When I was Commander of the Marine Corps School of Infantry East in North Carolina, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the honor student of each graduating company. Since we graduated a class nearly every week, sometimes twice, I got to talk with a lot of honor grads — and if I had to classify them as a type, I don’t think I could. They were men, women, high school grads, foster kids, college stand-outs, athletes… every imaginable type of person who could be expected to walk into a recruiter’s office. And the factors that motivated them to succeed were as varied as their backgrounds.
I invited each of them in to sit down and talk with me for up to 30 minutes. It was the highlight of my week. We would discuss life, their upbringing, and how they found themselves in the Marine Corps. I would ask what they liked best and worst about their training, and what they would improve, keep or replace in the schedule. Invariably, despite their diverse backgrounds, the thing each of them wanted to improve in the process was the effort of their less motivated, lower performing peers. According to these honor graduates, the other students didn’t take the training “seriously” enough, didn’t give their best effort, or simply shouldn’t have been allowed to graduate.
I generally offered them two bits of perspective. The first was the old adage about “standards.” That sometimes, even someone who barely achieves the lowest requirement still meets the standard, and is allowed to graduate. Of course that is the answer, but I could always see lack of agreement in their eyes. To them it was an old guy response — and since I was the old guy, I suppose they were right.
But it’s the second thing I told them I think was more important to understand. I call it the levels of Get It. Clearly the honor graduates sitting in my office on those Thursday afternoons were people who already got it. They had probably had it for some time, though this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the Marine Corps was where they started to get it and the first place they had ever really gotten it. Others had been motivated and driven since their parents could remember. One thing though, they didn’t see how others couldn’t Get It.
I would explain the levels of Get It to them. Of course I’d start with them, and explain how they had a high level of Get It. I’d go on to talk about how some of their peers would eventually leave the Marine Corps on bad terms for a variety of reasons and might never Get It. Others would meander through an enlistment without a lot of motivation, and through some event such as promotion, hormones coming into balance, or a mentor’s words, they might eventually start to Get It, and maybe make up for lost time.
Have you thought about the levels of Get It in your team? Is there a catalyst you can introduce to increase the level of Get It in an employee? There is only one way to find out. Sit down and talk to your low Get It employees. Not to tell them you think they don’t Get It – but to find out what motivates them. Assign them a task you were thinking of giving to someone else. Pair them up with a particularly charismatic peer with a high level of Get It as a mentor, or mentor them yourself. No matter what you choose, you have the potential to increase the level of Get It within your team through a little bit of ingenuity.