Why You Shouldn't Treat All Employees The Same

by: Mike Dugan, MBA

Send Mike Dugan a Message

From Inside Business

Why You Shouldn’t Treat All Employees The Same | Expert Column

September 6, 2018

You could’ve heard a pin drop. That is, until the screaming started. I’ll never forget that day! Bob was a successful corporate leader. He was managing over $40 million in annual revenue. Yet he was currently behaving like a man possessed.

Curse words exited his mouth with fervor. His face was red, and the veins in his neck were protruding. It was a sight I won’t soon forget. This was totally out of character for Bob.

We coach and motivate people differently. That’s OK.

The year was 1993 and I was new to civilian leadership. I had been a leader in the military for eight years and had experience leading men (100-plus at one point). But civilian leadership felt different. My boss in civilian life was different too. As our divisional vice president, he led four regional managers like me. I in turn, supervised 10 account managers.

Bob was a good guy and a great boss, in most respects. He did his job well. In fact, he was ranked the No. 1 VP in the company the prior year. He seemed to get the most out of his people. I watched Bob and tried to learn from him.

Just five days prior to his “meltdown” I asked him – “what’s the secret to your success Bob?”
He replied quickly: “That’s easy Mike – simply treat everyone the same, play no favorites, treat everyone as equals.” That seemed to make sense at first, but when I thought longer about it – I became confused.

While I agree we don’t want to play favorites, I do believe all people are unique. Each person is as different as their fingerprint. What motivates one person will likely not motivate another person. We all have different hot buttons. We all come from different backgrounds. And we all have our own unique baggage.

As an example: some folks may be motivated by an invitation to speak in public to 200 of their peers as subject matter expert while others may not find that motivating at all, due to distaste of public speaking. Still, I wasn’t sure it was right to treat everyone differently. That didn’t seem completely fair and could easily be misconstrued by others. The right answer was evading me.

I slept on it, and the next morning it came to me! It’s not about treating people the same or treating them differently – instead it’s about holding everyone accountable to the same standards. Each individual must be measured against a common standard – and held accountable for their performance.

The important thing is how we motivate and lead each unique individual to that same standard. Yes, we need to hold everyone accountable to the same standard, but our way of accomplishing that is as unique as the person herself.

Yes, we coach and motivate people differently. That’s OK. In fact, that good. Bob’s boss treated him as he treated all of Bob’s peers. Yet Bob was different. He had unique strengths and needed a unique type of attention that Bob’s boss never gave him. Bob didn’t get what he needed from his boss. He became frustrated and with no one to vent to, he exploded. As you might expect, he was terminated the same day.

Bob was a good man, a mentor to me, and he was also our top performer. But because Bob was being treated “just like everyone else” we lost him from our organization. It was a tragedy for everyone. Everyone has different motivations and hot-button topics. Everyone is unique with unique motivators. A strong leader seeks to understand each individual on her team. The research tells us great leaders know the individual motivators of each and every member of their team.

But don’t be confused. Accountability is extremely important. And great leaders also hold all members of the team (most importantly themselves) accountable to the same standard. Motivating others differently and yet holding everyone on the team accountable to the same standards are not mutually exclusive.

With over 25 years as a successful Fortune 500 sales executive, Mike Dugan now helps small and mid-size companies in Southeastern Virginia and Richmond grow and scale their sales organizations. Reach him at mdugan@salesxceleration.com or 757-679-4321.

Direct Link To Newspaper Article: