Small Business

A Good Boss Is a Master of Manipulation


By Larry R. Stewart

The strategy was a winner. Those on sabbatical were able to pursue interests of their own. Those at work were able to work at full clip rather than languish. Many in this latter group were younger workers, so they were able to get valuable experience -- and anticipate their own time off.

Escapes. Because entrepreneurial companies need workers with spirit enough to engage in the unconventional, for that is what builds companies, it's a red flag when staff members get locked into a preset way of thinking or behaving.

At It's a Wrap Up, two of my most passionate young employees were able to propose -- but not execute on -- innovative solutions. So I spent about $12,000 to send them on an Outward Bound adventure trip. In the Arizona desert, they learned to rely on themselves -- and a few close friends. Back at the company, they exhibited the ability to undertake a major strategic refocusing -- our move from recycling paper to reusing plastic. From the adventure trip, they had learned to trust their judgment enough to follow through.

Fame. Who among us doesn't want that proverbial 15 minutes? For the entrepreneurial employee, it's a major motivator. At It's a Wrap Up, I offered three interns a sassy job title, "Designer-in-Training,' then elevated them nine months later to "Senior Designer." Upon completing an important project, they earned a larger office that I agreed to paint in the bright colors they favored.

I didn't have to give them a dime extra in salary. The ego-massaging perks were enough. Manipulative? We've come back now to that word. Sure, but in a good way. The interns knew what was going on and liked it. We didn't have to spend money unnecessarily, and we liked that. Be cautious, though: Take baby steps, not giant steps, when dispensing fame. You don't want to give employees a false sense of security, or for that matter, any security at all.

Fame can be external as well. At Trawets, we allowed all workers to take four hours of paid time for community service. That got their names and faces in the local papers, and won valuable publicity for the company.

In sum, you as a company owner won't ever lose by providing trinkets, time, escapes, and fame. The rewards come back many times over -- in increased productivity, cash that needn't be spent, and the ability to attract and retain the "right" people, those as entrepreneurial as you.

SOWING THE SEEDS. Now, about that retention -- I told you I would get back to that issue. You needn't be concerned about losing people for compensating them in ways that encourage their entrepreneurial proclivities. If and when they leave, they will go feeling positive about your company. They are apt to launch businesses that dovetail with yours, and upon which yours can feed.

Never fear the power of ethical manipulative behavior. When translated into the types of nonmonetary compensation that speak to the inner desires of the people you want, you will be able to leverage talent for the good of your company.

Larry R. Stewart, 55, co-founded It's a Wrap Up, which devised innovative uses for paper and plastic packaging, in 1981, overseeing its growth to revenue of $1.3 million before its sale in 1986 to a large greeting-card company.

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