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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Becoming a More Strategic Thinker

One aspiration that junior leaders have is to be more of a strategic thinker and often, they may not know where to start. A helpful way to get started is to first understand what strategic thinking is. One definition is that “strategic thinking is about analyzing opportunities and problems from a broad perspective and understanding the potential impact your actions may have on the future of your organization, your team, or your bottom line. (HBR Guide to Thinking Strategically, 2018)

To become a more strategic thinker, one must develop the habit of lifting one’s head above the day-to-day activities to be curious and learn more about what is happening in one’s industry and business. Knowing about relevant political, economic, social, technological, developments and trends, is a must as well. The arena may include one’s country, ones’ region, and the world at large. In other words, it helps to be an avid reader and asking questions about how might these trends and developments impact and change customer needs and wants, and your organization, its processes, and thus the talent and skills needed. If your learning style is not much of a reader, but more visual and auditory, then watching and listening to the news, events, podcasts, can be your go-to activities.

Actively immerse and engage yourself in what you learn. Knowledge can be powerful, especially when you put it to use. One way of engaging yourself is to list down questions to help you appreciate, understand, and organize what you are learning for use in thinking about opportunities and problems from a broad perspective. Here are some example questions to help you create more focused ones on your own:

  • What are the top three developments/trends impacting the companies in the industry/business?
  • How is each of these top developments/trends actually impacting the companies, industry/business?
  • How is each development/trend affecting our company/business now?
  • What opportunities are that we can take advantage/exploit for our stakeholders’ benefit?
  • What problems are there that are hidden opportunities to create new value? E.g., New products and/or services for key stakeholders/customers? Improvements in current products and/or services?
  • Who are our top three competitors and how is each one riding the waves of change?
  • What can we do differently from them to gain what specific advantages over them?
  • What do credible futurists predict about our industry/business? What alternative scenarios are there? What do our senior leaders believe and buy into? Do I agree? Disagree? Why?
  • What are we doing today to position us relative to these possible scenarios?
  • And so on.

In creating engaging questions to guide you in your learning and applying strategic thinking, tap your key stakeholders/customers. Identify those that may be most representative and/or influential and interview them and/or conduct Focus Group Discussions to discover and explore what’s on their mind, what’s most important for them, what needs, wants and aspirations. These may serve as a compass to narrow down opportunities and problems to work on. That is, those most promising in terms of what matters to creating value for them and thereby your company’s thriving in the next five to 10 years.

Create your own applied strategic thinking circle. To help motivate you and others to engage in analyzing opportunities and problems (to turn into opportunities) for your company, business unit, or department, get your team and peers involved. Share your goals with them and invite them to collaborate. Creating a circle of applied strategic thinkers need not be a company-sponsored activity. All it takes is a few like-minded leaders who want to collaborate to do this and do it. On the other hand, if the company will sponsor and support such an initiative, they can help provide direction and resources.

Finally, learn as much as you can about strategic management, strategic frameworks, and strategic tools, to give you new perspectives. Look for actionable ideas/tools to experiment with in your circle to help you develop promising and viable ideas to create new sustainable value.

So, if you are indeed determined to be more of a strategic thinker, what more specific goals will you identify and what next steps are you going to take?

How Can a Manager Develop Creativity and Innovation?

One of the key challenges facing organizations is the need to create new value through creativity and innovation. Can the ability to create (“creativity”) and introduce new ideas and methods (“innovation”) be learned? The answer is definitely a yes for both. Managers and leaders are key in taking the initiative.

Where can a manager/leader start? One can get initial ideas by Googling for articles and reads on the internet. There are plenty and the trick is to pick out ideas that resonate with you and your team. Creativity and innovation at work is best developed as a team competency and not just an individual one.

Begin with a strong intention followed by action. One can begin with a strong desire to be more creative and innovative and learn as much as possible about the context and processes that enable and strengthen these in one’s self and team. That is, the motivation must be strong enough to move one to transform intention into taking action. Wanting to be more creative and innovative but not taking any action will not develop this magically. Write down what your specific goal/s is/are.

Identify the specific areas for creativity and innovation. One does not operate in a vacuum, so the question is where is new value possible, and a must, to level-up the products and services given to customers/stakeholders? Where and what are the pain points that can be addressed? What unmet, and maybe not so conscious needs and wants, exist in customers/stakeholders that have yet to be addressed? No product, service, or process is perfect, and sometimes one solution causes a new problem, so there will definitely always be opportunities to create and innovate. The point is that one must have specific areas of interest and focus to create new value.

