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Reward Valuable Employees, Despite the Economy

July 29, 2009
Engineering Gurus Float Above the Bottom Line
By Jeremy Pollard, CET

So, this office memo appeared on the bulletin board: “ recorded record quarterly profits thanks to our employees’ dedication and productivity gains. The management thanks you.”

Below that is another notice stating that “the wage freeze that is currently in effect will remain for the rest of year.”

Motivation Killers 1, Employees 0.

This story is about a guy who has worked for this company for almost five years. Gus worked hard, doing everything that the company asked of him. Gus has been a good “vendor” to his boss and his department.
He has been exemplary in his dealings with his ultimate customer—the company that buys his firm’s products and services. Gus’ customers have been good to him, too. They have treated him with respect and with admiration since he completed projects with accuracy, on time and on budget.

Gus is a good vendor to his customers.

He is very realistic and understands there’s a recession raging. However he’s dejected because all his hard and diligent work to make sure his customers are happy is not being recognized. He does, after all, work for money, and a raise would tell him that he is doing a good job, and what he does matters. What does a pay freeze tell him?

Gus searches for another job, and he gets two offers. Wow, he thinks. I really am worth something in this market, and I can get a substantial salary increase. There are drawbacks to the new offers, but Gus is excited.  He feels really good about what he does and what he might become.

Technically, Gus is A1.  He knows PLCs, drives and special-purpose controllers, and he can write control software, database software and network-based software.

His background is in general engineering, but his passion is in making things work. Gus, you’re an engineer. That’s what your passion is. The new job would send him for a training course that would teach him some new things, another exciting proposition for him.

His current job—the work—was cool, but he was bogged down by the needs of his department.  The other people in the cube relied on Gus to help them. This was rewarding because he was helping others, but the resentment was building. His immediate boss was oblivious to it all.

A co-worker who knew Gus’ value went to the management of the company and told them about the big hole that would be left if Gus were to leave.

“We need a meeting”, barked the engineering manager. The CEO wanted in, as well. It seems Gus was well-thought-of and well-known for being a good vendor on all sides. It’s funny how no one had thought to tell him.
He got a raise, and he’s not leaving the company. Gus will become an integral part of company management in due course.

Now, no one is absolutely indispensable, but if Gus had left the company, they would have been in a bad spot. Experience would have disappeared, along with one of their best employees. But they knew that. 

A colleague had a little fable he used in software presentations. He called it the guru bottleneck.

One guy knows it all. Like Gus. The employees in the same department, making the same dough, rely on the guru to get their jobs done. Is it because they are not motivated to be better? Is it their fault for not wanting to learn? Or could it be company policies that squash excitement?

These certainly are trying times. Business might not be what it once was, but your employees, customers, vendors and colleagues are still the people they were. If they are not, have they been reading too many office memos lately?

We’d better take care of our customers and vendors. We likely will need each and every one of them in the future.
Good night, Gus. Your company is better off because of you.

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