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You Can't Feed Them If You Don't Know Them

Every day they show up. They walk through the door and take their places.  They are there to do a job. Who are they? They are the organization. They are the work force. They are the strength and the weakness. They are the joy and frustration. They are the people to whom the job of accomplishment has been given. Yet, who are they? They are much more than simply a work force. They are much more than employees.


The answer to the question, “Who are they?” is a matter management must not only answer, but also understand, if we expect the organization to grow, become more productive and profitable. Every day as I travel and work with organizations, I notice most management people have the tendency to treat all employees the same. This has become a major weakness retarding company growth. Not all employees are the same. Each person is different and requires individual understanding. Here is the philosophy: YOU CAN’T FEED THEM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THEM.


Every person who comes to work each day comes as two things. They come as a person and as a personality. The person is what you see; the personality is what management has to work with each day. The person is what one responds to; the personality is what created the reaction. The person is constant; the personality is in constant flux.


Each day the person comes to work, brings along a unique personality.  Each day management responds or reacts to the person, because of the personality they have experienced. When we as management become reactive, we forfeit the position of management. We must understand that one of our primary roles is the development of the persons we manage; this is accomplished through the care and feeding of each unique personality. If each person in the organization is treated the same, the end result will be frustration for all.


In speaking to thousands of people over the past 25 years, I have come to realize you can take all those who make up an organization and divide them into three distinct groups:


                        1.  Sponges                           2.  Spectators              3.  Camels


Each of these groups is composed of people whose personalities are very definable. When management is able to understand the unique personality of each group, the job of feeding and nourishing becomes so much easier. When management treats all groups the same, those who do not fit that particular method become rebellious. It must be understood that before management can achieve productivity, we must first develop people - understanding. People become productive when they are given understanding. I have found that the number one thing people want to know is...that they matter. 


One thing that makes people feel they matter is when their management works to understand them. Understanding takes a personal commitment of energy.  Understanding takes patience and time. Understanding comes when you work with the personality that defines the person.


Understand the unique personality of each Sponge, Spectator and Camel and watch how the organization takes on not only a different attitude, but a different atmosphere. Understand what each group brings to the organization and you will see how the role of management takes on a new and creative meaning.


The Sponges are the first group to understand. These are the new people and they are both refreshing and exciting. They do not know enough not to be excited. Each day when they come to work they come filled with that excitement.


Mentally, they want to learn. They will ask every question that has been asked, plus four more. They want to do. Their eagerness is their strength and their weakness. Their eagerness can be a weakness when it comes to being patient.  They do not want to wait until tomorrow; they want everything right now.


Their eagerness is one of the things management must help them control.  When their eagerness is not controlled, it becomes frustration. If they are taught the value of time-learning, their eagerness can be turned into a growth factor. It is here management has the opportunity to teach the Sponge the value of consistent energy, consistent action, and consistent thought. It is important that Sponges understand it is not how fast they run the race, but how consistent they are while running the race. Eagerness not tempered with control and understanding, can soon create frustration that results in a person who becomes lost in their feeling of uncertainty.


We want the excitement in the Sponge. We want the eagerness in this new person. We want to harness that energy and give it longevity. How many times have you seen the young Sponge, filled with energy and excitement, come into an organization only to lose those qualities before they have a chance to develop into the positive factors they could be? Management can many times be the young Sponge’s enemy if we do not know how to teach the Sponges to control their energy, rather than let it run away with them.


Here is another thought concerning the Sponges within the organization. The excitement within any organization is in direct proportion to the number of new Sponges in the group. Watch this and see how true it is. Take the Sponges out of an organization and it becomes boring. They really do create the excitement. They really can make a difference in the electricity within a group.


Sponges are a joy and a frustration to management. They are a source of joy because they listen to management. Do you know how management longs for someone to listen to them? Ask most management people and they will tell you that most of the time they feel their words fall on deaf ears. Most of the time they feel as if they are talking to themselves. Then there is the Sponge: Ears that are eager to hear; ears that are searching for words of wisdom. They see management as a source of wisdom. They come, they ask; they come back and ask again; they come back again and ask another time. They want to learn.


But that desire to learn can also become frustrating to management. You see, these young Sponges take patience. They take a cool spirit. They take a management personality that is committed to Sponge development. I would suggest to you that, in the world of management, that is a rare personality.  When management does not have time for the Sponge, or when management is not mature enough to teach the Sponge controlled eagerness, the Sponge will seek its nourishment from others - and many times these others are waiting for the opportunity to devour this new creature.


