Motivating in the Weasel-Ocracy – Motivation and Management in the Weasel-ocracy

By Barry Maher

If you’re a manager or an entrepreneur, what do you do when the job simply isn’t meaningful or satisfying enough for your people? What do you do when they’re asking themselves, Why am I wasting my time here? Money is seldom an adequate answer.

Warren Buffett claims that he really only has two duties. The first is allocating capital. “The second is to help 15 or 20 senior managers keep a group of people enthused about what they do when they have no financial need whatsoever to do it. At least three-quarters of the managers that we have are rich beyond any possible financial need, and therefore my job is to help my senior people keep them interested enough to want to jump out of bed at six o’clock in the morning and work with all of the enthusiasm they did when they were poor and starting out. If I do those two things, they do the innovation.”

Those who work for you may not be quite that wealthy. But few of us are going to leap enthusiastically out of bed every day at 6:00 AM just for the money anyway. We may crawl out. We aren’t going to leap. So how can you fill the glass for your people and fill it so high that you can generate that kind of excitement and enthusiasm?

Well–short of filling their morning coffee cup with liquid amphetamine–you probably can’t. But you can certainly do a far better job than most companies are doing now.

People are motivated by having a goal, a way to judge their progress towards that goal, and rewards for reaching it. To keep them motivated long-term, the goal and the rewards have to be both meaningful to them and attainable. And the more control they have over the outcome, the better.

On the other hand . . .

A large financial services corporation “can not, after extensive study, uncover any reasonable explanation” for why so many of their best people either turn down promotions or leave for management opportunities elsewhere–in some cases lower-paying management opportunities. They should try talking to some of their employees.

“The company brags about being a meritocracy,” a financial planner named Jonathan, says, “And there’s no question that some outstanding people have risen high in the ranks. But too often it’s more a luck-ocracy. Too often, damn good people with years of first-rate service get demoted simply because the economy in their region goes into the tank. Being surrounded by demoted ex-managers doesn’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling for your own chances. Then too, we’ve got some low grade morons who got promoted simply because they happened to be occupying a desk in an area where the economy turned around.”

“I’ve got an MBA,” a planner named Bill added, “which the company was nice enough to pay for and which I’ll probably never use. At least not around here. I’ve already turned down three promotions. Jonathan hasn’t quite finished his MBA or he’d realize that fundamentally this company is neither a meritocracy nor a luck-ocracy. Technically it’s actually a weasel-ocracy. Too many of our so-called leaders have gotten where they are because of their outstanding following skills. They know just who to play up to and when: always kissing the just the right posterior at just the right time. They protect their own butts by never taking a risk or seizing an opportunity–never doing any real leading.”

Jonathan nodded. “Take the GM who currently runs this division. His last boss–our previous VP—had a mustache, wore three pieces suits and wire rim glasses; and he had his day-timer surgically attached to his right hand. So, coincidentally enough, did our GM.”

“When they walked into a room it looked like Tweedledum and Tweedle-dumber,” Bill added.

“You never saw such a shameless toady. Then the VP was demoted in favor of new blood. The very next time I saw the GM, the glasses were replaced by contacts, the mustache was gone and the day-timer forgotten. Fortunately, the new female VP is big on pants suits or this particular leader would be sporting dresses and pantyhose.”

“And they wonder why the upward path in this company leads right out the front door,” Bill grumbled. “Somebody once said it takes intelligence and ingenuity and years of application to ruin a large corporation. Stupidity and spinelessness can also do a pretty fair job.”

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