Motivating Your Team/Members

A common goal of leaders is to motivate their team/members in achieving organization goals and objectives. Some leaders may already be clear on how to do this, while others are clueless. One helpful way to approach this challenge about motivating others is to reflect on what motivates you and what you can learn from the reflection. So, what motivates you?

As you journeyed through the stages of life, you realize that motivations, or the “things” (a.k.a., “motivators”) that drive you to say, do, and pursue something, can evolve and change. When you were a child, perhaps eating your favorite ice cream motivated you to complete a task a parent asked, for example, picking up and and keeping your toys in their place. When you were a teen, perhaps going out with friends and enjoying a movie together motivated you to first complete your assignments so that you had no pending school work to finish before going out. Before, and maybe more so after graduating from college, you were motivated to look for an interesting job and spent more time job hunting, applying, doing interviews, until finally you narrowed down some choices you really liked. As you progressed in your career, you may have been motivated by faster promotions with significant salary increases. For every life milestone, and each day, we experience motivators that drive us closer to something we want and sometimes away from things we wish to avoid. The bottom line is that motivation is not a mysterious and unfathomable black box.

Take note that what motivates you are not necessarily what motivates your team/members. A common mistaken assumption is that others are motivated by the same values, aspirations, goals and things that motivated you. One manager kept giving pep talks about career development and promotion opportunities to one team member because she herself had been motivated by these. She was at a loss as to why her team member was not responsive, lacked motivation at work, and kept letting his assigned tasks fall behind. Apparently, her team member valued other aspirations more, like supporting his demanding girlfriend. He was strongly compelled to be present for her and cater to her whims while letting his own work responsibilities slip.

To be able to motivate another, one must know what drives that individual. A leader must get to know their team members as more than employees who show up for work to get a job done. An employee is not just a worker but a whole person who has different needs and wants. Get to know the person though one-on-ones where you invest time and effort to explore and understand the following:

  • What are the three most important values of the individual? Values drive us whether we are aware of it or not.
  • What her/his aspirations and what specific outcomes do they want to achieve in life/career? What compelled the person to want these?
  • Given aspirations that may be more long term, what are the specific milestones/goals that s/he has set, if any? Some may have dreams and aspirations, but miss having a realistic plan to get there.
  • What needs and wants influence their choices and actions? How are these intertwined with their work and career? How strong is the link between needs and wants and their work and career?
  • What intrinsic motivators drive the person? E.g., love of learning, identifies with the job and the company, enjoys the work much more than other activities like going out with friends, etc.
  • What extrinsic motivators does s/he value? E.g., public recognition, merit increase, performance bonus, sponsorship to an MBA, etc.
  • What are the talents/strengths of the person? What are the developmental areas for the current job role and next step in the career ladder?
  • Is there a strong fit between the person, the job and the career path in the organization?
  • What makes the person unique and different from you and others? What really matters to them?

If there is a strong fit and alignment between the person and what the organization provides, knowing and understanding each team member as the unique individual can help a leader be more successful in motivating them within the context of their job role, work, and career opportunities. If there is not a strong fit and alignment, such understanding can prepare the leader to help the person explore where there may be a stronger fit and support the person to move on.

Forcing a fit when there is none or a poor one will not work out in the long term. The sooner the leader and person concerned becomes aware of this, accepts it, and opens a different path, the better for the person, the leader and the organization.

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How Managers Can Create Psychological Safety

One common concern managers have is when they ask their people to share their ideas and people do not speak. This situation may have its variants and typically managers ask questions like, “What do you think? or “What do you think about . . . ?” Or, “Do you have any questions?” A little more prodding from the manager may not work so the meeting or conversation ends. The manager thinks that things are clear later feels frustrated that work was not done right. She mistakenly assumed that things were clear because her people had no questions.

Why do people not freely share with their manager what they are thinking and feeling about something? A common reason is that they do not feel safe with the manager. When the manager is one who frequently shows impatience, gets angry, or worse, says nasty things that offend and hurt their people, that manager is truly an expert in creating a deep divide between her and her people. Instead of building a solid professional and collaborative relationship based on mutual trust and respect, the manager creates ever bigger and deeper gaps. Often, managers are not aware that their annoyed or ominous facial expressions, or hard tone of voice, or perhaps dismissive manner, create fear that prevents openness and taking risks with you.

Psychological Safety means that people believe and feel they can open up and engage, be honest with what they think and feel, be vulnerable with what they know or do not know, without fear of negative impact to themselves. That is, there is no fear of being judged and suffering consequences that may hurt their image, status or career. Greater Psychological Safety enables more open and candid discussions, enhances team collaboration, and enables a more high performing team.