Here is the philosophy that management must not forget: Organizations must be careful who they let squeeze the Sponges. Some know how to squeeze the Sponge so as to make room for more energy. This is a squeezing that is done with gentle caring. These caring people want to make sure the Sponge does not have all the energy squeezed out of it, leaving it with no resources to draw from tomorrow.


But there is another group, and organizations need to be aware of these people. They too want to squeeze the young Sponges; they want to get their hands on them and squeeze until all the energy is drained out of them.


Learn this lesson: Sponges are the lifeblood of an organization’s tomorrow.  They are today’s possibility for tomorrow’s accomplishments. If they are not squeezed correctly, they can become tomorrow’s frustration. If they are not nourished correctly, they can become only what might have been. In most organizations, Sponges make up five to ten percent of the staff. They are a vital part of the future. The reality is — most companies are only keeping about one percent of their Sponges. Think about it. That is a lot of mental, emotional and financial energy wasted.


Those in the next group are what I call the Spectators. These are management’s biggest frustration. Spectators are the people who come to work each day, not to work but to watch. You can always tell who they are because they are carrying little brown bags. You think they are sack lunches, but - no - they are binoculars. They spend their day and energy watching and giving advice. You do not even have to ask for it. They will volunteer it. Spectators spend their time criticizing management, the company, other employees, clients, etc. They will find something wrong with everyone and anyone who is not like them. The office is their playground. They will go from desk to desk to see if Johnny can come out and play.


Spectators are dangerous to an organization. They make up the largest internal destructive force a company can have. For years I have tried to understand why management tolerates Spectators. Why would an organization tolerate people who are not part of the internal partnership, who talk about everything they can find wrong with the company, who do not carry their part of the load; who openly work to create disharmony and division? I wish someone would explain why management tolerates these people. My philosophy concerning Spectators has always been:


                                    YOU DO NOT TOLERATE - YOU TERMINATE


What management fails to understand is that when we tolerate Spectators and give them the freedom to do their thing, they become management. I have seen this over and over again. Most Spectators manage management. Spectators do not respect a management, which allows them to “do their thing.” How many times have you seen management pretend that something is not happening?  How many times have you heard management tell the Spectator, “You do that again and you are history!” only to have the Spectator test management by doing the same thing again and again? Do you know what? They are still there “doing their thing.” This lack of respect for management can be seen in the Spectator’s work habits, their conversations with other workers, and the attitude they bring to the workplace each day.


When Spectators realize they have the upper hand, they are out of control. They will do anything and everything they want without any fear of action by management. Do you realize how dangerous that is?  Let’s look at a couple of examples.


Spectators do not like Sponges. Have you ever seen an old Spectator bent on destroying the enthusiasm of a new Sponge? Remember what I said earlier about the Sponge: organizations must be careful who they let squeeze the Sponges. There are those who are just waiting for the opportunity to squeeze the life out of them - Spectators are the ones.


Understand this: Spectators are jealous of the young Sponges. Spectators are envious of the Sponges. They see the Sponge as their enemy. The enthusiasm of the young Sponge makes them look bad. They will work to destroy the eagerness of the Sponge. They work to plant seeds of doubt. They will work to destroy positive work habits. Their greatest feeling of accomplishment comes when they take that young Sponge and turn it into another Spectator.


A management team that does not understand this is a self-destructive force.  A management personality who allows this to happen is no better than the Spectators who are doing it. Do you know the number of management people who deny that this happens? If they were to admit it, they would have to do something about the situation. It is almost as if management fears a confrontation with the Spectators. If that is true, then who, in reality, is management?


One other thought concerning Spectators. They do not like Camels. Camels are also their enemies. As you will discover in a few minutes, Camels are strength.  Spectators see anyone who has confidence as their enemy. Spectators operate out of a lack of confidence, which is frequently hidden by their actions. The nature of the insecure animal is to appear strong until it is challenged by one who has real strength. Then, what does it do?  It backs off, because it knows it is no match. Camels see Spectators for what they are, and Spectators do not like that.


