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Do You Have the Right STIM?

In my work I witness first hand all sorts of frustration.  Individuals contributors are frustrated when they don’t feel heard; when the objectives that they are tasked with meeting seem unreachable; when they need to constantly battle internal politics and silos in order to serve their clients, the list is almost endless.

Teams are frustrated that their budgets are being trimmed; that they are constantly being asked to do more with less resources; that management doesn’t “get it”, you’ve probably heard all of these and more.

And organizations as a whole are frustrated, they aren’t hitting their numbers; they’re losing market share; the competition is penetrating their target market unexpectedly; China; India and a zillion other things.

Now I’m sure you’ve observed similar issues at your company or with your clients, probably on a daily basis. While there’s no easy or universal answer that will magically remedy the frustration  I’d argue that there are four things to consider when attempting  to diagnose the root causes.  More importantly once you can pinpoint the cause the solution(s) may be much easier than you anticipated.  Forgive me in advance for coming up with yet another acronym but I’ve been a consultant for a long time and sometimes I can’t help myself.  STIM (Skills, Tools, Incentives, Motivations)

Skills- Are the folks with the right skills assigned to the right tasks and projects?  It is quite common in this market for teams to take on any resource in the organization that can be assigned to their project regardless of their basic skills.  If you need a programmer with a specific skill set but settle for someone that doesn’t have it the team and the individual will both suffer.  Insure that your expectation is aligned with the existing skill set of the resources you have at your disposal.  Skills can, for the most part, be taught and a skill gap is one that can be identified and remedied relatively easily. I for one will take on someone with a skill gap much faster than someone that needs an “attitude adjustment”.

Tools- The next issue is pretty self explanatory, you wouldn’t bring on a master carpenter and expect him to install your cabinets without having the necessary tools to do so safely and effectively.  Given that so many of the tools we need in the workplace today are either free or pretty close to it there really is not excuse for not properly equipping everyone to succeed.  That being said I don’t see people spending enough time upfront making sure that everyone has the tools they need to effectively master the tasks at hand.  I also see a lot of disagreement over which tools are the best tools to use and a lot of time and energy being spent arguing over tools that ultimately serve the same function.  It is unfair to expect anyone to perform optimally without the necessary tools.  Necessary doesn’t have to mean state of the art or best in class but the right tool to perform safely and efficiently.  Every try and fix the little screws in your glasses with a butter knife?  You get the point.

Incentives- Smart people will do dumb things if the incentives to do dumb things exist (and on occasion they will do dumb things for no apparent reason but that’s another story).  Most of the organizational struggles that I see are a result of either a lack of the proper incentive or actually having “negative” incentives in place.  I don’t believe anyone intentionally creates a “negative” incentive but they are actually a pretty common occurrence.  I’ve seen sales professionals laugh at marketing collateral that is riddled with erroneous statements and assumptions about their product or service but won’t reach out to the marketing folks to share their concerns because they have an activity quota to hit.  I’ve seen developers allow glitches to exist in final releases because they need to produce X lines of deliverable code per day or week and are in essence penalized for doing “QA’s” job.  Dumb, just dumb.  Given the right incentives, which often need to aligned not only to specific tasks but broader organizational goals smart people will smart things (at least with a greater frequency). We tend to keep incentives in place that are aligned on a micro level when we need to make sure they also are aligned at the macro level.  How many call centers reward the agents for “length of call” as opposed to “resolving the issue on the first call”.  Ever been transferred to 4 people to attempt to resolve an issue on your Verizon invoice?

Motivation- Ah, the M word.  While I personally don’t believe anyone can actually motivate anyone else (sorry to many of my “motivational speaker friends”) I do believe that people are far more likely to be motivated if:

a) they are engaged

b) they are treated with respect

c) they are acknowledged and recognized

While that doesn’t seem like a lot to ask there are dozens and dozens of books written on these issues every year that are logical, practical and most importantly produce incredible results in productivity and retention.  Yes, there are people that will never be motivated even if all of the above conditions are met but they are the rare exceptions.  If you are engaged, treated with respect and acknowledged your level of motivation will be optimized.

I’d strongly suggest that you take some time and do a “STIM Check” on yourself, your team and if possible your organization.  I’m curious to see where the gap is and would like to hear what you learned from taking the time to think about it.


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Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. The only time you have to apologize for “yet another acronym” is if it’s a useless acronym. In this instance, “STIM” requires no apology. A thorough assessment of the root causes for poor performance is crucial. Chances are many of the skillsets, tools, incentives, and motivational machinations were put in place long ago when the Dow was at dazzling heights and my cat could secure a mortgage for 125% LTV. I’m sure if organizations do a “STIM” check, they’ll find that what once was a well-oiled machine is now in need of a major tune-up for the times.

    Great post! Thanks, Nicole

  2. Peter
    reading this it seems so obvious and just common sense – but then I remember that common sense is not always so common! If the acronym helps – we are a step further. What interests me more however, is that if this is really so obvious – how do so many leaders miss it? they are generally smart people so are we having a ‘lost in translations’ moment?

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