#113 How To Build A Masterpiece: Respecting Growth Needs

(Taking a break from my Ted story to talk about a topic that’s been banging around in my head. He’ll be back soon…)

Are all your employees interested in growth?

My quick answer is - heck yes. As my favorite psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, has found - we all have an intrinsic need to feel like were growing in areas that matter to us. And like-minded psychologist Abraham Maslow talks about our need for self-actualization. The drive to be all that we can be, to reach our potential.

But, every business owner is frustrated by at least one employee that has zero interest in growth AT WORK. Zero motivation to take their work skills to the next level. Or at least these never-growthers seem that way from the outside.

So let’s try and figure out what’s going on with these employees.


Herzberg says we have an intrinsic need to grow, but he doesn't say we each have the same-sized appetite for growth.

If we draw our employees growth needs on a continuum or line, they might look like this.

growth spectrum people.001.jpeg

The never-growthers are represented by the person on the left side. Let’s zoom in on this group and try to understand why they’re seemingly disinterested in growth at work.

To simplify our discussion, I'll start with a couple assumptions about the never-growthers.

Assumption #1)
They’re aligned with your organizations standards. In my case that would mean they’re aligned with my Work Map. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t be part of the organization.

Assumption #2)
They’re doing their jobs at a competency level equal to or better than a replacement you could find in the market. If you’re into baseball stats this is something like  VORP or value over replacement player. If they aren't, they shouldn't be part of your organization.
NOTE: To keep things simple I’m ignoring employees that haven’t yet had time to get up to speed on their job skills.

Now let's take a look at a few never-growther scenarios:


These people aren't really never-growthers. They just aren't focused on growth at work.

So how can you manipulate their attention back to work topics?

You can’t, and the harder you try the more you're going to frustrate each other.

Remember, they’re aligned and getting the job done better than the average replacement you could find in the market. That's worth its weight in gold, so be grateful.

Not everyone, long-term, gets their jollies cranking out more widgets or processing more claims or doing yet another website re-design or leaning out another process. Maybe they’re more into growing their faith, their gardening skills, their soccer coaching skills. Peoples appetites and targets for growth can move around over time - that's life.

You don't get to choose their growth area. Heck, I’m not even sure they get to choose - do any of us really have a choice over which topics interest us at a given point in time? Stuff happens, interests evolve.

So you need to take the time to understand where their non-work growth interests lie. Then do your best to accommodate and celebrate their growth in these areas. Offer flexibility and support. Show off their outside accomplishments to co-workers. Support the whole employee.

Long term your business will likely be rewarded for this open-minded support. But even if you aren’t, it’s still the right thing to do. Why waste energy letting yourself be frustrated by people that are aligned and doing good work?


This is the far left side of the line I drew above.

I admit that this scenario feels so foreign to me that I struggle to understand it.

No drive. Finished.

It feels sad. And maybe it’s more a state of low interest in growth rather than zero interest.

Either way, these people are aligned and getting the job done. Maybe someday they’ll get all jazzed up about growth and maybe they won’t, but don’t get frustrated and down on them. Great teams have drivers and role players. Let them play their role and be grateful for them. Treat them with the same care and respect you show everyone else.


It's a busy world. Maybe these people have a buried desire for growth, but there are so many pressing issues in their life right now that they can’t get to it.

Elder care.
Family commitments
Relationship issues.
Physical health issues.
Mental health issues.
Financial issues.
And on and on and on.

We can't begin to imagine everything our employees are dealing with. Which means we have to accept that their brains and calendars might not always have room to focus on growth. But these aligned, skilled, loyal employees will always appreciate your caring support and flexibility.


I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist or HR professional, but from spending fifteen plus years face-down in this stuff - I believe this scenario is alarmingly widespread.

We human beings suck at keeping our minds and our priorities in order.

I’ve already pointed you to this web page of cognitive screw-ups we all make. I've done a series of posts on Daniel Kahneman's research on the topic.  I’ve written in detail about Wrong Stories.

This is the shit that clogs our brains and stops us from jumping on the growth train. Some of it boils down to plain old insecurity. What if I fail? What will people think of me if I do my best and face plant? What will happen if I tell my boss or co-workers what I really think?

I envision a Scenario #4 brain that looks like this

MESSED UP BRAIN.jpeg.001.jpeg

Where the bullshit of life crowds out or starves our growth interests.

In this scenario people aren’t looking at the two ends of the growth line and saying “I’ve thought this through and I choose no growth because I think it’s a smart choice.”

Instead, they avoid the topic completely. They medicate themselves by staying busy or using some other mind-deadening means. Which is so easy to do these days with all the distractions and options.

And if you push or probe them a bit they might just tell you to back the hell off. They have no interest in chasing growth just to put more money in your pocket.

Or maybe they’re really scenario 2 - no desire for growth. Or scenario 3 - too busy right now. From the outside there’s no way to know who’s in which scenario. And that’s why you need to treat people in 2, 3, 4 with the same respect.

Care, be loyal, offer support. If they show a spark for something, help them in any way you can. Try to help create this version of their brain.


And about now I’m guessing you’re thinking “I’m running a business not a mental health clinic.”

Agreed, but if you’re interested in the long term effect you and your business will have on the people that you touch, then you need to prioritize investing in the growth of other human beings.

If you do this, you’re business will stand heads above the crowd and you’ll eventually be rewarded in dollars and cents. But don’t do it for that reason, do it because you care.

Do it because you believe in this quote from Gordon Mackenzie. (Mackenzie is the author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball which I summarized here.)

