On the KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u warpath: the Compensation Enemy

I have a wonderful client who I love working with.

This client has embraced Managing with Aloha with as big a bear hug as anyone can give it. Right now, KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u could be their middle name, for indeed, it has become a battle cry in their company. They currently joke with me that they are striving to be my poster children for MWA, so much so that when I visited them last week I walked into a room of leaders waiting for me with warpaint striped on their cheeks!

Yet recently I had a telephone conversation with one of them who was very discouraged, explaining to me that,

“It just doesn’t seem right to get people all charged up and excited about all the right things, asking them to KÅ«lia and strive, reaching higher and higher for excellence, when we just don’t pay them as well as they’d be paid if they left us to go work somewhere else.”

I agree, it’s not

The managers in this company are in a tough spot to be in. This is a company in turmoil because they feel they know what to do, they feel they know how to get from good to great, and they love the people they work with, yet they are struggling with retention. Unfilled vacancies are adding to the workload of those who valiantly carry the torch, and even though they know that managing with aloha is the right thing to do, it gets tougher and tougher to rally behind and pull off.

In this particular case, I have not pulled back from giving them the KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u message; we have redirected it to solving their issue with a poor compensation structure within the company. It’s a biggie, and it will take all the creativity and determination we can muster.

However that IS what KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u takes. Striving for excellence demands bucket loads of creativity and determination. In cases like this one, it also demands the bravery (there’s that word again) to simply not accept a wrong: Their compensation structure is very clearly broken.

When you manage with aloha, having a business model with imbalance in what you can afford to pay the people who work for you is not acceptable. Period.

If you cannot make the numbers work, you cannot make the business work in the best possible way, taking it from okay to good, and from good to great.

with Aloha
demands business models with aloha.

Take care of your people first and foremost: If you don’t, you cannot expect them to take care of your customers and the health of your business, and still sleep well at night feeling good about it.


  1. says

    I believe that your best customers are your very own employees. If you can’t take care of your employees, how can you take care of your customers?

  2. Rick Fuqua says

    The downward spiral:
    Low Compensation > Morale Declines > Turnover Increases > Service Deteriorates > Customer Complain > Sales Decline > Revenues Decline > Compensation is Lowered > ……
    But of course every business must be able to sustain fair compensation through improving results.
    Sounds like this company has an opportunity for results driven compensation, productivity bonuses or maybe even retention bonuses to stop the turnover. This may be difficult if the revenues do not support the costs, but strong leadership can overcome the spiral if there are clear goals and rewards for achievement.
    I respect that you are helping them regain their sense of teamwork and pride.

  3. says

    What a great article Rosa. I recently started a new job. I manage (hope to say lead someday) a small office of social workers. They have huge demands and small rewards. The turnover is as you would expect, tremendous. Stress and burnout are more common than lunchtime meals. The agency has a wonderful mission, but the staff are not connected to it. The staff is constantly running in emergency mode. You are so right, the staff have to be connected to the mission and then paid competitively. if not you will continue to struggle with turnover and less than satisfactory results. Thanks for a great article and get me on your MWA plan. Thanks.

  4. says

    Aloha Maria, welcome to Talking Story and the Ho‘ohana Community, and thank you for your comment; well said. It is certainly true that anticipating the needs of our own employees, and working toward exceeding them, is exceptional “customer service practice.”
    Rick, the downward spiral you mention is such a horrible thought! It is eerily accurate though, and exactly what we must understand low compensation levels will move us toward. Managers so often will complain, “all my staff cares about is the money they make” when a) it is only one motivator, albeit a basic one, and b) self-righteousness about that attitude in someone else doesn’t fix the potential problem.
    You have cited compensation opportunities they have been assuming “the answer will be no” to, without even asking the right questions about them, and that is what we are working on now. The team is strong in so many ways, and I am very encouraged because of what we have to work with. This is largely a case of killing automatic pilot with an old business model.

  5. says

    Aloha Rocky, thank you for jumping in here. It sounds like you have your hands full right now, however from what I have come to know about you, I am also very confident that your new workplace is lucky to have you as their manager!
    I have always had much admiration and high respect for those in social work; I honestly do not know if I would have as much tenacity and resilience. I love working with business enterprise because it is a niche in which we can create better resources so much more readily, being more directly in control of funding our efforts VIA our own efforts.
    Your mention of mission alignment resonates with a discussion within the MWA jumpstart program this month: