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Why Being Treated Equally Shows Poor Employee Management

Understanding what your employees want is key to motivating them.

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BY Ken Sterling - 08 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There was the moment when MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe realized he wasn't a very good manager. Yes, in his career he had helped lead Netflix and Redbox to huge financial success and market share, but his personal management style was lacking.

Lowe wasn't a toxic boss. He didn't belittle employees, humiliate assistants, or make colleagues feel stupid. In fact, Lowe made huge efforts to treat all his reports exactly the same. He did this for years until one day he realized that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly.

At that moment, Lowe understood not all employees are the same--they don't want the same things or respond to the same rewards (or punishments, for that matter). And he reached out to a management coach for help.

In a recent keynote talk Lowe gave on "Creating a Winning Culture," he explained how he learned to start treating employees fairly and stop treating them equally.

Understand what your employees want.

The first thing a leader needs to do is to actually get to know your employees. As a leader, you must talk to your employees to understand what they want--and don't want. You need to understand what is important and valuable to each of your reports.

As an employee, I never liked the one-size-fits-all approach of the corporations I worked for, nor did I appreciate management ignoring what employees wanted or needed. This is why as a leader I take the time to understand what motivates my employees.

Reaching out can be done with one-on-one meetings, drop-in chats, or employee surveys--whatever works best for you. The result is you'll know more about your employees and be better able to motivate and inspire them.

Treat people how they want to be treated.

The golden rule states you should treat people how you would like to be treated. The golden rule is wrong.

If everyone has separate goals and desires (which they do) why should you assume something that makes you happy will give others the same pleasure? The new rule you should follow is the platinum rule: treat others how they would like to be treated.

Wait a second. Does this mean I'm suggesting lots of millennial hand-holding, hugs, and trophies for participation?

Absolutely, not (and I'm pretty sure hand holding at work would lead to a whole host of other issues). Instead, I'm suggesting you play to the strengths of your employees.

At Netflix, for example, Lowe came to understand some employees wanted time off as a reward, while others liked cash bonuses. Likewise, some employees wanted more recognition for their roles. When he realized these differing desires it was easier to incentivize employees according to what they wanted.

For me, I talk to my staff all the time. This helps me reward employees for the good work they are doing and to motivate them with projects that challenge them.

By listening to my employees and treating them how they wanted to be treated, I found my employees are more productive and engaged than before, and our relationships are much stronger.

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