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 Management Minute

Reward: Who Packed Your Parachute?
By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP

In the five years that I have been working closely with maternal and child health (MCH) leaders, I get a very strong sense that most are working in a field that they love, with people that they respect, and they enjoy the positive impact they are making in their states and communities. I also get a pretty strong sense that they aren’t doing the work for monetary reward. In fact, many MCH professionals leave higher paying positions outside of government for the chance to have the broad and deep impact that a leader can have working in federal, state and local government. The rewards of working in maternal and child health are many and I am always interested in finding out more about what motivates people to tirelessly confront the challenging MCH issues we face nationwide. I’d love to hear your story!

So, why do we do the work we do? How do we motivate the folks with whom we work with to do even better? These two questions lead to Burnison’s seventh absolute of leadership: reward. Burnison knows that money talks – and can certainly drive performance improvement – but there are many other ways leaders can reward employees to obtain better productivity and outcomes. In fact, several employee surveys show that workers value rewards, such as being appreciated and having meaningful work, above salary increases. We spend so much time as managers talking and thinking about money that we forget, as leaders, we have lots more ways to reward employees than an annual merit increase. That’s good news considering many AMCHP members work in settings that are resource-strapped, many having forgone raises for several years, and in some states furloughs have actually meant lower pay for many state employees. In these circumstances, thinking of reward as a broad category of incentives and recognitions, not just money, makes a great deal of sense.

At a seminar I attended a few months ago, one of our speakers related the story of a former Campbell’s Soup CEO who never left the office without writing at least five thank you notes to staff and colleagues regardless of how busy his day was or how much other work he had to do. The CEO’s appreciation was a reward that motivated his staff in a very genuine way and was a hallmark of his leadership style. Sincere recognition is a reward that speaks to our inner needs for approval and appreciation – and we know that when we are appreciated we are more apt to do better. Burnison tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who ejected from his damaged airplane and made it safely to the ground only to be imprisoned for six years by the Vietnamese. After the conflict was over and he returned to the United States, he began speaking about his experience as a POW. At one of his speaking engagements, a complete stranger came up to him and said, “I know who you are – I’m the guy that packed your parachute.” Stunned, the veteran pilot realized he never thought about “who packed his parachute” and realized that without the skill of this total stranger he’d most likely never have survived. The pilot now regularly asks audiences to consider “who packed your parachute” and appreciate those people as much as possible.

As leaders, I would argue that we have an obligation to consider new and innovative ways to reward those with whom we work, especially those that “pack our parachutes” and are responsible for our professional success and the performance of our organizations. Sure, money talks but appreciation does as well. Genuine, sincere and heartfelt ways to recognize and reward those with whom we work is a central tenet of our leadership journey. Don’t just relegate that important part of leadership to your human resources specialist or personnel administrator. Take on “rewards” as an important part of implementing your strategic plan and motivating your team to accomplish great things!

[This is the seventh installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to Amazon.com. AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]