De Best fashions is one of the four largest fashion-design companies in Melbourne. The company was established 15 years ago by the current managing director, Dorothy Lighthart.
About five years ago, while on a fashion tour through several states, Dorothy met Quita Wishnoski. Lighthart had seen a number of Wishnoski’s designs in a show and had taken an immediate liking to the designs.
As Lighthart considers herself to be a good judge of young talent she decided to hire Wishnoski to work in her company. At the time the company was only medium size, as a lack of top-quality designs had restricted the expansion of the company. Wishnoski was brought in as one of the company’s four main designers. Initially this meant a large increase in salary costs, but they were offset by the opportunity to design for a much larger clientele.
The four designers are directly responsible to the managing director, who coordinates all their tasks and maintains an active and informal relationship with them.
For three years Wishnoski worked hard and enthusiastically. She was not too happy as the most junior of the four designers, but she thought that as her standard of work improved she would win the same opportunities as the others.
Often Wishnoski was left alone to produce designs for up to two months at a time while her colleagues travelled overseas selling the company’s designs and looking for opportunities in international markets. This did not bother her, she enjoyed the challenge and she worked consistently hard at her designing. She was soon performing as an equal with her fellow designers. Her salary had almost doubled since she joined the company and she had also made a number of new friends.
Lighthart was pleased with Wishnoski’s progress. Her designs sold well and the company’s sales increased dramatically. She also had the personal satisfaction of knowing that it was she who had recognised Wishnoski’s talent and had brought her into the company. Lighthart encouraged Wishnoski whenever possible, and made sure that she was well rewarded with salary increases.
Last year one of the designers was involved in a car accident. She was in hospital for more than three months and decided that, once she had recovered, she would leave her job and retire from designing. Although the accident and subsequent resignation upset the women, and indeed the company, Wishnoski saw it as the chance she needed to escape her junior status and gain the privileges of senior designer.
About a fortnight after the official notification of the resignation, the remaining three designers conferred with Lighthart. She discussed her proposal to compensate for the loss of one of her designers. The two remaining senior designers were to remain in their current positions, carrying on as they had before. The managing director herself would take over some of the tasks previously carried out by the other designer. Wishnoski was to get a large increment in salary, which would bring her to the same salary as the other two designers, and was to take over most of the design activities of the person who had resigned.
The news disappointed Wishnoski. A few days after the announcement, while having a quiet drink after work with one of her co-designers, she told her friend of her disappointment and said she was considering looking for a new job. Her friend told her that she was on top wages and would soon enjoy the benefits the other women received. It is just a matter of time, her friend said. Following this, Wishnoski put the thought of changing her job out of her mind.
Lighthart too had become a good friend of Wishnoski, and also of the other designers. As a result of family commitments Lighthart had spent the past nine months in the company’s main office in Melbourne. During that time she noticed that Wishnoski had not been as enthusiastic about her work as she had been in the past. When Lighthart asked Wishnoski if there was a problem, Wishnoski told her nothing was wrong and that she was quite happy with her job.
However, it was obvious to the managing director that something was affecting Wishnoski: her standard of work had dropped markedly and her most recent designs lacked the flair and instant marketability that had been her hallmark. After a week of deliberation Lighthart decided that Wishnoski must be unhappy with her salary, as none of the designers had had a salary increase since the rise that followed their colleague’s resignation. Lighthart decided to raise all three of her designers salaries. She took Wishnoski out for a drink after work to break the good news to her.
Will an increase in salary restore Wishnoski’s motivation? Why has her attitude changed? What should the MD do to lift her performance to its previously high standard?
Thanks to Stanley Petzall of the School of Management at Deakin University for permission to use this case study which comes from his publication on management case studies.
Jane Jeffreys is a management consultant based in South Australia. Her consulting firm specialises in working with organisations and individuals to resolve critical issues that undermine successful performance. She has wide experience in management and works with clients in the public and private sectors around Australia.
Motivation and job satisfaction are topics that have been the subject of a lot of research over many years. Theories abound and there is some disagreement about what motivates people at work or provides job satisfaction. This case study provides the basis for important insights that will help managers deal with these issues, and it demonstrates the potential cost to organisations when employees become disenchanted with their work.
Is remuneration the problem?
It is highly unlikely that a pay increase will raise Wishnoski’s motivation. We know that she is already being paid at the same level as the senior designers and that she is still unhappy with her work situation. It seems that Wishnoski does not view salary increases as appropriate recognition for her contribution. She wants to move from her junior status in the company so that she can enjoy the privileges of senior status. She believes that she is ready to take on the full responsibilities and rewards that come with senior status.
Note also that Lighthart plans to provide the other designers with a pay increase at the same time as Wishnoski. So it is unlikely that an increase in pay would improve her motivation as the inequity that Wishnoski’s sees in relation to the other designers would remain.
Wishnoski has worked hard over the past five years and her designs have helped to boost the company’s profits. Although she has had many pay increases and her salary is comparable with the other designers, she has been striving for the recognition and opportunity that the other designers get. Wishnoski measures her success against the rewards that are provided to the existing designers and, despite the equality in pay, she sees that she is still a junior.
What to do?
