Don't Turn Your Employees Into Victims

This article written by Steven T. Erickson CPA, CVA, Consultant-Advisor to Professional Service Firms.


The shortage of experienced personnel in the accounting profession has become critical. According to most estimates, this will not change in the near future. Every firm is looking for a magical way to keep staff happy, motivated and out of the job market. We hear of everything from popcorn parties to back rubs to flex hours – but none of these seem to be the real answer.

Maybe we have been looking in the wrong place for the answers to our dilemma. Maybe we need to look at what really motivates employees – motivates them to succeed and thus be content with the firm.

Abraham H. Maslow – you remember him from your college days for his writings on the hierarchy of needs – also has written extensively on motivation. In analyzing personal motivation, Dr. Maslow describes two types of behavior: coping behavior and expressive behavior.

Coping behavior is an individual’s reaction to external factors, a reaction to what is done to a person. Maslow is very clear that people cannot be motivated when in the coping behavior mode, as they are focused on reacting to others. This is the mindset of a victim.

Many of our employee feedback systems force our people into the coping mode, reacting to the expressed opinions of others. Now I understand why I never liked those top-down evaluations in my early years in this profession. I seldom gave them much credence unless someone I held in high esteem prepared them, and even then I didn’t agree with everything they had to say. As I coped with the comments, I felt like a victim.

Replace the Victim Mindset with Motivation

There is a better way. Maslow shows that when individuals demonstrate expressive behavior they become motivated. They communicate – and perform – because they want to succeed. Transforming our employee feedback systems to allow for as much expressive behavior as possible by our firm members minimizes the victim mindset, replacing it with a motivation mindset. We make employee feedback times as positive and productive as they should be.

For several years I have been a proponent of guided self-evaluations for annual coaching and engagement performance feedback. I have seen individuals’ blossom and succeed using this evaluation process, which is substantiated by Maslow’s comments on motivation. Smart people (we’re all smart in this profession) know that they want to succeed and be successful in their careers. In most instances, they also know where they need to improve. What they may not know is just how to improve and how to be successful.

Start the evaluation process by asking your employees to evaluate themselves and to communicate their goals and needs to their coach and mentor. This starts the process and allows for thoughtful feedback to the firm member. Once successful two-way communication is established, everyone is more comfortable with the process and some meaningful information can be exchanged.

Allowing your employees to participate in the design and direction of their careers is not only more efficient; it also can lead to a job environment where they can be very motivated. Coaching and mentoring is extremely important in this process as we fulfill our responsibility to give them the feedback they need to be successful. However, successful communication is not a one-way street. Throughout the process, strive to place employees in an expressive mode, not the coping or victim mode.

If you adopt and follow the self-evaluation process, your employees will become more motivated, thus more successful, and thus more content. Victims no more!

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