You probably pay your operators more than the Navy pays SEALs. So why don’t you get more out of them?

Updated Nov 29, 2015

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In a recent conversation with a group of contractors the subject of operator pay came up. As is typical, the contractors thought they were paying top dollar, but often getting lackadaisical performance in return.

So I asked if anybody knew what the average Navy SEAL makes. As it turns out, the pay difference between SEALs and operators is not that much. So why does one come to the job indifferent while there is a waiting list a mile long and the toughest entry requirements in the world for the other? Being a SEAL or being in any of our military’s Special Forces units, is the hardest, most physically demanding and dangerous job in the world. So why would anybody go through all that for $50,000 a year?

Some time ago I attended an OEM event where Joe Gibbs, the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach and NASCAR team owner, told us how he motivated his offensive linemen. His problem was that everybody else on the team could be measured, scored and rewarded by metrics: points, carries, sacks, tackles, yards. But all the offensive linemen do is block. No stats for that and nothing to brag about at the end of a game. As a result they didn’t share in the post-game glory.

So Gibbs had an assistant coach grade the performance of his offensive linemen according to the quality and duration of their blocking at each game. Then in the post-game wrap up he named the offensive lineman of the week. The prize for this—a Sony Walkman! (The iPod of its day for you younger folks.) And, like magic, the offensive line’s performance went up week after week. Linebackers were flattened. Sacks dropped to unheard of lows. Big holes opened up for the running backs.

Why did these offensive linemen, multi-millionaires all, fight, scratch and claw through the defenses every week just to win a $100 tape recorder?

As with the SEALS, it’s not about the money. It’s about being the best and being recognized as the best in front of your peers. It’s about being given a challenge and the opportunity to excel. Most young people desire to be part of an elite, to strive for and be recognized as one of the best. It’s a spark everyone is born with.

Gibbs is a natural born leader and brings out the best in everybody around him. The military, on the other hand, has to work with people who usually aren’t as driven as someone like Gibbs’ linemen. But the military has developed proven systems to motivate people to excel–and they’ve been doing it since 1776.

The military’s leadership tactics are more involved than I can write about here, but if you are interested, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a short primer on how they’ve been getting extraordinary results from ordinary people for more than 200 years. It works for them. It will work for you, if pride, teamwork and excellence is what you really want.