Think outside-the-box, but what box? Often, one does think of the need to “think outside-the-box” but is not clear about what this “box” is, really. One box may be the familiar, the way things are, the status quo, with which one becomes very comfortable, making it difficult to think beyond the familiar. Another box might be one’s self-limiting beliefs and assumptions about what is, can be, cannot be, what is right, what is wrong, and so on. A useful activity to gain insight on the the boxes that constrain us is to have a brainstorming session about “What are the boxes we live in?” Then a discussion of where these boxes come from, how these limit our thinking/ideas, and how to break out of them may give fresh perspectives. Another activity might be to brainstorm “What have we not tried yet? What if?” You get the idea.

Read broadly, not just about one’s specialty. To percolate or catalyze new ideas, one needs to read about many things of interest outside one’s specialty. New ideas are waiting to be discovered or given birth to, facilitated by immersing one’s self in different fields. Different helps to nudge new ideas. The concept of parallel thinking or lateral thinking from Edward de Bono can help one master a more curious and exploratory mindset to think about “what can be” instead of just “what is.”

Make the journey a team challenge, not just a personal challenge. As the adage goes, more heads are better than one, Yes, alright, sometimes, and in developing creativity and innovation, diversity can be a catalyst. Appreciating and encouraging diverse perspectives can fertilize new ideas. Part of the process is to identify what success measures the team can hold itself to so as to ascertain how it is progressing towards its goal to become more creative and innovative. The team can get inputs from its key stakeholders about such measures. For example, a new or reengineered process that cuts down cost by 80% and reduces transaction time by 50%. Whatever the success measures that makes sense in one’s situation, it helps to apply SMART.

Sharpen analytical and critical thinking skills. One can read references on how to achieve these, or take short training, plus learn about and apply Systems Thinking. Systems Thinking is built on both analytical and critical thinking skills. Learning and applying Systems Thinking requires more commitment and discipline, and may take more effort to master. Nevertheless, it would be well worth it. Check this out The Systems Thinker. To make the learning process more fun and exciting, check what programs may be available, public or customized for in-house needs, are available in a graduate school of business near you.

Recognize and reward creativity and innovation. Finally, work with your senior management and HR folks to design and implement a recognition and reward program for creativity and innovation for teams that deliver the goods on: new ideas = new value for customers/stakeholders = measurable business value.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

One pitfall and self-defeating habit some managers have is that they want to do most, if not everything, themselves. What are the impacts of doing this? To such a manager, it can gobble up all their time and add to their stress. Often, there is not enough time to finish everything, and sometimes, the more important priorities are left undone while they struggle to complete urgent though less important work. Such a manager may stay stuck in this unexamined routine and find themselves irritable and angry at their teams/members.

To the team/members, they get used to passing the buck to their manager to get things done. Often, they may not even do any homework, e.g., initial data gathering, analysis and recommendations, to discuss with their manager. The manager may unwittingly reinforce this by fretting and then gathering the data, doing the analysis, and then instructing the team/members what to do. And so the cycle goes, the team learns to needlessly depend on and escalate work to the manager.

To break the cycle, the manager must make the first moves to enable them to focus on what must be their own priorities vs. those that can be delegated to empower and develop the team/members. In other words, separate the work only you can do because you have the requisite knowledge, skills and experience vs. the work that can be delegated to the team/members. Delegation is a tool to free the manager to focus on her priorities, as well as a tool to develop the team/members.

An experience that I had many years ago as a young management consultant was that one time I went to my boss to tell him about a problem I had on a project, he scowled and annoyingly said, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” I never forgot that bit of admonition. In other words, do not pass the buck to your boss and first work on resolving problems at your level. Consulting with the boss is fine, but first do your homework. Do not see him empty-handed. Escalating should be the last resort.

An important thing to remember is that maybe team members think they are doing the right thing by bringing up problems without solutions to the boss for her to solve. So, the manager must set very clear expectations about this, i.e., say something like, “I expect you to do your homework and resolve this problem at your level. If you need help, see me but be sure to have done your own thorough analysis and be ready to present your recommendations with well-thought out pros and cons.”

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Some considerations:

STOP: Stop thinking that you must do everything yourself to get work done well. Stop doing all the work, especially those that can and should be delegated. Stop wasting your time on work that should not be a priority for you to do.

START: Start working with each team member to identify and agree on specific developmental goals, e.g., knowledge and skills to be acquired, mastery to be achieved, etc.. Reflect on work that can be assigned/delegated to support the achievement of these goals. It may be a waste of your time to do it yourself, however, it may be the developmental assignment/experience that your team member needs.

Remember that you may need to teach, mentor and/or coach your team member depending on their current level of competence and motivation. Have a sit down with the person and discuss the assignment, your expectations, what support they may need from you or others.

CONTINUE: Continue believing that you have a capable team/members who need your confidence in them and your support to bring out their best and their talents. Continue to identify work to delegate and do so, and discuss with the team member the specific knowledge, skills ad experience that they will develop or sharpen to increase their own competence.