Give your employees a chance to win

Have you ever gone to the Kentucky Derby or watched it on TV? How about the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes? Those are the three races that comprise the Triple Crown of horse racing. Winning a Triple Crown is considered the pinnacle and is a very rare event. In fact, the last one was won by Affirmed in 1978.If you’ve watched any of the programming leading up to the races, they try to provide biographies of the most interesting horses and the people who raise them.Getting or breeding the very best horses is, of course, the first step. They graze in the very best pastures; Kentucky bluegrass is considered especially beneficial for horses. They are fed the best oats and hay. They’re trained by the best trainers, treated by the best veterinarians and ridden by the best jockeys.Despite all this, victory is not assured. All this gets them is a chance to win.What becomes apparent quickly is that none of the horses is ever mistreated. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are treated like royalty and expected to perform. Mistreating such an investment practically guarantees you’ll never get to the winner’s circle.So how do you treat your employees?Whether or not it’s true, we all claim to hire the best people, so I’ll give you that one. But once they start working for you, are they treated like champions that are expected to perform? Are they provided with the best training and the best tools? How about proper guidance and feedback?When a horse goes into the starting gate, he knows what he’s supposed to do. How many people go to work in the morning wondering what they’re supposed to do? Do they even know what real success is and how to achieve it? Despite privacy concerns, is it really a good idea to keep that sort of thing a secret?A matter of effectivenessOne of my clients was recently acquired by a conglomerate. One of the first so-called “perks” to disappear was business class for international travel. These people travel frequently.Let’s say you’re going to the Czech Republic, Thailand or Buenos Aires, and you’re forced to fly economy coach at the cheapest rate. Just how prepared do you think you might be to enter the starting gate as a champion when you get off that airplane? It’s not the free drinks or better food. It’s the leg room and seats, which recline enough so you can actually sleep, that make the difference.I know business class is more expensive, sometimes exorbitantly so, and I hate to give the airlines a nickel more than I have to. But to keep things in perspective, we usually send people on trips to do something that’s going to make money for us. How well they perform often has a strong influence on the outcome and on how much we make. Just how effective do you think a sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, disoriented employee is going to be dealing with people in another culture who have a very definite home-turf advantage?While you’re at it, a decent hotel is not an option. Having them stay in the foreign equivalent of a Motel 6 doesn’t work. Unless they’re fluent in the local language, they need access to staff that speaks English, basic business services (Wi-Fi, printers, etc.) and at least some food that is not too unfamiliar. (I once had a full team of engineers sick for a day because of a local delicacy they hadn’t been able to resist.)If you can’t afford to give your road warriors a chance to win when they get there, why send them in the first place? That’s a bigger waste of money than the so-called perks.Business travel isn’t a perk. Newly hired grads may think so for their first few trips, but they learn quickly. We often have to pay substantially more for jobs that require frequent travel.As long as they’re putting up with the grind, give them a chance to win for you.And if you read this in time to see this year’s Derby (May 5), while you’re sipping that Mint Julep, take note of some of those winning strategies. They work on people too.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or