Psychological safety is said to have been researched and written about by Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis (1960s), by William Kahn (1990), and has recently become a buzzword perhaps because of Amy Edmondson’s (2018) work. Check out her book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and her talks/videos.

For the many busy managers who may not be inclined to read, or if you are more of an auditory learner, here are some short videos about Psychological Safety by Amy Edmondson. For the short article, you can listen to the audio version if you prefer or if you are commuting to/from work.

In a nutshell, here are some tips to consider about what can managers think, say, and do, to create Psychological Safety:

STOP: Stop being annoyed, angry, and verbally abusive with your people. Stop thinking that they know what you know because if they do not have your knowledge, aptitudes, education, and experience, they are not as “seasoned” as you are. Stop judging them. Stop making them feel incompetent or stupid.

START: Start thinking of yourself, and behaving, as their coach and mentor, so that together, you and your team can create greater value. Start thinking of how effective your team/group will be when they feel safe to open up to share their ideas and feelings. Start practicing a few things that make people believe and feel safe to take risks with you, e.g., show that you are a vulnerable and imperfect human.

CONTINUE: Continue developing greater self-awareness on what you say/do that make people avoid being open with you vs. what you say/do that make them believe and feel it’s ok to take the risk of being mistaken, admitting lack of knowledge, looking ignorant. Continue reinforcing that you and your team are learners on the same journey with a shared vision and that you will learn and figure out the best possible approaches and solutions to achieve your team/organizational objectives. Continue building up their confidence in thinking on their own, and honing their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

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Is Coaching the Silver Bullet for Managers to Achieve Higher Levels of Engagement and Productivity with their People?

The pandemic has made life and work tougher for mostly  everyone in many ways, and it seems that these situational difficulties have dampened employee engagement in many organizations. Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, wrote that only 20% of full-time employees worldwide are engaged in their work. He goes on to observe that there is a chain reaction where low engagement results in lower individual productivity that hurts organizational productivity that negatively impacts country Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (Clifton, 2021)

This chain reaction seems credible enough especially when it happens at a critical mass. What can organizations do to increase employee engagement that is good for its employees’ well-being and performance, its customers’ happiness with its products and services, and thus, the organization’s success? Employee engagement is good for business is good for customers.

One interesting “breakthrough” insight is offered by Clifton in his blog. These conclusions deserve a closer look so that we can ask ourselves how true it is for ourselves and the people we work with. And if these are true, what are we going to do to turn things around if we find ourselves stuck with less engagement and productivity that we know we and our people are capable off?

Clifton: “Gallup has discovered — through studying what the best managers do differently — that great managing is an act of coaching, not one of directing and administrating.

One of Gallup’s most famous leadership breakthroughs, based on meta-analytics of 100 million employee interviews, is that a full 70% of the variance between highest engaged teams and persistently disengaged teams is just the manager.

There really is a silver bullet to running a culture of high performance and high development.

It’s always the manager.”

Or perhaps, you might think, that you knew this already, i.e., that the manager has a lot of influence on employee engagement and productivity.

While many organizations and HR practitioners may not agree with the bold statement to cancel all rating forms, meaning performance ratings, many may agree with this statement about how the practice of management must be changed. Reinvented.

Clifton: “We lead through a habit of having one meaningful coaching conversation per week with each team member.”

Many managers and leaders we have trained on coaching skills for the workplace typically complain that they do not have time to coach, so their default management style is the traditional “command and control” approach that they believe saves time. But does it really and what are the tradeoffs? Here is the big BUT about just telling people what to do instead of developing their thinking skills and accountability.

Managers and leaders who fail to develop their people/teams may have overlooked that they have been training their people/teams to be dependent on them for solutions to challenges and problems that they may be capable of handling at their level. How much time and productivity are lost when people/teams wait for the boss to tell them what to do? Or, habitually pass the buck to the boss instead of taking responsibility? Another impact could be the boss becoming the bottleneck.

Coaching helps develop thinking and problem-solving skills, a more proactive mindset, and accountability. It not only helps people be more productive at work, but it also helps them rediscover their purpose, their passion, and focus on what are most meaningful and important to them, thus re-energizing their commitments.

So, would you agree with the title of the article, “Gallup Finds a Silver Bullet: Coach Me Once Per Week” from Jim Clifton, The Chairman’s Blog, May 27, 2021?

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