I don’t know a whole lot about what it takes to motivate and reward employees. I do know one thing that motivates and rewards me: ice cream. I worked in state parks for five summers, and one summer my co-workers and I took a lot of midmorning ice cream breaks, because we had a concession stand where it was readily available. I can’t say that the practice was initiated by our managers for our benefit. I’m pretty sure it was all Harold’s idea, and we usually had ice cream when the managers weren’t around (but at least we were providing some extra revenue).
Harold was a delightful older gentleman who was also responsible for Haroldisms, such as “That worked slicker than gnu droppings,” “I’ll be dipped in a bucket of llama doo” and “Hang on to your newt, she’s headed for the rhubarb.” I suspect I may have misheard that last one, at least according to a Google search, which tells me that “Hold ‘er, Newt” is an expression. That makes a bit more sense, as I’d always wondered why one would be toting a salamander around.
I was the ranger my final summer working at a state park. No, this is not as exciting and glamorous as it sounds. Mostly it involved explaining to people why they couldn’t bring their dogs to the beach, discovering all the ways human beings can mess up a bathroom, and writing incident reports when frogs were stuck into electric outlets.
It also involved managing a small team of people. My principal weapon was likability. I liked my team members and they liked me (or at least they feigned it well). I never asked them to do anything I wouldn’t do (except string trimming, which I loathe; I’d rather scrub a toilet any day). I had the final say on everything, but I looked for input from the team and considered their opinions. I treated them like equals. We were friends, and that made work fun.
Of course, the problem with this strategy is that not everybody is going to like you. That same summer, my assistant ranger and I did not get along. At all. What made the situation even better was that we also lived in the same house, along with other park staff. I’m surprised nobody spontaneously combusted. She was no Harold, that’s for sure.
I learned an important lesson that year: Some people are simply evil and cannot be reasoned with, no matter how winning your personality is. Well, what I actually learned was that it takes a lot more than being friendly and sharing amazing doughnuts from the local cider mill to be a manager. Turn to page 6 for ideas on how to motivate and reward your employees. Hint: Ice cream is not mentioned in the article. Which is a shame, but you’re probably better off listening to the experts than to me.