Self-worth pays off

   Without naming names, I can think of a few thousands small business owners who survive and prosper in spite of themselves. Their one true talent is finding quality people to manage their business, then hanging on to them.
   Having rendered myself nameless let me go on in anonymity.
   Iím a clinger. Iíll find a patient, meticulous, detail-oriented workaholic (everything Iím not) and latch on, riding them all the way to the bank. And Iíll do my best to not let go.
   Holding on to good people is a constant battle for small business owners. It seems it isnít enough to throw a Christmas party once a year and expect loyalty forever. The pats on the back will also only go so far. Good people in todayís business world want (and I shudder to confirm this) to be paid what theyíre worth.
   Fortunately, I realized itís not a question of what I think theyíre worth, but rather what they think theyíre worth. There is no way I could afford to pay some of them what I think theyíre worth. Others I might consider very adequately compensated.
   Their idea of their own worth, though, might be very different than mine. But how would I know? By the end of 1992, after all bonuses (if any), would they consider their annual income figure disappointing, satisfying or stimulating?
   Rather than shoot in the dark, I decided to find out. For the first time, I asked my key managers to tell me what they believed they were worth. Specifically, I asked them to give me three levels or worth depending on the performance of the company: (1) stagnant sales, (2) moderate sales increase and (3) banner year.
   Being an optimistic sort, I was most interested in their "banner year" number. I asked them to tell me what personal income figure accumulated by the end of 1992 would put a big, wide smile on their face and convince them once and for all they were working for the finest, most rewarding company in the world.
   I gave them a few days to think about it, stressing the importance of realism and soul-searching. Then I sat back and waited for their answers, hoping that the only flaw in their otherwise impeccable characters was low self-esteem.
   Ralph, my general manager, was the first to reply. No problems with self-esteem here.
   I read his three-page memo extolling his virtues to the company and then read his "stagnant sales" and "moderate sales increase" personal income expectations, which were in line with my thoughts. But when I read his "banner year" fat-cat personal income goal, I caught myself hoping we wouldnít have a banner year.
   "Thank for your input, Ralph," I said. "Remember, I wonít hold you to any of these figures. I just wanted to see if we were in the same ballpark."
   Ralph was enjoying this. "And are we?"
   "Let me put it this way," I replied. "How would you like the title of vice president added to your business cards?"
   "Iíll take the money, thanks."
   My ace in the hole had failed me. How come banks get away with it? I should have said Assistant Vice President, then negotiated away the assistant.
   In the end, Ralph might be tough to please, but if the banner year included a Super Lotto victory, I might be able to come through.
   Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, and three other department managers were more reassuring. Their figures matched almost identically with the amounts I had envisioned for them. It was comforting to know that their sense of worth to the company coincided with my sense. I not only had that knowledge but also the capability of achieving it for them.
   And finally, there was my favorite response. It came from Pierce, my visual display manager, who is to put it mildly, an artist type.
   He had a lot of trouble with the questions. Primarily, he couldnít figure out why Iíd be asking.
   "Iím very happy with the money Iím making," he said. "Youíve always been very generous."
   I looked behind me, but sure enough, he was talking to me.
   "But Pierce," I said, "what if we have a banner year? Whatís your ultimate goal for 1992?"
   He shrugged, and this was his answer, I swear: "If you give me any more money, Iíll just spend it."
   Heís mine, and Iím not letting go.

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