The New Golden Rule

Published: June 26, 2012

Tom sat at his desk with his head in his hands, frustrated about the challenge his boss had just laid in his lap. The report, the one that takes a week to complete, had to be turned in three days early. He knew the team would balk. He could picture Andrea's reaction as she considered the extra time she'd have to take away from her kids to meet the deadline. He knew Jim would stomp around, angry that he was going to miss the big game. Gloria would deal with it without complaining because she's motivated by getting the job done on time and well.

Then it struck him. If Gloria is motivated by the work itself, what are Andrea and Jim motivated by? What would help them focus on the work, do a quality job, and not complain? He decided to offer them a choice of incentives if they meet the deadline. They could choose between an extra day off, tickets to a game, or cash. The team worked hard and met the deadline. Gloria chose the cash bonus, Andrea took a day off when her kids were on vacation from school, and Jim picked up tickets to the next Sox game. Tom met his deadline.

We all speak different languages when it comes to motivation. A strong Human Resources Director recognizes what motivates employees in the organization. Some want more money. Others want their name and picture in the company newsletter. Others are happy to know they made a difference and prefer no recognition.

A youth soccer coach uses the same skills. One boy may need to score to feel good about himself. Another might be driven by the fun of assisting others by delivering the perfect pass. Some kids endure the rigor of the game just to get to the after-game treats.

Regardless of the venue, each of us has the accountability to assess our team members’ unique motivation. Then, when you want to inspire someone, you know whether to offer them tickets to the Sox game or a day off with their family. If you speak their language rather than your own, you’re more likely to infuse them with energy.

Most of the time, we give to others that which we would most like to receive. What if we reverse the formula? It’s the new Golden Rule: do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.