Ever wonder why some of your employees work hard and others don’t? It has to do with the way you manage them.

I found this out one day when I was running the phone room at a large home improvement company. Every call was recorded. At one of our monthly meetings, I decided to play what I thought was the worst cold-call telemarketing call I’d heard there. It was 25 minutes long and touched on all kinds of topics — dogs, for example — without the telemarketer ever asking the homeowner to set an appointment.

The call was worthless. I was trying to show that the guy on the phone didn’t know what he was doing. And he didn’t. But it was a mistake using that call as an example. Complaints were made and forwarded to upper management. Ultimately, I took the employee out to lunch and apologized.

Lesson Learned

Apart from the fact that there’s no need for a manager to embarrass someone, and that it’s wrong, here’s what I learned: catching people being incompetent and citing them for it doesn’t do a lot for productivity — either theirs or the company’s.

Yes, you can start a meeting by saying: “You guys were awful last week.” And you can tell them that everything has to change, quickly. But threatening tactics simply diminish motivation.

Not long after that “worthless call episode,” I was trying to think of a way to get everybody to work really hard on every single call we made. I announced that at the next meeting I would give whoever made the best call $100. I explained that the “best call” would be one where the caller demonstrated a personable manner as well as persistence.

After that I started our regular meetings by playing the five calls that I thought were the best that week. It took about 10 minutes. I’d say: Let’s hear how Tom handled this call. I then let employees vote on the call they thought was the best. Whoever won got $100 and their name added to a plaque.

I took that system to other companies. I let field managers know that as they made unannounced visits to events and malls where we stationed marketers, they should be looking for outstanding behavior instead of a reason to yell at our staff. At the end of the month, we’d issue an award.

Recognition and respect work as a method of managing people because people often aren’t used to receiving praise. They’re not accustomed to being important. It shows everyone that you’re paying attention. And here’s what else it does: It lets you identify your company’s future leaders. 

—Marketing and sales consultant Rick Menendez has worked for some of the largest home improvement companies. Reach him at thericker@cox.net or 757.746.4664