“This group can do more. They need to do more! I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I take them on off-site meetings and have dinners for them, but they just don’t get it—they’re not motivated. I’m already spending a fortune on these ‘feel good’ things. What do I have to do now? Get somebody from HR in here! They better have some ideas!”
I have heard, or heard of, enough of these conversations over the years to know that the issue of sustainably motivating employees is something of great concern to anyone who cares about being an effective leader, no matter what their level of leadership responsibility is. This issue is a significant problem today and it’s pervasive for a number of reasons—cost reductions, headcount reductions, and simultaneously demands for higher productivity in order to stay competitive, profitable—and in business.
Now, here’s the strange part: The solution to this problem, in all likelihood, is reading this column right now. It’s you. It doesn’t involve a “new idea” for the next outing or team-building, colleague-bonding event. It doesn’t involve hiring a coach or bringing in someone from HR, or bringing in a high-powered guest speaker to fire-up the troops. In fact, it doesn‘t even cost anything to implement; there’s no training involved, and no books to read.
This is not about whether or not you are a competent leader from a functional standpoint. After all, your expertise in one or more areas is probably why you were put in a role of leadership. This isn’t about something that works only for leaders with charisma and a compelling presence when they enter a room, or for leaders who can hold everyone’s attention by their superior speaking skills. In fact, it involves none of these traits.
What is it? Based upon many years of talking to people about their leaders—the people leaders are hoping to motivate—I can tell you this: It’s time. It’s the time a leader invests in building a human link between him- or herself and those who look to them for leadership. This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This about connecting the people you want to motivate with why they should be motivated—all of which transfers directly to the bottom line. This is not hypothesis or conjecture. It’s fact.
What it comes down to is this: When a leader takes the time to listen; when a leader takes time to ask questions; when a leader takes the time to explain why, when and how things are being done, it sends a powerful message to employees—one of caring and respect. Caring, because someone took the time to ask them what they thought—not in an online survey—but person-to-person. Respect, because the leader’s time is in short supply. Everyone knows that. But, when a leader spends time—even a few minutes—with someone to give them focused attention and say, “Thank you,” or “Congratulations on a job well done!”, or asks, “What do you think about…?, or just to shake hands and say something like, “Thanks for being part of our team,” it instills a sense of pride in people, not only about themselves, but a sense of pride in their leader. These are the kinds of interactions that are infectious, become viral, and can create urban legends about leaders—legends that begin something like, “I may not always agree with what she says or does, she may be tough at times, she may ask a lot of us, but she shows us that she respects us and cares about our opinion. It’s not easy working anywhere today, but I would rather work for someone who knows I exist and who I know respects and cares about me and my future.”
Then, the vision, the mission, the strategy, those stretch-goals, the off site events, the dinners and other bonding events, take on a whole new meaning. They become believable, real, understood and enduring—things people can feel connected to—all of which fuels a feeling of pride, belonging, and a motivation to perform not only for a leader, but for themselves.
These are the reasons people fight to win and go beyond threshold performance to be fully engaged members of a team that has meaning and to do whatever they can to support a culture of inclusion and performance. It all starts with you.