It is easy to look to someone else to fulfill our needs or desires. Talk shows are full of people who've chosen a mate to be someone's "all in all" and, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out. People tend to want to find that magic in someone that will rescue them from their current situation. We do it with people, but we also do it with stuff. We want that lottery win so bad. We think that will rescue us from our current situation. Then how is it that 70% of lottery winners are bankrupt? We don't find our hero to be what we expect it to be.
For those of us old enough to remember School House Rock, there was a song called "My Hero, Zero." The point of the lesson is that by itself a zero is nothing but put it behind a "1" and you've got "10," an increase numerically. The Zero finds itself to be heroic in that it's nothingness turns into value when used in conjunction with another number.
As "People People," we get so many chances to bring zeroes to heroic levels. I am not talking about budgets (I've tried that before and some accountant always catches my "accidental" additional zero at the end of the HR budget), but rather finding value in all of those who work with and for us. The quietness of a worker should not be allowed to signify his/her minor contribution to the whole while the boisterous worker seems to get credit for things he/she had nothing to do with just because of loudness. Cultivating those "zeroes" into heroes is part of our strategic responsibility.
A hero is one who is admired for performing great and/or brave acts and has fine qualities, according to Webster's Dictionary. Aren't there some people in our workplaces that have those qualities and others simply do not know or notice, including the hero himself/herself? Give consideration as to how to cultivate heroes.
- Look for those who do exceptional work. I'm not talking about the person who answers twenty calls a day whose job it is to answer phones; that is not a hero. We cannot reward basic job responsibilities by calling that person a hero. It has to be great or brave. How about the worker who stays late to finish a project for three weeks without most people knowing? How about the person who looks for ways to improve processes or technology for the good of the company even when it's not in his/her direct job description?
- Listen to others tell stories. Set the tone for this, though. Someone coming to tell you that Joe is a great guy because Mike, who sits next to him, is tough to deal with and Joe doesn't complain about him. Really? I mean, I appreciate that, but Joe is no hero. What about those of us who have relatives who are annoying to deal with? Where's my hero trophy (just kidding, Family, there's no one annoying in our family besides me)? Cultivate a forum for people to cheer others on by noticing the great or brave work someone is doing. We should encourage our employees to notice great acts from great people.
- Don't make this about gift cards. I get that we want to reward people and I can appreciate the gesture, but the gesture can become the goal rather than things being done for true heroic reasons - rescue, encouragement, betterment, bravery, etc. A $5 gift card to Starbucks is not equal to someone truly doing something marvelous. And on this note, don't make each month a "have to" in finding someone. Haven't you worked for those companies who have an Employee of the Month and wind up picking someone "who hasn't had it yet this year"? Wow, that's stellar criteria.
Heroes are not those in front, per se, seeking the accolades. We've got to look for them. The humility coupled with the great or brave act is admirable and sets a tone for others. The culture becomes attuned to the qualities in those being recognized. It sets a pattern that we want repeated.
I am holding out for a hero in each of your companies. You need one. And lest I forget to say, you may actually be that hero for your company. And if your company hasn't recognized it yet, keep doing what you're doing. It's not for you to determine what management ought to do for you. You just keep doing what you're doing because it's the right thing to do. We are still allowed to do that; no federal or state law requires us to change that practice (yet)!