Glossing over management's role as motivator will fool but a few.
The bonds of this world are so slight that embracing the tangible is a built-in survival instinct. Seeking out their next meal while avoiding becoming one themselves, our "caveman" ancestors had to know their physical surroundings like the back of their hairy mitts.
Even in this age of personal security, most people remain most comfortable with what they can see, feel, taste, or touch. (What they listen to vs. what they hear is something else altogether.)
Given this evolutionary pattern, it's no wonder measuring products and services against readily quantifiable yardsticks or benchmarks is next to godliness for so-called management gurus.
Indeed, data-drenched analyses of performance levels can help fleets boost the efficiency and productivity of vehicle specs, shop equipment, information systems, and other pricey capital-intensive activities essential to successful trucking.
Employees also represent an expensive capital investment that must be leveraged by management. But the difference between men and machines is stark.
Monitoring machinery can ensure projected or guaranteed results. Likewise, a worker can be tracked for compliance with stated duties. But only a man or woman can be motivated to exceed perceived limits.
When something mechanical breaks down or indicates it soon will, it gets repaired or replaced pronto. When employees -- be they from management, professional, or support ranks -- are slipping or just stuck in grade, there is no quick fix.
The understandable desire to get the wayward back in the traces often sends the lead dog after the tangibles. But wielding threats like loss of pay, privilege, or position against employees who aren't pulling their weight or running hard enough will only carry a boss so far.
Workers put under the gun may fall in line. If the manager of a fleet based in an isolated area wants to get a dispatcher or other office worker keyed up, interviewing some local job candidates -- "just to keep something on the back burner"-- can induce a sharp head's up. On the other hand, cracking a whip around disenchanted but capable longhaul drivers will sure as shootin' drive them away.
But boosting people performance is not just about picking your battles carefully. In fact, it's not about you, the manager. It's about how you motivate your staff -- and how your superiors encourage you.
Use whatever methods are handy and relatively fair to figure out who needs a talking-to. But if a measure of lasting success is to be attained, the tangibles must then be set aside. Once an employee knows where he stands and where he should be heading, positive motivation by managers will get him or her there faster and with less anguish for all.
Paraphrasing President Kennedy, a friend of mine contends that " 'Fair' is what you pay on the bus." By the same token, managers should avoid the pitfall of regarding a regular paycheck and decent working conditions as "motivation enough."
For, as the Bible tells us, man does not live by bread alone. Fortunately, one thing he's always sought in prodigious amounts still comes cheap. And its power to motivate is priceless.
The stuff that success is made of is recognition. Without it, motivation is a powerful engine without a drop of fuel to drive anyone ahead.
Look past the tangibles. Determine what kinds of non-monetary recognition, such as offering compliments, issuing memos, or spreading perks around, will pack the biggest motivational punch for your employees.
Recognizing and showing appreciation for what workers do helps kick their motivation into high gear. And it works with all sorts of employees, whether they're soaring eagles, contented middle-of-the-roaders, or brilliant foul-ups.
Don't let recognition be obscured by what seems obvious. Until Sam Spade makes his famous dig into the black bird, no one seeing or reading The Maltese Falcon recognizes the true worth of Dashiell Hammett's detective story as a play on morality.