“You have a masterpiece inside you, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”

Yes, this quote is a little grandiose, but at it's core it's right. You, the business owner, are in a charmed position to help many people create their masterpieces.

Get to work.

#112 The Story Part 7: Align And Care

(In parts one, two, three, four, five and six of this story, business owner Ted is trying to figure out how to run a business that’s heads above the crowd. Last time he realized that if he wanted to keep building his business he needed to develop a rock solid center - a core that would provide rhythm and definition for his business. Today he's diving deeper into that idea.)

As much as Ted loved freedom, he knew there had to be something unyielding at the center of TeddcoCorp. Something consistent and reliable. Something he, and all his employees, could align around.

Without that rallying point, he worried even his Green connections could wander unproductively.  He was reminded of the junior high field trip he’d gone on with his son several years back. A bunch of jacked-up 13 year olds getting along great - Green connections - but moving in a hundred different directions and not accomplishing a helluva lot.


The more Ted thought about the advantages of getting his team aligned, the more excited he became. He grabbed a pencil and jotted down a quick list.

First, alignment would ensure that TeddcoCorp put out a consistent “vibe”. A vibe that would draw employees, customers and partners that identified with what the business was about.

This thought reminded Ted of a quote from Jim Collins. Collins was the author of two monster best sellers - Good To Great & Built To Last - and he said…

“All great companies have cultures that are so tight, they’re almost cult-like.”

Ted wasn’t a big fan of the word cult, but he understood what Collins meant. Tight alignment would give TeddcoCorp a crystal clear identity that would serve as a magnet for the right people.

Second, alignment would streamline the process of creating Green connections for new employees. Assuming TeddcoCorp hired well, the newbies would show up already in sync with the core. Meaning their connections would tend towards green before they even met their first co-worker.

Third, alignment would help dampen disagreements. Even in an all Green organization, passionate intelligent people would still butt heads. Disagree over which paths to pursue.

But, with alignment, the "healing time" would be reduced. People who have each others backs can disagree and get over it. Get back to work. And they tend to avoid second-guessing, whining, and politics.

Fourth, Ted hoped alignment would compel misaligned employees to self-select out. Either quit on their own - saving the time, stress, and expense of a forced separation. Or, better yet, don’t even interview at TeddcoCorp in the first place. Either way this would be a huge win for the organization. Nothing sucked more than dealing with employees that weren't working out. Jim Collins also had a quote that described this situation…

“Those people who do not share the company’s core values find themselves surrounded by corporate antibodies and ejected like a virus.”

It sounded a little harsh. But, prior to starting TeddcoCorp, Ted himself had been in that situation - in a business he didn’t identify with and feeling miserable. And the best thing he’d ever done was to eject himself like a virus.

Ted reminded himself that this wasn’t about good versus evil. Finding alignment or fit was simply a matching game. And the kindest thing Ted could do for another human being was to help them find a place where they fit - even if it wasn’t at TeddcoCorp.


Ted started doodling again. Like his Green connections diagram, he started with ten circles arranged around a circular perimeter. These represented ten employees - the most he could easily draw. But this time they weren't connected to each other. This time each employee was connected only to a central hub.

This center, much like the drummers in Joy’s band, would be the source of the beat or rhythm of TeddcoCorp. Everyone would be required to stay in sync with this beat, while at the same time having the freedom to ad-lib. They could do riffs or solos or whatever, so long as they never violated the sacred rhythm that tied them all together.

As he stared at this new doodle, he slid it over the top of his Green connections drawing and held them up to the light. Now, as he saw the two superimposed on each other, it all made sense.

Those Green connections would be springboards for freedom and feedback and amazing growth.  But the primary connection for every single employee, including Ted, had to be with the center. It sounded weird - people having a primary relationship with a set of ideals - but it was correct.

While this hub wouldn’t be an actual living, breathing thing, it would be “alive”. A manifestation of Ted’s most heartfelt preferences and beliefs. So, in a sense, maybe it was a living breathing thing. It would sit at the very heart of every single connection at TeddcoCorp and pump life into the place. It would influence every decision and interaction. It would drive strategy. It would define the organization.

Ted’s team would be unwaveringly aligned with the core AND adaptable and open to change in all other areas.


Ted was getting excited about alignment. How it would lead to Green connections as well as personal and professional growth for everyone at TeddcoCorp.

But there was something bothering him.

To do this alignment stuff right he was going to have to get transparent and vulnerable. Openly share exactly how he felt about the business and how it should be run. And even more challenging, make decisions about who he felt was and wasn’t aligned with the organization.

This would be tough, but it wasn’t what was really bothering him.

His real issue was more about who he was as a person. To run this kind of core-driven, “growth for everyone” kind of business well, Ted knew he had to really care about his employees. And lately he’d started to question his caringness - if that’s a word. He’d recently had a few lapses. Times where he’d caught himself defaulting to short-term profits over the well being of the people.

It wasn’t a sin. Every business owner did it from time to time. After all, if the place wasn’t profitable he’d be showing everyone to the door - so it was occasionally justified.

But as his recent disenchantment and frustration had grown, he’d noticed himself becoming more impersonal. Getting shorter with folks. Seeing them as accessories that primarily existed to help him achieve the company goals.

This ate away at Ted. It was out of step with why he’d opened the doors in the first place and how he felt inside.

He had to get back to basics - but with a twist.

He used to say “People come first at TeddcoCorp”. Now he’d say “Aligned people come first at TeddcoCorp”.

All others deserved a shot at finding their own alignment, and Ted would do his best to help them - just not at TeddcoCorp.

Ted was confident this new stance would limit his frustration and get him back to his old self. Deeply caring about the people that he shared his days with.