Angel Fish or Pufferfish?

Jim Hinshaw
Contributing Writer
Improvement Professional, President & Sales

Our pastor just did a sermon where he asked the question, Angelfish or Pufferfish, which are you?  Way back in the day, we bought an aquarium.  No idea about what to put in the fish tank, we asked around.  Almost everyone who had ever had a tank said the same thing: Angelfish make great aquarium inhabitants.  They are gentle, not aggressive, don’t fight amongst themselves, and as a bonus, pretty to look at.  So we bought some.

Our pastor seconded that decision, said the Angelfish are great with almost all other fish, they play well with others.  The fish that doesn’t play well is the Pufferfish.  Here is what the National Geographic has to say about Pufferfish.

“Biologists think pufferfish, also known as blowfish, developed their famous “inflatability” because their slow, somewhat clumsy swimming style makes them vulnerable to predators. In lieu of escape, pufferfish use their highly elastic stomachs and the ability to quickly ingest huge amounts of water (and even air when necessary) to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size. Some species also have spines on their skin to make them even less palatable.

A predator that manages to snag a puffer before it inflates won’t feel lucky for long. Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.”  Read that again, no known antidote.  Kill 30 adults.  Pretty scary.

What should be scary to us is which category do we fall in?  are we Angelfish or Puffers?  Are we toxic to those around us?  Do we help build up others, or bring a depressing atmosphere to the building.

The real question is what about your team members?  I can say with confidence that there are some employees out there that will “poison the well” that your company drinks from.  They are set in their ways, many have had years of experience in our industry, some have had 1 year of experience repeated 15 times, have not learned anything new in over a decade.  And actually reject the new ideas without even trying the concept out.  I know this, if you are still waiting on the weather to get the phones to ring, if you think the customer you did work for 3 years ago remembers your name and will not do business with someone else, you have a correction coming up.

This is not business as usual these days, we have to change our model to reflect consumer buying trends and the elephant in the room, the internet.  So one employee who is unhappy can let that negative attitude spill over to the install or service call he or she is on that day.  The customer picks up on that, you ask for a review and get ripped up on Yelp, Facebook, your own website, it can be tragic.

I just sat thru a webinar with Hire Dimensions, they are a recruiting agency that specializes in the trades, hvac, plumbing, electrical.  They said at any given point today, 60% of the workforce is unhappy.  Almost 2/3!  Your job as the owner or general manager is to be sure everyone has their happy face on at work, and if they cannot do that, you may need to give them a chance to add to their resume.  As a past employee.  So what can you do as the leader of your pack to improve morale?

First, realize that money is not the dominant reason.  According to an article on NBCnews.com, the #1 reason employees quit their jobs today is lack of recognition.  79% of employees who quit their jobs claim that lack of appreciation was a major reason for them leaving.  In a separate study, 65% of us claimed that we were not recognized even one time last year.  82% felt that the boss didn’t recognize them for their efforts, 60% said that recognition was more important than money.  Repeat that, MORE important.

A great example of recognition is what happened to me on a flight last week.  Flying out of Salt Lake to Phoenix, got upgraded to first class.  The flight attendant was amazing.  She visited each of us before takeoff and asked our last names and how to pronounce it.  Used our names several times during the flight, but what she did at the end of the flight made it really special.  She stood by the front door and as we all filed out, she thanked us by name for flying Delta.  Several of us walked into the terminal talking about how that made us feel: appreciated, and in an individual way.

So the recipe is simple (not easy, but simple).  Recognize your employees for what they do, appreciate them for the work that they do each and every day, catch them doing something well and compliment them publicly.  The rule is: praise publicly, admonish privately.

Another key ingredient in the recipe is to let them know what is required, what the goal is.  And, how they can earn it.  We have to have clear definitions on what is expected, both minimum requirements to keep the job, and what results we are looking for going forward.  To be clear, we are not talking about a participation trophy, if we recognize the fact they showed up, but not results, it loses the impact of the recognition.

Back to the Pufferfish.  They are the literal definition of toxic, they are slow swimmers, they get really puffed up when threatened, and they carry poison.  The same characteristics that a negative employee can show.  You may have to have a talk with some employees this week, it may even result in an open position at your place.  What happens next is amazing.  Someone new and better appears, and the team says, glad you did what ya had to do, they were terrible to work with.

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