Supply & Demand

Posted April 16, 2020

Before you demand more from employees, supply what they need.

Mark knew it was a dumb decision. He’d crunched the numbers a hundred ways, and he knew they only really worked because he wanted them to work.

But this car was amazing! A 2019 Mustang GT, metallic blue with a leather black interior. He’d wanted it for nearly a year and had actually saved enough to put a decent amount down. But the monthly payment would crush their budget, which was already tight This would surely push them over the edge. And he hadn’t talked it over with his wife, mainly because he knew what her opinion would be. So, he began to reason . . .

He could work some overtime each week, no more caramel macchiatos, and Friday nights with the guys was out for sure. Maybe, he could make this work . . . maybe.

And then reality hit. Sadly, it wasn’t until he got home. Pulling into the driveway with this beautiful new car, he felt like a man — until Tammy walked out the front door.

“What did you do?!” she shouted. “We can’t afford that!”

The argument continued long after the car was repossessed. Mark learned a hard lesson that day. You find ways to get what you want, even if it’s a bad idea!

Supply and demand is a basic concept familiar to any college economics or business major. But it’s way more than a business principle. It’s important for us as leaders to understand that supply and demand is also essential for motivating those we lead.

This reason supply and demand ALWAYS wins is because people work to get what they want. It seems to be ingrained in our soul; I want to acquire the things I value.

This is also true in leadership. When we lead people, we must understand what motivates them. The rule of supply and demand works especially well here. I can set expectations all day long, but if I try to motivate people with the wrong “carrot,” they will underperform.

To get the most from the people you lead, keep in mind three key “wants” that every employee has, and use them to express, communicate and model the value that each employee brings to your organization.

1. Good compensation

We are misguided if we think people will work at a high level with an under-performing paycheck. Clean and safe environments are great, but everyone works to make a living and better their quality of life.

Investing in your staff at a more-than fair level will pay great benefits. It will let them know you value them, lower turnover, draw better candidates and lay the groundwork for high expectations.

Managing the cost of labor will always be an area of tension in any business. Don’t make the mistake of being so tightfisted that you lose great talent. An even greater mistake is being angry or upset when your staff wants more money. This is a great time to set high expectations with the guarantee of greater pay when expectations are met.

At this time in our country’s business culture, acquiring and keeping talent may be one of the greatest challenges you face. Finding the right level of compensation is tricky and pay can change dramatically from industry to industry as well as community to community. But you have to make sure keep this point in mind when leading your people.

2. Individual respect

Barking and demanding won’t get great results in the long term. People want to be respected and valued for who they are and what they do. This is especially true of younger generations.

I have found that keeping high standards is not a problem for the incoming workforce. But communication and relationships in the workplace are critical to making this happen.

Expressing value to people, showing respect through honest communication and one-on-one teaching makes a huge difference in how they respond to their work environment and how long they stay at their jobs.

The saying is true: “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” Be the leader who values and respects those you are responsible for. Clear communication of expectations, spoken with respect in a manner that honors, not degrades, is crucial.

To be clear, I’m not talking about tears and hugs and false terms of endearment. I’m speaking of raising the level of attention you pay to a person, letting them know the value of the role they play and the person they are. If it’s not true, don’t say it. Honestly, if it’s not true, you probably shouldn’t have this person in your company to begin with.

3. Live the example

Be the person you want them to be. Expressing value through compensation is critical, showing value through communication is an absolute must, but perhaps the most important way to show value is to live it.

Carry yourself well. I use a phrase with my clients a lot — they are probably tired of hearing it: “humble, strong and kind.”

You can’t go wrong walking in humility. Humility says, “I’m placing you above me, I’m giving you preference.” It’s easy to wield our authority in such a way that is anything but humble. But misuse of power and authority will drive a wedge between you and those you lead.

Strength is an often-misused concept. To be strong is to be under control, focused and directed. The example I often use is that of the raging river. What is stronger, the dam that holds back the water or the river that pushes against it? The dam holds its ground, contains the rage and provides protection.

Strength is not loud and aggressive or angry and out of control. Strength holds the standard, manages situations with integrity and consistency and provides security to those we lead.

There is always room for kindness. Mary Poppins had it right: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. We don’t need to communicate hard things with anger or malice. If we truly value people, the words we use must show it. We should deliver a difficult message with an air of kindness.

I worked with a man who had to let go one of his long-standing employees. The company was struggling in the aftermath of the 2008 economic downturn and he had no choice.

He brought her into his office and let her go. His words were direct and clear but kind and gentle. This same man had to terminate a gentleman who was anything but gentle. The same kindness was there, too.

I asked him about it afterwards, and he said, “This is a hard day for them, I don’t need to make it any harder.” Kindness goes a long way.

Think about those you lead and how you lead them — how well do you apply the principle of supply and demand? If you want people to demand to work for you, you must supply them with value they simply can’t live without. When you do, you’ll have a workforce that is motivated, committed, and willing to go the extra mile.