are eager to sample the opinions of the workforce.

Yes, the years go by and new practitioners are involved conducting sessions with new interviewees. The times may be changing but the results are always the same. Many people hate their jobs. The percentages vary, but it is always a sizable number; sometimes it is over a third of those interviewed and in some cases it is more than half.

The recent study I noticed reported the results of interviews conducted over three years, summarized as follows: Americans now feel worse about their jobs and work environments than ever before. People of all ages, and across all income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do. Most studies cite a direct link between job satisfaction and the success of the company. It makes sense that happy workers will do a better job and that will be reflected in the quality of their work and the bottom line. Recognition from managers in various forms, one of which would be attaboys, is considered to be a major factor in successful operations.

A core of dependable, experienced workers is necessary in every business; retention of workers is vital to success. Yet many companies are constantly faced with hiring and training new people as experienced people depart. One study found that 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cited “lack of appreciation” as the primary reason for leaving. Those workers would be members of the group to whom recognition was more important than a pay raise.

I had a conversation last year with the CEO of a Buffalo business who calls most of his 200 plus employees by name and makes it his business to walk through the plant and stop to ask about their families. He makes sure they understand that he appreciates their service, that the company values their work. Some experts describe that procedure of regularly visiting all the production areas as MBWA---Management by Walking Around.

“Most companies will say that the customers come first,” he often says. “In our company, the customers come second; the stakeholders (his term for the employees) come first. It’s their company, too.”

Contrast that with the experience related to me years ago by a salesman, hired by his company to prospect for new business. After a few months he discovered a growing organization that gave him an initial order and soon came to rely on him and his company as the major supplier of the commodity they manufactured. That firm became one his company’s biggest customers, yet the owners were never able to compliment the salesman on that achievement.

That oversight bothered him until the day he quit but he later realized it had a positive impact on his career. Years later, in a management position, he was quick to praise the accomplishments of his co-workers. He knew the value of the attaboy.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jerry was an important person in his time

By Dick Hirsch

Jerry had status at our house. He ranked. He was listed on that special page in the little pop-up device that we kept on the kitchen counter near the phone. That was where we kept important numbers. The mix included police and fire departments, doctors, dentist, plumber, electrician and Jerry.

Jerry was the television repairman.

He made house calls, of course, worked by appointment, usually was on schedule, and had an uncanny ability to diagnose and remedy TV problems. He was very friendly and became a regular visitor over the years, a garrulous man who enjoyed his work, he considered the appointments to be both business and social. It usually involved two or three days of waiting before he would appear because he was a very busy man. But when he did come it was a time for both rejoicing at his arrival and observing his strategy.

We would watch in admiration as Jerry worked on our TV, removing the back, fingering various wires, inspecting connections and extracting certain tubes and elements. He laid them on the carpet as he probed the innards. On occasions he had to go out to his truck and return with a particular part.

We always had good results with Jerry. He fixed a succession of three different sets over the years and during that time grew his company from what started as a neighborhood enterprise to a business employing a number of technicians serving a wide area. He became the official warranty service provider for a number of manufacturers.

And then it was over.

We still have a list of important numbers; police, fire, doctors, dentist, plumber, electrician. However, there is no mention of any TV repairman.

I realize there are now millions of individuals who are TV owners who never required a relationship such as that. They were born too late. They have no comprehension of the impact it had on the family when the TV abruptly malfunctioned. The screen rarely went black; usually the picture was indistinct or misshapen. Occasionally the sound was garbled or inaudible.

The owner would make a noble but usually unsatisfactory effort, fiddling with certain dials; the vertical hold or the horizontal hold were frequently ever so gently turned. If you never had occasion to tinker with a hold dial while family members waited, anxious to view a favorite program you haven’t experienced domestic frustration.

There were those who would try to avoid service charges and make the repair themselves. How did they do it? Good question. They went to the drugstore. Yes, the drugstore. It was common for many drugstores to sell replacement tubes for TV sets. That was in the days before transistors, when tubes were still in fashion. The store would have a display that was rigged with a top that contained receptacles into which a tube could be inserted. So, if you were a determined do-it-yourselfer you would remove all the suspicious tubes from your TV, take them to the drugstore and plug them into the test holes.

I never took that approach. It just wasn’t my style. I suppose a still useful tube would light up while any bad tubes would react differently. I was always amazed when I would be in our neighborhood pharmacy and notice guys waiting in line to test their tubes. If a person was fortunate enough to discover a faulty tube he would then join a store clerk in the search for a replacement. The stores were never able to stock a complete inventory of tubes so customers often left disappointed, went home and called a TV serviceman.

Then there came a revolutionary development. I can’t remember when the situation changed, but suddenly TVs didn’t need repairing. They functioned as promised and they were generally trouble-free even though they were more complicated. There were no more dials, just buttons. They didn’t need repairs. If there were problems with reception or quality of picture people began to assume it was in the transmission, not the set. The sets played and played. And then one day they died. They didn’t linger. There was no sense in attempting a repair. Maybe it was a symptom of the disposable society. The solution was to go right out and buy a new set, take it home and plug it in.

Progress is great, isn’t it? Philo Farnsworth, who is generally credited with inventing the first television set, would be astonished. So would Jerry and all the other TV servicemen, those specialists whose phone numbers were on our priority lists.