Talent Management

Coffee is for Closers: 3 Ways to Help Your Workers Survive in 2013

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The phrase “Coffee is for Closers” should resonate with anyone who’s seen the classic film, Glengarry Glen Ross.

This 1992 movie stars six Hollywood A-list leading men as salesman who work for an unethical real estate outfit. The actors portray fast-talking hucksters who lie, exaggerate, and use a series of con games to goad unwitting prospects into signing on the dotted line for overpriced real estate.

If you haven’t seen the movie, and you have a high tolerance for foul language, here’s the scene that made the “Coffee is for Closers” catchphrase famous and earned Alec Baldwin an Academy Award nomination.

Learning the CIFC principle

For a summer job while in college, I sold lawn treatment plans (fertilizer) to home owners. The office environment where I spent my evening hours was strikingly similar to the high-pressure sales culture depicted in Glengarry Glen Ross.

My manager was an in-your-face bully who was every bit as intimidating, threatening, and foul-mouthed as Alec Baldwin’s character. I despised him and could not stand his “motivational” techniques. However, I was pretty good at pitching the B.S. (fertilizer was not the only B.S. being pitched), and I made enough money to pay my tuition. So I put up with his degrading tactics for a few summer months.

Reflecting on this experience, I have to admit that it did cement within me the one fundamental principle I now realize applies to every business in America: CIFC (Coffee is for Closers). Although my manager never used those exact words, he burned into my brain that the company’s coffee (money) was reserved exclusively for closers (producers), and that if I wasn’t constantly producing a tangible value that was exponentially higher than the amount printed on my weekly paycheck, I would be terminated.

Commission-based salespeople may be the only ones who fully understand and wholeheartedly accept the CIFC principle, but they are not the only ones to whom it applies. Unless you’re in a government job, work for a non-profit organization, or are protected by a labor union, the CIFC principle applies for you. Even though I’m self employed, it very much applies to me.

The principle hasn’t failed; we failed to relay the principle

Because the CIFC principle can come off as harsh and negative, today’s parents and educators have neglected to alert their children and/or students that it is still the core of every business. They’ve instead chosen to advise them to “follow their dreams,” “find a job they love,” and “do only that which makes them happy.

Thinking they’ve set young people on a journey towards career happiness, what these well-intending adults have actually done is send millions of young people into the workforce with the misguided perception that they are entitled to their “coffee” simply by virtue of getting hired and reporting to a job.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the emerging generation has not been told is that there ain’t no free lunch, and that includes free coffee.

Whether producing a sale, a product, a service, or some other kind of tangible result that has a measurable impact on bottom line profits, all workers are ultimately judged and compensated based on their production. Sooner or later, if the value of the results they produce do not far exceed the amount printed on their paychecks, they will be replaced.

3 ways to get the message through

If you have people on your payroll who exasperate you by acting entitled to free coffee from your operation, you don’t have to go Alec Baldwin on them to alert them to the CIFC principle. There’s a better way.

  1. Teach them your business. You know what it takes to make a profit and keep the lights on. But chances are most of your people don’t. They may understand how to make a widget, but that doesn’t mean they understand the complexities of a widget-making operation and what it takes from each person on the team to keep the business growing and the paychecks flowing. Educate them. Make certain that everyone in your operation understands the CIFC principle (whatever you choose to label it) and why it is in effect in your business.
  2. Provide clear, measurable expectations. What exactly is “the standard” for each job? How do people in each position exceed those expectations? How/when will they know if they fall short? Is there a daily, weekly, monthly measurement of each individual’s progress toward their stated objectives to enable them to self-evaluate? Metrics matter. Let them see how they are doing compared to what they are expected to be doing.
  3. Make sure the coffee in the cups of your producers runneth over. Reserve the sweetest rewards for those who consistently produce above and beyond results. The quickest way to demotivate top producers is to give them the same rewards as those who produce less. Everyone should be treated fairly, but not everyone should be treated the same.

With massive changes in health care and labor policies on the horizon, the workplace is going to experience an extreme makeover in 2013.

To survive, sustain, and to succeed in the midst of this turbulence, it’s imperative that you inform your emerging workforce (and remind those who may have forgotten) that throughout every phase of your organization, regardless of how harsh it may sound, one core principle remains intact; coffee is for closers.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the emerging workforce and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 3 leadership books including Reviving Work Ethic . His new book, On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out, will be released later this year. Learn more about Eric at EricChester.com.