Coloured-pencils, Nail-polish & How You Can Get Dedicated Employees

A pencil is a little wonder-wand: a stick of wood that traces the tiniest motions of your hand as it moves across a surface … As a tool, it is admirably sensitive. The lines it makes can be fat or thin, screams or whispers, blocks of concrete or blades of grass, all depending on changes of pressure so subtle that we would hardly notice them in any other context – Sam Anderson, New York Times 12 Jan 2018

For 130 years, the General Pencil Company of New Jersey has been making pencils.

Pencils so wonderfully simple they inspired Sam Anderson’s prose.

The General Pencil Company’s mission statement reads that they believe in quality, tradition, value, and the fun of creating. It is a company that has employees who have worked there for 47 years, and one, Maria, matches the colour of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week.

I challenge you to momentarily think about your mission and vision statement(s). Does it sound loftier and grander than making the best pencil we can? Now look around your organization. Can you imagine that level of dedication and commitment?

I expect that you believe that your work is more important than mixing pastels for colouring pencils, but would you colour-coordinate your fashion to match your most important work?

I know that hardly anyone is motivated by mission and vision statements.

The things that motivate people at work are based fundamentally on the very exact needs they have in every other aspect of life – Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Basic Needs – The lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is essential, such as food and rest. When it comes to the workplace, this translates into money.

If a job pays employees enough that they can pay their rent and utilities and buy food and clothing, then the position satisfies the employees’ basic needs.

Safety and Security – Employees must have safety and security to succeed in the workplace. Employers should help employees feel physically safe by taking sexual harassment and threats seriously and having policies to deal with potential violence.

Employees must also feel that their jobs are secure. Suppose a company lays off many employees or doesn’t communicate with employees about layoffs. In that case, employees may feel frightened of losing their jobs — which would mean no longer being able to meet their basic needs — and be unmotivated to work.

Read more about talking safely to your people

Belonging and Love – Once basic and security needs have been met, employees seek to meet their needs by feeling comfortable with their coworkers and supervisors. Even if they don’t like or get along with everybody, they need to feel like they belong to the group they work with.

If an employee feels alienated from the company, she may not do her best work. This is doubly important when it comes to employer/employee relationships. Employees who don’t feel their bosses value them or their contributions won’t want to do their jobs.

Self-Esteem and Self-Actualization – The highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs relate to how employees feel about themselves and how they like and value themselves.

Employees who feel productive and do something worthwhile with their time tend to have higher self-esteem than those who don’t. An employee needs to feel like he is living up to his potential and is using his creativity & passion and may look elsewhere to meet these needs.

Read more about high potential

I certainly do not know all there is to know about the General Pencil Company, but reading about them, I can almost 100% assure you that they work hard – every day – to meet the needs of their employees.

Otherwise, how can you motivate a person to shovel and mill graphite for 47 years?