Motivational Memo: It’s Not About the Money

How can jewelry store owners and managers motivate their employees and encourage commitment? One way is to foster an environment in which employees feel satisfaction from the work itself. That’s the view of Kenneth W. Thomas in his book Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy & Commitment (Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco, 2000). Thomas believes that “intrinsic motivation”—the emotional rewards inherent in the work itself—is the key to worker commitment.

The book identifies four emotional rewards: believing the purpose you’re working toward is meaningful; feeling that you can make your own choices; satisfaction with your own competence; and a sense of progress. JCK spoke with a number of jewelers and trainers to learn how they help create a climate that supports those four intrinsic rewards.

When work has meaning. At Wesche Jewelers in Melbourne, Fla., owner Holly Wesche Conn and her staff are on a mission: “We are dedicated to helping people celebrate life’s special moments,” reads the store’s mission statement. Many companies have mission statements, but Wesche Conn says she and her staff “live” theirs. She describes a recent encounter when she persuaded a customer to surprise his wife by hiding a Hearts On Fire ring box inside a larger box—with a Hallmark sticker. The customer told Wesche Conn afterwards that his wife said it was “the most magical moment of their life together.”

“This is what we try to do,” says Wesche Conn. “The whole store is glowing about it. Everybody was involved in doing it and setting it up.”

At Ben Bridge Jeweler in Seattle, vice president of sales and training Mary Todd McGinnis bases her vision for the store on what might be called The Disneyland Principle: “The moment you pass through the gate, reality is transformed,” she says of the famous theme park. “I want that same kind of feeling when people walk into a Ben Bridge store. I want their moment in the store to be something they talk about at the dinner table that night.”

Employees’ choice. “I don’t like an environment where you have to go ask the manager everything,” says Wesche Conn. “If you encounter a problem or a situation, you’re on the firing line, you make the best decision you can make.”

David Mazer, president of Foley Jewelers in Delaware, echoes that sentiment. His staff “has the authority, without having to get to a manager, to make a decision, because there’s such power in satisfying people at that moment,” he says.

Information is another key to feelings of choice. “Internal communication is paramount,” says Wesche Conn. “If people feel involved and in the know, they feel special. And you need that interaction to keep people in the loop, so they’re not caught off guard.” For example, she informs her people in advance about any advertising the store does, so they’re prepared when customers visit in response to an ad. “In some stores, the salespeople find out about the advertising from the customers,” she says.

It’s about competence. The more employees stretch themselves, the greater the sense of their own competence. Managers should look for opportunities to give people additional challenges and greater responsibility, advises Cindy Ramsey, CG, director of human resources for the American Gem Society. “Say someone is good at selling watches and understands watches. You might want to give them the opportunity to help pick items in the line. Also, show them how those decisions affect the business in total, not just their personal sales.”

Ramsey also recommends developing people who show an interest in other aspects of the business, such as marketing or advertising. “If you have someone that ambitious on staff, you need to develop them or they will be gone,” she says. “People can get bored if not given that opportunity.”

Spirer Somes Jewelers in Cambridge, Mass., has found an effective way to challenge its bench workers. Call it the Leap Into the Fire Principle. “We regularly hand bench workers stuff and say, ‘Do this,’ ” explains partner Daniel R. Spirer. “They say, ‘How?’ I say, ‘Figure it out.’ Usually they can.”

The bench workers derive enormous satisfaction from taking up the challenge, Spirer says. “They say to themselves, ‘I didn’t know I could do this, but I can.’ “

Knowledge also helps build feelings of competence. Ramsey recommends finding mentors within the store, which helps not only the protégé but also the mentor. “You can have a superstar who’s just really making the figures, but are they having a sense of purpose and meaningfulness?” she asks. “Or would being a mentor help? You don’t just need superstars, you need a super team.”

Spirer Somes offers extensive educational opportunities. “We’ll pay for virtually any jewelry-related courses anyone wants to take,” says Spirer. “If a bench worker puts in a request to learn a new technique, we’ll pay for it. And we pay in full for all GIA courses. We also have some foreign nationals working here, and we paid for their English-speaking courses.”

High standards also promote a sense of competence. Spirer Somes, which manufactures all its jewelry, has “a set standard for what we expect the jewelry to look like, and we expect everyone to make sure it looks right,” says Spirer. Anyone can reject a piece that doesn’t meet the standard. “If the manager thinks it doesn’t look right, it goes back. It’s got to look like what we want.”

As for sales associates, simply landing a sale is too low a standard, says McGinnis. “You need to create excitement.”

Positive feedback also encourages a sense of competence. Foley Jewelers relies on its customers to provide feedback to employees. “We survey every customer and ask for their opinions on customer service,” says Mazer. “We get upwards of 15,000 responses per year. They’re separated by associate name so that the associate can read his or hers to really know the opinion of the public—how they think they served them. There is no greater expression of how they served someone than to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

McGinnis recommends personal notes for delivering positive feedback. “A nice note to someone is invaluable because they can hang onto it. They can pick it up and read it again and again. I still have notes that were written to me years ago.”

Making progress. Access to customers is a key strategy for promoting feelings of progress. Customer contact is a given for sales associates, but what about bench workers? “What I would do, and have done in the past, is introduce the customer to the bench jeweler,” says Ramsey. “Give the customer the piece, let them get excited about it, then bring out the bench worker and introduce them and have that interaction. They’ll have that sense of purpose and meaning in what otherwise might have been just a ring or piece of gold and so many hours of work.”

Tracking milestones is another way to create a sense of progress. These can include personal milestones as well as company milestones. “If someone hasn’t cracked a $10,000 sale or maybe never shown a ruby before, that can be a milestone,” says McGinnis. Managers need to know where employees stand on their individual milestones and encourage them to stretch beyond their “comfort zones,” she adds.

Intrinsic motivation is about emotional rewards, so don’t forget to celebrate. “A celebration is a time to pause, recognize that a significant milestone has been reached, and savor that fact,” Thomas writes.

Wesche Jewelers has a wall plaque, with a place for a photograph, honoring employees who turn customers into “raving fans.” (Call it the Raving Fan Principle.) “Even beyond big sales, we recognize when we create raving fans,” Wesche Conn says. “If we get a letter [from a customer], we read it aloud and change the picture of whoever created a raving fan.”

Mazer also favors public appreciation. “When someone takes a course and passes it, we pay for the course, buy them a loupe, and run an ad in the business section of the newspaper [announcing] that someone has just passed a course.”

Foley Jewelers also uses the fax machine. “When something great does occur, we not only call or see the associate in person, we will send a fax out to every store,” says Mazer. “There seems to be no greater recognition of achievement than to have your peers know.”

Measuring improvements is another key to feelings of progress. Ramsey cites a number of factors to measure: “One would be repeat customers. Another would be the average dollar sale. As soon as someone becomes more experienced, they should be able to add on appropriate items, and average sales should increase. You can also track return rates to determine customer satisfaction.”

She also suggests tracking client development. “A jeweler will go to a great extent to advertise and bring customers in the first time. Once he comes through door, you should determine how often the customer comes back.”