Spectators must not be tolerated: they must be terminated. If management really wants to shake up the organization, we should fire the Spectators. If management wants to show who is really in control, we should walk in and fire the Spectators on the spot. Organizations cannot grow to their full potential when those given the responsibility to get the job done are Spectators. No, we can’t fire all the Spectators at one time, but firing one Spectator every six months, will keep the rest of the herd under control. In the average organization, Spectators make up seventy-five to eighty percent of the work force. Here is a truth we don’t like to hear. Of that seventy-five to eighty percent we are keeping over ninety percent of them.


Why are we keeping such a large percentage? We know they are the enemy; we know they don’t support the company; we know they are not part of the internal partnership we are trying to build. Why would we keep them? In most cases these Spectators are some of the most talented people we have. Their talent makes many managers overlook their self destructive behavior. We excuse their negatives because of their talent. Many managers believe we would not be able to replace them. That thought gives the Spectator a privileged position. How dangerous is that to the health of the company environment?


Camels make up the final division of the organization. Camels are a delight, and in another sense a frustration to management. Camels are action oriented people. They are the backbone of the organization. They are the real strength for the total group. Camels have three characteristics that separate them from Sponges and Spectators.


First, Camels are known for their endurance. That is why they are used in the desert. Their endurance is their real strength. Their endurance is a consistent endurance. The Camel has the endurance no matter what is happening. It is persistent and consistent. Camels can drink up to fifteen gallons of water at one time. They have the unique ability not only to store their nourishment, but also to use it sparingly.  Camels do not have to be fed every day. They can go a long way without being nourished. That is what separates them from the Sponges, whose nutritional needs are on a daily basis.


What a joy the Camel can be to management! They don’t have to be fed everyday. Their endurance frees management from daily maintenance. Most management personalities do not know what to do when they are around employees who are not there to take from them.


This leads us to another characteristic of the Camel. Even though the Camel is an enduring animal, it still requires nourishment. They tell us that when the hump on a Camel’s back is gone, the Camel has been dry for several months.


I have spent a lot of time over the last two years working with the Camels within Corporate America. I have learned many things about these unique people. One thing that has jumped out in almost every situation is that the majority of management people do not know how - or what - to feed the Camels. Their attitude seems to demand that they just be left alone. They are seen by management as self-sufficient. Little does management know that this is the farthest thing from the truth. The Camel’s diet is very specific, as is the Sponge’s. If management does not understand this, we will destroy the Camels and the Sponges, and only the Spectators will remain.


Let me share a reality: this is exactly what is happening. Corporate America must open their eyes and see what is going on within the walls of their companies. Those who are leaving organizations are not the Sponges, and not the Spectators; they are the Camels.


This brings us to the third characteristic of Camels. A Camel is an ill-mannered animal. When a Camel is mad or upset, it will spit. How many times have you heard about a Camel walking into management’s office, spitting, and leaving? Management sits and wonders what is wrong with the Camel. Camels are patient and enduring, but they also have a breaking point. They will take a lot, but when they have had all they want to handle, they will spit and leave.


Here is an interesting fact about Camels. Most Camels who have left an organization have not wanted to leave. They have tried every way possible to stay, but have finally reached a point where they cannot handle anymore.  Here are some of the most common reasons for leaving that I have heard from Camels.


They will leave if they have lost respect for management. Camels do not respect weakness. This is the reason they do not like Spectators. They know they are weak, lazy, and destructive by nature. When Camels see management allowing Spectators to get away with things, they lose respect for management. When the respect is gone, they cannot look to us for any kind of leadership or nourishment.  Then they begin to look elsewhere for these things, which are very important to a Camel.


They will leave if they feel they don’t matter to the organization anymore.  Most management people do not understand what it takes to motivate a Camel. Camels are not motivated by money. They can go anywhere and make money. They are not motivated by plaques and awards. These things are nice, but most Camels have a ton of them. Listen to the Camels. They will tell management they want to know that they matter. Camels are the one group that management seems to take for granted. Because of their enduring nature, management just knows the Camel will always be there. Then one day the Camel walks in, spits, and leaves, and management doesn’t seem to understand. Being a Camel is a lonely position.


No one understands what a Camel goes through on December 31, especially if they have had a great year. The emotional let-down and the fear of having to do it all over again is enormous. I have found that most Camels, especially those in sales, do not really start their new year until early or mid February; it takes that long to regain their momentum and confidence. Most management people don’t understand this, because most management people have never been a Camel.


