How Would You Motivate Howard Stern?

Disclosure #1: I am a rabid Howard Stern fan.

Disclosure #2: I actually own stock in SiriusXM at the time of this writing.

Wise Ass Remark #1: I should have really held off on buying the new iPhone last week, I could have completed my hostile takeover of the company.

::As of this writing the stock is trading in the mid 40s, the mid 40 cents a share.::

Picture yourself as SiriusXM management.  We’ll call you, Mel, for fun.  Mel you have one of the greatest radio talents ever to grace the airwaves in your possession.  Your company acquired exclusive rights to him and have him locked up for the next couple of years.  Howard moved over to your company and brought a lot of his fans with him, almost instantly paying for his contract with all of the new subscribers.

Howard is still on top of his game.  His audience still loves him and by all accounts, he is doing a bang up job.  But the stock, oh the stock price!  People could buy a share of your stock with the change they find in their couch…your subscribers might be happy, but Wall Street is not.

For the sake of this article let’s pretend there are not a million other economic, business, and social factors at play in determining the stock price of a company.  Let’s assume that the more subscribers you can acquire the higher your stock price will rise, thus motivating you, Mel, to find a way to acquire more subscribers.  Lastly, you being you, you know that there is a vast quantity of people out there willing to pay to listen to Howard Stern, they just need a little nudge to get them into the game.

Knowing all this, one might naturally approach Howard to do some promotion outside of his show; maybe do the late night talk show circuit, an interview in Rolling Stone, show up to a movie premiere…anything that would expand the reach of his voice past his own show, and remind the fence sitters who used to listen to Howard to pick up a satellite receiver.

Sounds reasonable to you…get your biggest star to make a media push, sit back and watch the subscribers roll in.

Howard, however, isn’t all that motivated to help out.

Sure he has a million and one reasons why he doesn’t want to do more press, the late shows, etc, but it really comes down to he feels he is doing a great job, as validated by the listeners, and the hell with everyone else who didn’t follow him and the stock price.  Howard, in his mind, has fulfilled his end of the contact.

Mel, what do you do with a star employee who is performing at acceptable levels, but not working to his ‘all-star’ potential?  You know Howard could step up and do more outside of his already excellent show, he could be doing things to bring in more subscribers, and grow the business.  You have seen him do it in the past, however right now he just isn’t.

What do you do?

Back to software engineering…you’ve hired an all-star developer, named Johnson, from Microsoft.  Johnson has years of experience with all the right technologies.  You pay him a fair salary for his skills and his years of experience, and once he starts working for your company you find out he is only an average manager/mentor/team member/coding machine and not the all-star you expected to show up when you hired him.

What do you do?

How do you get your own personal Howard Stern to step up, take on new challenges, and work to their full potential?

What motivates people to work harder?

Money, Power, Respect, Whatchu’ need in life.

~Lil Kim from Money, Power, Respect by The LOX featuring Lil Kim & DMX

::I knew at some point I could work DMX into my blog.  Mark another item off of my ‘Bucket List’::

Conventional wisdom says we are all working for these three items, money, power, and respect.  Let’s break each one of these down.


I believe we as managers have covered the money aspect, be it Howard Stern or our fictional software engineer Johnson.  Hopefully, you and Johnson both did research and negotiated a fair salary.  Johnson came on board, and one will assume he is satisfied with his pay.  You could throw more money at him and see if that re-motivates him to work harder, but did you just create a negative feedback loop?  Don’t work up to your all-star potential and make more money?  If Johnson keeps this up, he will end up owning the company and only have to work a few hours a week.

In Howard’s case, his contract was well publicized, something to the tune of half a billion dollars for five years.  Surely, that is enough money for almost anyone to live comfortably.  Re-motivating Howard with more money would be difficult; we don’t have another half a billion sitting around to dangle in front of his face, plus there is an upper limit on how much money your company can throw at one person.

I have just finished reading Stumbling on Happiness, see my review at, once people rise above poverty acquiring more money rarely makes people any happier.

Since we don’t want to create a negative feedback loop, and don’t have any extra money laying around in this economy I’ll cross money off our list.


What is power?  Power to decide what to work on, how to work on something, when to complete a task?

Power who to hire, who to fire?

Power over your subordinates, power to decide what they need to accomplish, and when?

Power to mange every aspect of everyone’s lives around you?

Power is a nice thing to have in your daily job, its nice to have some freedom to decide what to do when, and to influence those around you.

Howard has plenty of power.  He hires and fires his own staff, he chooses what to talk about every morning, and decides how and when to move his show along from topic to topic.

Will giving someone like Howard more power re-motivate him to excel?

What about Johnson?  How much power is Johnson wielding in his current role?  Is he allowed to set schedules, talk to the project stakeholders, and manage features?  Assuming Johnson already has most of these upper management ‘base powers‘ will giving Johnson more power re-motivate him to excel?

Again, no, there is too much of a potential to create another negative feedback loop by rewarding less than stellar work ethic with more power.  Plus, how much power do you want to give him?  What new powers would you give him?  For Howard and Johnson you could expand their powers over other departments, hiring and firing for the company, and long term strategy.  Are these powers they would even want?

With great power there must also come - great responsibility.

~Stan Lee

::Ha, two items off the buck list in one night, a DMX song and a quote from Spider Man::

How much power is too much when someone can’t perform the basic functions of the job you hired them for and they become absorbed doing other tasks that are not vital to their core job?  I’m going to mark power off our list as well.


Do you respect your employees?  Do you hear their ideas, thoughtfully consider them, and then respond back to those ideas with a well worked out response?  You do?  Stop reading, start your own blog, and send me a link to the RSS feed.  Why are you wasting your time reading my blog?

Listening to others and fully considering what they are saying before responding is a rare trait among most people.  What is the quickest way to make an employee not care any more?  Pay them lip service when they are talking to you about how to improve the company.  Show me someone who feels upper management has ignored them and I’ll show you someone who has turned “it” off, and is coasting through their job doing just enough to get paid and not get fired.

The feeling of people above you not caring about what you bring to the table can be a huge de-motivator.

Howard has a lot of knowledge about the radio industry, however, rarely is his advice sought or his ideas given any respect with regards to expanding the company.  Notice I’m not talking about giving him the direct power to implement his ideas, only a forum where his voice his heard and honestly responded to.

Have you been listening to Johnson and his ideas on how to streamline development?  Did you check out his ideas for implementing a more secure source control system?  How about that time he suggested improvements for the mentoring program?

Giving people respect is time consuming and difficult.  One wants to make sure any respect given is not given falsely.  People have keen ‘bullshit‘ detectors on a whole, so giving false respect is just as good as giving no respect.

Lastly, one wants to make sure they don’t give too much respect.

Give too much respect and one loses all ability to self-reflect; they become lazy, cocky, and all around, a general failure at their job.  As a manger you have to find the right amount of respect to provide and ensure your employees don’t grow a head so large it won’t fit through the front doors of your office building.

So Mel, what techniques will you use to re-motivate your own personal Howard Stern?  Will the right amount of respect appropriately given re-motivate an employee and help them re-discover their passion?