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The Day Job – What’s in it for…

Isolated business man


Me me me

     We all know the phrase “What’s in it for me.” WIFM. You want me to say yes, but why should I? How is it important to me as your boss? What’s the gain for the organization?
Show me the money!
Gimme gimme gimme.

     I’m sure we’re all used to this line of thinking regardless of whatever the request or idea is. If you’re on the asking side of this little equation, you’ve had to figure it out, likely agonize over it, and do a fair amount of guessing. Oh, and don’t forget hoping that whatever gain you’ve promised will actually happen when all is said and done. Really, at the first draft, that WIFM you’re trying to sell me is just a guess anyway, so I’ve stopped asking.

     Since the person sitting in front of me with a request or idea isn’t as senior as I am, he or she probably can’t sell the idea based on what it offers me or the organization. If I’m any good at my job, I just have to listen. I can figure out the idea’s potential all by myself, and I shouldn’t force the junior person to jump through hoops to prove the value to me. Give me the idea as clearly as you can, and I can do the rest. I would rather my people focus on the nuts and bolts (and logistics) of the idea. They can’t honestly know the WIFM, but I can if I give it some thought. Nowadays, I ask myself a more important question.

What’s in it for them?

     Most people don’t bring ideas solely for my good. More often than not, there’s a personal reason for the idea, so why don’t we talk about that? It would be the one question that person could answer honestly.

– Maybe he wants that new position because of the specific training that comes with it.

– Maybe she wants that job because it moves her towards some personal goal.

– Maybe that person needs a change, and this request is the last-ditch effort. If he can’t get some sort of change, he’ll leave the organization. That would probably be good to know.

     Unfortunately, when we get in positions where we’re the ones hearing the new ideas, we listen for the gain to us or the organization, which is exactly what we’re being paid to do. If we listen solely for our gain and not for the people asking, we miss the real value underneath it all, which is to understand our people, their goals, and what could be some real win-win opportunities.

     No matter what that personal reason is, there’s value in understanding it. If I know why my people ask for opportunity, I can find ways to meet that intent even if I have to say no to the idea in front of me.

     Just for fun, let’s flip this one around. I come knocking with an opportunity that looks exactly like work. How does this sound? I bring them extra work, and their gain, what’s in it for them, is that they get to do what I want, and they get to impress me. That and a paycheck is enough, right?


No, it isn’t.

     When I ask myself what’s in it for them, it’s easy to somehow make it all about me again, but I try not to. In this situation, I try to focus on them, their goals, their talent and time, and I try to match the opportunity with the person who can gain from doing it, both personally and professionally, because success isn’t an either/or discussion. 

     Of course, if you don’t know your people, the chances to say yes to those ideas that are good for you and for them just slip right through your fingers. Trust me on this one. Hindsight is painfully clear once you’ve lost good people because they couldn’t find that spot in the organization that allowed them to do good for us and allowed us to do good for them.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? I let him or her get through the rehearsed pitch and take a deep breath, then I ask “What’s in it for you? Why do you want to do this?”

     You know how they usually answer? By telling me what’s in it for me, because that’s what they think I want to hear. It has taken some time to build the connection with my people to get them to the point where they can say:

I want to do (some job, new task, or program) that will be good for the organization by (don’t listen too hard to this part, trust me, you’ll get distracted), and good for me because (here’s the important part, pay attention).

     It’s easy to see what’s in it for me, I look for that every day. It’s just as easy for me to see what’s in it for my boss and the organization, because that’s what I’m being paid for in the position I’m in. Finding out what’s in it for the people asking and those below me, I’ll only know if I ask.

– Do you know your people’s goals well enough to find the right opportunities for them?

– Have you ever plainly asked someone what was in it for them?

– If you would tomorrow, would your people tell you?

Have a great week out there.


– JTtest logo


My good thing: I’ve figured out how to post these while underway. Lucky me.


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