Another reason Camels leave is that they have outgrown their manager. I have said this for years. The weakest link in Corporate America is management.  Most managers want the position, but not the responsibility. Most want the title, but not the people commitment that goes with it. How many times have you seen a person promoted into a management position because of technical skills, without any consideration given to people skills? Management takes technical know-how, but it also takes people skills. Show me managers who lack people skills, and I’ll show you managers who will frustrate those they are trying to lead. Before management will succeed at teaching technical knowledge, they must succeed at people understanding.


Here is the philosophy. If management is not growing at twice the rate of the people we are trying to lead, we will frustrate the organization. Management is more than a position; it is a responsibility. It is a commitment to the growth and development of people. That can only be accomplished by a manager who is also growing. Management cannot lead others past the point where they are.  We cannot offer what we do not have.


If the Camel knows more than management, what does management have to offer? If the Camels sense that management is not growing, they become frustrated. The same holds true of young Sponges who are maturing towards becoming Camels.


Organizations have both one-hump Camels and two-hump Camels. Two-hump Camels are the mature Camels. They have done it; they are the symbol of strength. One-hump Camels are the young Sponges who are not yet past the point of being new. They have the know-how, but lack experience. They still have drive and eagerness. They want to learn. They have a thirst and are looking to management for nourishment. If they are beyond the capabilities of management, they too will look elsewhere. I cannot begin to tell you the number of young Camels I have seen leave companies because of a lack of qualified management. When are companies going to wake up to the fact that what they need to do is terminate those who have retired in the position called management? When will they learn they often have Spectators in management?


The key to working with Sponges, Spectators, and Camels is knowing how to feed them. Once management understands the correct division in which to place each employee, then a corresponding diet can be developed.


If management does not know them, we cannot feed them. Remember, each requires a different diet. Each requires a different type of nourishment. Try to feed all of them the same diet, and the Sponges and Camels will either starve to death, or leave for a place where their appetites can be satisfied. Here is the understanding I have developed:


                                    YOU CAN LOSE A SPONGE, AND REPLACE HIM

                                    YOU CAN LOSE A SPECTATOR AND THROW A PARTY

                                    BUT YOU CANNOT REPLACE A CAMEL.


Here is the dietary rule that management must be mature enough to be able to understand. Without following this rule, there will be no management; there will only be “managers” who are actually the center of organizational frustration.


Sponges take a diet of MANAGEMENT. Management is a patient investment of energy in individuals so that they grow within themselves. Because of growth, they become valuable parts of the company. Partnerships are not built through groups. Partnerships are built through growing individuals. Management is a commitment to individuals. Management is the instilling of knowledge, confidence, understanding and control in individuals. It is a time consuming process that can only be accomplished by those who believe in the value of the individual. These management people work to develop the strengths of the individual. They do not want everyone to be the same. They understand that it is from the development of individual strengths that creativity in an organization exits.


Spectators take a diet of DISCIPLINED ACTION. Treat Spectators with weakness, and they will walk all over management. The only way Spectators can be handled is with disciplined action. Management must do what we say and say what we do. Management must not tolerate the actions of Spectators.  They are given an opportunity to grow with the organization, but if they do not want to work with the group, they are terminated. If they choose not to grow, they have written their own endings. Spectators must not be tolerated. There are no ifs, ands or buts. Management must realize that Spectators are a sickness within an organization, and that they choose to be that way. Once a person decides to become a Spectator, management has the right to administer the medicine: termination.


Camels take a diet of COACHING. If management tries to manage a Camel, all they will accomplish is to frustrate the Camel. Camels do not need managing.  What they need is coaching. They need a cheerleader. They need a voice to let them know they matter. They need a strong management that lets them know by word and deed that, with all they have done, there is still more for them to accomplish. A coach is a projector of dreams. A coach is illustration based on experience. A coach is an inspiration defined by example. A coach is a person one can admire, someone who has “been there.” A coach is strength. When the Camel thinks of the coach, feelings of enthusiasm are generated.


Hear me say it one more time: YOU CAN’T FEED THEM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THEM. Organizations grow because of people.  People grow because others believe in, support, and encourage them. This is the purpose of management; this is what makes companies grow.


As one of America’s top personal development speakers and coaches, Richard Flint speaks over 175 times per year in the areas of Leadership, Sales, Customer Care and Self Development.  Richard has been successfully mentoring and quietly helping professional organizations, large and small businesses and individuals for over 30 years.



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