Motivation is Not a Problem if You Hire the Right People



By Douglas R. Rosensteel


If we use the principles identified in Work less, get more done, we can say that most problems come from a few employees; tardiness, absenteeism, poor performance, theft, etc. This handful of employees not only wastes an extraordinary amount of management’s time and attention, they tend to drag the good employees down with them. We try a variety of HR systems to improve attitude, attendance and performance, but the bad employees simply become experts in “working the system.” The question we always struggle with is, how do you motivate this small group? According to Elizabeth Carbide Die Company (ECD) in McKeesport, that is the wrong question.

With 2% turnover in a region where 20% is considered good, ECD does not create systems to correct problems caused problem employees. Instead, they focus on hiring only the right people. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, said great companies understand three simple truths:

  1. First, you have to get the right people.
  2. Second, if you have the right people, the problem of how to motivate them goes away.
  3. Third, if you have the wrong people, you’ll never be a great company.

ECD lives this philosophy. They spend an inordinate amount of time finding the right people. They avoid using temporary agencies for recruitment, and instead rely on referrals by their own employees. And they consider skill to be less crucial than attitude. A person with incredible technical skills won’t make the cut unless he or she also has the right attitude.

“We don’t want to work with people who don’t take pride in their work,” explained machinist Eric Anderson, an 18-year ECD veteran. “The people working here are all conscientious. If I do my job right, it’s easier for the next guy to do his job. If I don’t, he’ll tell me about it.”

Communication is vital and begins early. Human Resources Manager Phil Davies explained, “It’s important to tell people the rules from the first interview. There’s a one-year probation. There is overtime and Saturdays, and if they don’t want to work overtime, they can’t work here. I tell people when they are hired, ‘If you’re gonna be late, you’ll be fired.’ And you know, we don’t have an attendance problem.”

ECD’s one year probationary period might seem excessive when most companies have a ninety day probation, but it is a significant component of their hiring strategy. Why a whole year? It takes time to match the employee to the job. According to retired Vice President Wayne Sanderson, “If a person can’t make it on a job, we move him to something else. I prefer to have people working on jobs they like.”

Quality Control Manager Jerry Jadlocki explained, “You’re not doing anyone a favor by keeping them on a job they can’t do. We watch new employees for 30 days to see if they look promising, and let them know how they are doing. After another 30 days, we take another look. They get a raise every two months if we see progress.”

This constant level of attention is critical. Sanderson said, “The worst thing you can do is forget about one of them. If they know you’re thinking about them, it means a whole lot more. They feel like a part of the company.”

In a world where workers complain that management never listens, ECD’s employees tell a different story. Eric Anderson said, “Anything we say, they hear. Management is flexible to our needs. They’ll bend for us and we’ll bend for them.”

So instead of worrying about how to motivate the problem employee, ECD hires the right people, puts them in jobs where they can succeed, and pays attention to them. This is a practice we could all learn from.

[1] Bantam Books, 1997

ISBN 0-553-37965-8

2001, 2004, 2015 BHD Technologies Inc

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BHD Technologies, Inc. 2015