What “Vice” can teach you about motivating employees

What does the new movie Vice, about Dick Cheney, have to do with managing employees?   The communication techniques that were used to influence the American public according to Vice, can also be used to motivate your employees to work harder.  

In Vice, the movie alleges that although a majority of Americans disagreed with going to war with Iraq and disapproved of global warming, Cheney was able to change public opinion through the use of communication tactics. These same communication tactics can be harnessed to convince our employees to work harder and stay on the job longer.

The movie references Dr. Frank Luntz, a public relations guru and political consultant to DIck Cheney and many others.  According to Vice, the polls showed a majority of Americans were concerned about global warming. Dr. Frank Luntz changed the phrase from Global Warming to Climate Change.  That linguistic move has been attributed to changing the emotional reaction and therefore public opinion about Global Warming.

Dr. Frank Lutz was also attributed to changing Americans’ opinion of a war on Iraq with two communication techniques:

  1.  Selecting the phrase, “Axis of Evil”.  It was powerful because it connected with Americans’ core values of safety and fear after 9/11.  
  2.  Repetitive communication of carefully selected phrases over and over and over in the media.  In a short time, there was a tipping point in public opinion about an Iraq War.


According to Dr. Frank Luntz in his book, Words That Work, communication changes behavior when a message is:

  1. Carefully selected
  2. Repeated frequently
  3. Connects to a person’s values


With these tips in mind, it is time to rethink how you are motivating your employees.  Do you need your employees to work harder? Develop a short and simple phrase that causes an emotional reaction in your employees.


Step 1. Determine employees’ values


Language that connects to the value of the audience can change their behavior.  According to Vice, in the post 9/11 time frame, Americans did not connect a war with Iraq to reducing terrorism.  The Dr. Luntz’ suggested phrase of “Axis of Evil” however, connected to the post 9/11 fear of continued terrorist attacks.  This phrase changed the view of the American public about a war with Iraq.


If you want to motivate your employees, you need to first uncover their internal values.  In today’s workforce for hourly employees, some common values include:


  1. Moving up in a career
  2. Status of working for a certain type of organization
  3. Flexibility to have a job that pays the bills while the employee pursues school, the arts, or their own business
  4. Time away from their friends and family
  5. Social connections at work
  6. Helping others


Step 2. Messaging


Once you have identified what resonates most with your employees, draft a message that aligns with your employees’ values.


For example, if your employees value moving up in their career, try the message one of my former employers used: “Employees that start here end their career as a VP of HR.”  Chick Fil-A communicates that they are committed to helping each employee move up in their career even if it is for a position outside of the company. The phrase, “We will train you to succeed in our company and beyond” connects to the value of career growth.  


If your employees value their time spent away from friends and family is well used, a message that you will work with them on shift schedules and communicate in advance what their schedule will be can be powerful. Often employers are already doing this but don’t think to draw the connection from the workplace practice to the employee’s value.


At Homebase, our employees report they find fulfillment in their work because of the ability to help local business owners and their teams.   We have written on the wall in the office, “We Work Hard to Make Your Work Easier.” On my first day back at work after maternity leave, I sat at my desk and looked at the wall with that phrase.  I felt a boost and connected again to the company’s mission which aligns with my internal values.


Avoid communicating a value your employees don’t care about.  For example, if your employees value time don’t focus on career development if the job is just a means to a paycheck.  


Step 3.  Repeat


Communicate the value through posters, meetings, performance evaluations, on-boarding and training to repeat your message. Every time you have an all employee meeting say a few sentences about your employees’ values.


The more you repeat the message the more employees buy in and change.  


I wonder if Dr. Frank Luntz has been advising Facebook.  Every publicized interview with an executive lately seems to include some form of the phrase, “we did not act fast enough” or “we were too slow in our response”.  The same concept communicated on repeat.


Step 4.  Reward and Recognize.   


When you connect a reward with an employee’s value, you get extra bang for your reward buck.  Rewards can be like a gift from your grandmother. Well-meaning by the giver, meaningless to the recipient.  The trick is to tie the reward to the employee’s values.


See the chart below for ideas about rewards that relate to an employee’s values.  


Employee Value Reward
Time Preference on Shift Selection or extra Paid Days Off
Career Development Promotion, a connection to a mentor, or selection for cross-training
Flexibility Mobile shift-scheduling with ability to request schedule and shift changes
Social Connections Fun team building events, company parties, and referral bonuses
Helping Others Bonuses for employees that provide exceptional customer service, volunteer opportunities, non-profit donations


A carefully selected message that connects with employee’s values and is communicated repetitively can change employee behavior.    

Related posts

10 easy employee recognition ideas for when “thank you” just isn’t enough

Keeping your team happy and motivated should be high on your priority list — especially if you want them to…

Read article

Competing for new hires?
You may have one surprising advantage.

Ever wonder how your small business stacks up against the competition? Or how you could ever compete with the big…

Read article

You asked, they answered: Antique Taco on hard work, team culture, and more

Meet the owners:   Ashley & Rick Ortiz, Antique Taco With Antique Taco, Ashley and Rick are bringing together their…

Read article

You asked, they answered: Cadence Kidwell on starting and running a retail shop 

Meet the owner:   Cadence Kidwell, Fuzzy Goat Fuzzy Goat is a knitting boutique in Thomasville, Georgia, that sells artisan…

Read article

You asked, they answered: Christine Ha on opening and operating a restaurant

Who better to answer your questions about starting and running a small business than successful business owners who’ve done it…

Read article

Hiring students for the summer? Make a splash with these hot tips.

With summer just weeks away, you may be hatching a plan to build up your team for the busy season….

Read article