Lighthart faces the very real risk of losing Wishnoski. This would be a damaging loss for her company with immediate effects on the bottom line. Not only would she be losing a very important strategic asset, but she would also be faced with the costs of replacing her: just the cost of recruitment and training can equate to between one and two years salary.
It is critical that Lighthart talk to Wishnoski about the reasons for the decline in her performance. Lighthart seems to be acting with good faith: she values Wishnoski’s contribution and has tried to motivate her with pay increases. However, she has overlooked the possibility that Wishnoski is not necessarily looking for more money. Wishnoski is looking for career advancement, for future challenges and to have the same status as the other designers.
Lighthart needs to introduce a performance management and development process that would ensure that there is continuing and focused communication between herself and each staff member concerning:
- The goals of the company.
- What effect each individual’s contribution has on the success of the company.
- Performance expectations.
- Performance outcomes.
- Staff members goals and development needs.
Although Lighthart is close to her staff and communication is continuous and friendly, Wishnoski has failed to raise her concerns with Lighthart. Regular opportunities need to be provided to enable staff to discuss their performance and career needs.
Principles for managers
This case study invokes a number of principles of which managers need to be aware if they are to create a work environment that ensures their people operate at their best.
- Invest time in gaining an understanding of the several factors that influence motivation and job satisfaction: they need to examine the theories.
- Not assume that they know what is important to their people without consulting them.
- Remember that different things motivate different people.
- Involve their staff in determining an appropriate remuneration system.
- Ensure that effective performance management and development processes are in place.
The same principles apply in team situations as when dealing with individuals, although the performance management and development tools and approaches may be different.
Sarah Cornally is a facilitator, speaker, consultant and executive coach with a unique ability for spotting the maximum leverage points in businesses, people and organisations. For 20 years she has been consulting to organisations and applying the principles of behavioral science to achieve performance outcomes and cultural change. She is a presenter on leadership programs, and her clients include many multinational organisations, government departments and small businesses.
A common misperception we have is that people are motivated solely by money. However, people’s attitude to money depends on their relationship with it and the meaning they attach to it. Studies report that remuneration rates lower on a hierarchy of importance than many other motivators, except when people do not have enough for survival. Money is usually an obvious and relatively uncomplicated solution to a problem a quick fix.
To find out what motivates people you have to discuss their needs, wants and expectations then develop a pathway to achieving these things. It is important to be realistic about what you promise. As people grow and their needs develop, their expectations change.
In this case study it seems that Dorothy Lighthart and Quita Wishnoski started their relationship based on assumed expectations. Initially they were complementary but diverged as the business and Quita developed. Dorothy is rewarding Quita based on her own personal values or on an assumption about what is important to Quita. Quita has not told Dorothy what her frustrations or needs and expectations are.
If we attempt to project ourselves into Quita’s inner experience of her situation, she may be saying something like this: I was thrilled to join this company and have my work appreciated and an opportunity to gain experience and develop my skills. I have given my best, and the quality I produce has repositioned the company to where Dorothy wanted it. It has been a win for everyone. But I now feel like I’m the cash cow and am imprisoned. It seems that no matter how well I do, I won’t get the advancement to senior status that I feel I have earned.
There are many other possible scenarios: but unless Dorothy does some research to find out Quita’s actual perceptions, any action taken could fuel her resentment.
It is not always as simple as asking someone what they want. Often people do not know exactly what they want and, in fact, often what they want (or need) is for you to see something in them that they do not see and pull it out of them. In effect, to care enough about them to want to develop them. That is why setting big goals for people to achieve works so well: they find something in themselves they did not know they had.
It may not only be Quita’s attitude that is affecting her designs. If she is not mixing with other designers and buyers from other countries her environment may be limiting her vision. It could be that she is getting stale and out of touch.
When they meet, Dorothy needs to find out what Quita’s aspirations are; what she wants to achieve in her career. Specifically, she needs to find out what can be provided for Quita in the context of the business to help her achieve those things. Dorothy needs to find out what is working for Quita and what is not. This approach eliminates the element of blame and opens the way to genuine dialogue. It should be entered in a spirit of partnership with the explicit goal of finding solutions.
Quita needs to develop her communication skills so she can ask for what she wants, especially when she is asked about problems. She has contributed to the problem by not speaking up. She needs to know on what basis she would receive senior status.
Dorothy needs to develop a structured process to ensure that people’s needs and expectations are identified and managed, at selection and at periodic performance reviews. For this it is essential that she has a clear vision and strategy for the business. She also needs to develop insight into her own communication skills and into the effects that her leadership style may have on others.
As managing director, Dorothy needs to align her people strategy with her business strategy. She seems to have good intentions which, unfortunately, are not translating into reality.
Many business people spend a lot of time working out their business strategies without giving equal time to working out how to motivate their people. This involves looking closely at the integration of your vision and values. What are the beliefs you have about people? What sort of people do you want? How do you want to lead and manage the people in the organisation? How are you communicating all this so people understand?
Clarity creates focus, energy and commitment. It aligns expectations and enables people to achieve. The greatest common motivator of all is the rush of achieving something significant, especially when it has made you discover something new about yourself.