Debriefing the teller referral “nightmare” story

Today we’ll skip Fable Friday in order to debrief the Teller Referral case from Tuesday.

In analyzing human performance, you must look at obstacles to success.  There are six of them:

  • goals and objectives
  • work process
  • capacity
  • knowledge
  • skill
  • motivation or incentive

 Here we will focus on just two:  capacity and motivation.  Motivation is simple. The tellers were not motivated to make referrals.  But the question should be asked, “Did they have the capacity to make referrals, or were they too busy?”

 The fact that referrals jumped to such a degree suggests that there were no capacity issues at all.  The obstacle to performance was that the tellers did not like to make referrals.  Referrals were considered to be “nightmares.”

 This short case is highly instructive about the six performance issues above:

  1. Goals and objectives may have been announced, but there was no evidence of buy-in.  The tellers virtually refused to engage in the behavior needed to achieve them.
  2. The work process for making a referral was described in general terms (“the teller suggests a credit card, an expanded account, an ATM card, or any other of the banking products we offer”).
  3. Knowledge and skill were not issues, as the task was quite simple but a “nightmare.” This nightmare was probably the fear of asking questions or sounding intrusive.
  4. We eliminated capacity as an issue when we saw the results for referrals jumping to 40.  Had capacity been an inhibitor, our narrator would have commented on it, such as “we were so busy we never had time to make a referral.”
  5. Motivation is our answer.  Once properly motivated, teller behavior changed at once.

You will often hear it said that motivation comes from within, which is true.  But it would be naïve to think that as managers we have no control over employees’ lack of motivation.  In fact we can develop a number of interventions that help employees to become more motivated to do the work we desire them to do. 

You could create a work environment in which workers decide for themselves to be motivated or not.  “Every time you fail to pack 72 boxes in an hour, you will get an electrical shock.”  But for silly workplace rules concerning cruelty to employees, this would be a good motivator to get employees to pack boxes more quickly.

 Whenever I’m faced with an issue concerning motivation, my client will always start by asking about incentive compensation plans, as if this is all we need to consider.  I like to first look to see if salary and incentive compensation are fair, then look to other drivers, then come back to salary and incentive compensation to see if any refinements should be made.

 One final quick example.  When you give someone a salary increase, he is excited by it the first time he sees it in his paycheck and is quite motivated, but after that he becomes used to receiving the increased pay, and his work effort returns to the level it had been before the increase.

 But we also know that people will be highly motivated if they feel they are working for someone whose values they respect, or where rewards vary immediately because of performance.

 On Tuesday my newsletter goes out, so there is no blog post, but next Friday I’m going to give you one more story, about what a friend of mine learned while selling for Fuller Brush. 


 Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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