With no end in sight, the "jobless recovery" of 2011 means that managers everywhere are facing ambitious productivity demands with the leanest teams in decades. Motivating people is a perennial management challenge, but in times like these it's up to learning professionals to ensure that motivation is given more than just lip service.
This starts with providing managers the training and skills they need to effectively motivate people to consistently perform at their best. This is especially important for young managers, who often report that keeping staff motivated is among the most challenging of their new responsibilities.
As always, the first job of HR is to educate. Informing your managers about the benefits of a motivated staff will inspire them to want to become better at motivating others. Research shows that managers who are effective at motivating their direct reports reap the reward of employees who can handle a variety of assignments, work more autonomously, report higher levels of job satisfaction, and contribute more to the success of the department, the organization, and in return, to the success of their manager.
Plus, when you get your managers to assume more responsibility for motivating, they start to think beyond getting the job done today and begin considering what their people will need to be effective one, two, and five years from now. This big-picture thinking does more than keep employees happy, it helps keep the talent pipeline full, staff more agile, and the organization ready and able to meet constantly shifting market demands.
Get reacquainted with staff
A manager's first priority is making sure that each employee is in the job best suited to her skill set and professional aspirations. This means taking the time to get to know his people. This can be a challenge for those managers who naturally focus more on the job than on the person doing it.
When employees feel that managers care more about the work than about them, they may feel insignificant. Equally, when an employee feels that his manager is as concerned about him as he is about the work, he is far more likely to display trust that is characteristic of high-performing companies.
In addition, when managers take the time to create this sense of trust among employees, they gain invaluable insight into what motivates each employee. What motivates one person may do nothing for another.
If a manager really knows his people, he will know that while Joe may feel recognized by being assigned as the manager of a large project, Jane might feel more achievement from a more hands-on role in producing the end result. Having this individual knowledge is critical for a manager to be able to effectively motivate. Here are some activities managers can use to get to know his people and discover what motivates them:
Encourage people to ask questions about their current assignments. A person with lots of questions probably needs more input, while a person with few questions probably needs less. When people feel matched to their responsibilities, they are more likely to be more motivated and perform at their best.
Re-read rsums of employees. Become reacquainted with the skills and weakness of each person in the team. This will enable managers to better mentor workers in their personal development while also better using their skills for the success of the department and the organization.
Take time to listen. Ask people: "Where do you want to be in five years?" Really listen to their answers. It is surprising how much people can learn from each other during a brief exchange.
Network with staff. When managers know the strengths of their people, they can connect individuals to others who can help them do a better job, and everyone benefits. People asked to help others feel valued, and those receiving help feel supported, both of which are truly motivating.
Ask for and consider input from direct reports. Be sure managers do not dismiss people purely because they do not think alike. Appreciation for diverse opinions is invaluable. This small awareness can equal big payoffs.
Delegate more. Draw a matrix with a list of employees down the left-hand side and a list of the tasks the team is responsible across the top. If tasks were delegated to others for one week, which would go to which person? Why? How well do managers really know each employee's capabilities? Have managers delegate at least two of tasks this week. In addition to motivating and developing others, this will also help managers evaluate their own ability and willingness to delegate.
Mix it up. Managers should develop a cross-functional team so people can gain a perspective on other parts of the organization. This contributes to their readiness for change, and the change capacity of the entire organization. Plus, when done with support, it can make the work more interesting, and more motivating, for everyone.
Establish clear expectations
Make sure that managers understand the importance of starting each project clearly, stating the desired end result and parameters for achievement. Once clear expectations are established, it is critical that managers provide the latitude to let people determine how they are going to achieve them. By nature, people are problem solvers. We like to figure things out and determine how things are done, especially when we're the ones charged with doing it.
When managers give people the opportunity to provide input into the work process, they create buy-in and a sense of ownership. People who feel ownership of their work are likely to find work more meaningful than people who have no say in how goals are accomplished. And meaningful work is much more motivating.
Recognizing this natural human drive to be a part of the solution is a critical first step in motivating people. Here are some suggestions to help managers in your organization begin to set clearer expectations:
Require all leaders to clearly state goals of any new project before it is started. This will ensure everyone is on the same page. Also, everyone will know whether the project is successful, as well as what could be done to increase success on future projects.
Set measurable objectives. Don't put requirements in performance appraisals that cannot be measured. Use the SMART system (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) of developing objectives.
Model behavior. As the leader, be the first to meet (and exceed) the standards set for others.
Provide good feedback
The best managers realize that their job includes developing their direct reports - this includes acting as mentor and coach and providing timely and appropriate feedback. Here are some suggestions that managers can use to provide the level of feedback that will keep their people not only motivated, but also growing:
Coach, don't criticize. When you are tempted to give feedback, examine your motives. If feedback will not improve the organization or the individual, don't give it. If it will facilitate performance or career development, it is coaching and not just criticism.
Don't give answers, ask questions. Asking good questions helps people learn to problem solve and make good decisions. It gives them the opportunity to discover answers for themselves, which adds meaning to their work and helps build skills.
Praise first, then give suggestions. Offer five compliments for every constructive criticism, and don't mix the two in one conversation.
Timing is everything. Make sure you are providing feedback when it can still be helpful. Feedback given after it can be implemented is often seen as criticism.
Be specific. When you do give feedback, talk in specifics, not generalities. Describe the impact the person's behavior or decisions is having on the project or others. Make constructive suggestions and offer help.
Humanize it. When giving feedback, take 15 minutes to think about the individual. Consider her strengths and weaknesses. Determine what two or three actions the employee could take to improve the project and contribute to her own development.
Be discreet. Always communicate feedback in a private, nonthreatening manner.
Reward openly and often, with more than money
Although many companies use compensation to motivate, this is actually a reward tactic. Monetary reward may reinforce desired behavior once it's demonstrated, but it is ineffective as a long-term motivator. Even worse, inconsistent compensation can actually do the opposite; for instance, employees become dissatisfied when it's not provided.
This is not to say that appropriate compensation isn't necessary. In fact, according to Frederick Herzberg, known as the father of modern motivational theory, while the presence of certain basics (good working conditions and an appropriate salary) don't necessarily increase job satisfaction, their absence contributes significantly to job dissatisfaction. Herzberg's research found that monetary rewards don't compensate for ineffective management and that real motivation comes from the work itself.
So if rewards don't motivate, what does? According to Herzberg, the top motivators in the workplace include achievement, recognition, meaningful work, responsibility, advancement, and growth. HR can be instrumental in developing a program of consistent recognition for use by managers.
Recognition extends the motivating effects of achievement into responsibility and accountability, which are motivating for the employee, valuable for the manager, and cost-effective for the organization. Here are some tactics managers can start to use to reward and motivate employees:
- Use responsibility and advancement as awards. A high performer deserves more responsibility and the respect that comes with it.
- Celebrate as a team. Lead a mini celebration in the office at least once a week for even a small win.
- Congratulate one-on-one. Give a pat on the back to at least one person a day for his contribution.
- Promote only on merit. Promote based only on visible results.
- Personally reward great performance. Give small rewards for exceptional performance on an irregular basis that are of value to the individual, such as an afternoon off, dinner out on the company, or a long weekend to be home with her family.
By providing your managers with the training and skills they need to be better motivators, learning professionals can work with managers to create a culture of motivation in which individuals feel valued, managers have more capable workers, and the entire organization becomes more agile and change-ready. Now that's a win-win-win proposition.