This is a transcript of Episode 3 – motivating your team. You can also listen to episode 3.
Motivation and engagement initiatives have the opposite effect. It’s basically saying “we believe we’re not as effective as we want to be because you guys aren’t performing as well as you should be.”
If you know what they love and what they like and there’s an opportunity where you can help them do that; you can create that for them; and you’ve got to do it unselfishly, I think.
I work really well when I do things I enjoy. The difference was that then I was afforded that freedom and my enjoyment of the job just exploded.
Welcome to Feel – a podcast about leadership. My name’s Andy Kelk. So far in this series, we’ve looked at culture and at developing people. If you’ve not heard those episodes already, you can get them from iTunes or FeelPodcast.org.
In this episode, the focus is on motivation; how do you get people engaged and pointing in the right direction?
I read a quotation this week from leadership coach Don Gray which said “If managers didn’t demotivate employees, they wouldn’t have to look for ways to motivate them.”
I spoke with leaders with many years’ experience of working in teams and leading them. Neil Killick, agile portfolio manager at MYOB agrees that acting with the sole intention of trying to “motivate” people is not the right way to approach the problem.
We identify engagement as a problem so then we go “right, we’ve got to put initiatives in place to engage people” and the people who are already engaged are going “no, I don’t want this. I’m already engaged” and it actually disengages you. It has the opposite effect of what it’s intended for.
Motivation and engagement initiatives have the opposite effect. Because it’s basically saying “as a company, we believe we’re not as effective as we want to be because basically you guys are not performing as well as you should be.” Rather than going “we’re not performing as well as we should be because of the way some of the decisions we have made as leaders have led us down that path.”
I can’t tell you how excited I would be to work in a company where the leaders are basically saying “you know what, the only reason we are where we are now is because of your guys’ hard work. We’ve actually made some mistakes in how we’ve done things and in the kind of culture we’ve tried to promote. And we acknowledge that and we’re going to try and fix that.” People are going to go away going “that’s awesome. It’s no longer the carrot and stick, being whipped into action and do more and give more of what you’re doing.”
Steve Hardisty, a senior engineering manager from Etsy has seen an example of a leader who has actively demoralised his team:
Our manager organised a meeting at 8:30 on a Monday morning and no-one turned up; which seems pretty obvious now that no-one would turn up for a meeting at 8:30 on a Monday morning. You’ll forget; you’ve just had a weekend and you’ve got things like a family.
And as soon as I walked in he came up to me, put his face 3 inches from my face and asked me if I was lazy or incompetent. This is first thing on a Monday morning. I was like “excuse me?”
“Are you lazy or incompetent?
I said “well, I think I’ll go with lazy.” It was, like, “what a ridiculous clown of a human being.”
And the thing is, you do something like that and you raise the stakes so rapidly; if it doesn’t work out you look like a bit of a ****wit and you lose a lot of credibility. There are definitely different ways of doing things and I think if that person had a little more self-awareness, they probably would have gone “whoops, I shouldn’t have organised a meeting for 8:30 on a Monday morning.”
While such blatant demeaning of team members is, thankfully, a pretty rare occurrence, a lack of self awareness can manifest itself in other ways. Alex Stokes, consultant and founder of agily.com.au:
There’s a few occasions where I think it’s happened or happened to teams around me or to some of my teams; and the person would be none the wiser that they’ve done that. And it’s just what they’ve done to be successful in their career up until that point has worked to a certain degree. And then, they wouldn’t necessarily recognise that it’s a buzzkill.
There was a guy who, I was at an offsite and we were at a dinner. One of my colleagues at the time said, at the dinner, he said “has anyone read Five Dysfunctions of a Team?” and our boss at the time said “No. And we’re not going to become a bookclub.” Talk about burst our balloon. I was like “Wow, a bookclub would be ace for a start. And don’t we want to be the curious types that are out there reading books and thinking about the things that make teams successful, etc.” So that was a bit of a motivation killer. And we were already in a bit of a headspace of “what are we doing here?”
Self-awareness is so important because, as a leader, the little things you do really matter. Little things like sending an email. Steve Hardisty:
A lot of the culture of a company, I don’t know if it’s 100% influenced by the people at the top but it’s certainly 100% wrecked by the people at the top. That’s another thing to be aware of. So, if you manage managers, being aware that you can do things which can absolutely break a culture just by sending an email. And setting up the wrong expectation of “what does holiday time mean?” or “what hours should we work?” and things like that. Handling that wrong can just break a whole culture.
Neil Killick also suggests taking care when using emails to communicate.
It’s amazing, the power of an email being sent out by the CEO that, if worded wrongly, can actually have a devastating effect on the culture. I’ve actually seen cultures where, on one day, you’ve got quite a nice engaging place to work, it’s friendly, you feel like everyone’s trying their best and trying to make things happen and then an email gets sent out along the lines of “we need to restructure ourselves because we’re just not delivering quickly enough” implying “guys, this isn’t good enough, you’ve really got to step up your act”.
Even if it’s not in those harsh words, smart people can read between the lines and you go “what?” These are people who are giving everything, these are people who are consumed, in a good way, about trying to do the right things for the company and they’re basically being told “you’ve got to do more. You’re not doing enough.
I’ve seen that have an instant impact on culture. All of a sudden, things are quiet; where there were conversations and people designing things on whiteboards and collaborating in the way that you’d want, you’re just getting silence and people at their desks, typing away with their headphones on.
It takes years to establish a great culture and make it a great place to work and it can take days to destroy that. When the leaders of your company are not acknowledging their own failures, everything is about the people that work for them. It’s a problem.
So… doing the wrong thing can be terribly destructive and can demotivate your people more than you realise. What can you do to get it right? Kerri Rusnak, formerly of the REA Group, believes the key is in your mindset.
If you want to be motivating, be motivated. So come to work every day motivated. If you want to be inspiring, be inspired yourself. I think, as a leader, my job is to come in in a really really strong positive frame of mind and spirit. You come into the office and it’s everything that you are and the way you smile and you engage people and say “hello” and go around at take time to talk to people.
But people need to know that I myself am motivated, I myself am inspired. And, by that, they’ll feel that too is also possible for them. And that comes across from one-on-ones and discussions and speaking to the team. Come from a place of motivation, come from a place of inspiration, reflect on the personal journey and the meaning of what you’re doing and you can accomplish great things.
Neil Killick believes that the work you do and the pleasure that gives will ultimately determine your motivation.
It’s about fixing the environment and creating a better environment for people to do knowledge work. Which is what we do. We think for a living, we create for a living. We don’t respond to very transparent carrot-and-stick mentality of “if you do this then you’ll get this reward.” That’s not how we are motivated.
It comes to autonomy, mastery, purpose. It comes to intrinsic motivation that knowledge workers have. The reason we’ve chosen this living is because we’re creative and we want to think for a living, we want to solve problems. We don’t just want to be put in a box and told “Here’s your jurisdiction and here’s what you need to do.” We’re not motivated by that.
Autonomy, mastery and purpose are the three key motivators that were identified by popular business author Daniel Pink in his book Drive. Autonomy refers to the desire of all of us to run our own lives and work the way we see fit; mastery is the urge to get better at what we do and to continually improve ourselves; purpose is the need to be part of something bigger than ourselves and something meaningful. By tapping into these three intrinsic desires, motivation is sure to follow. But what about money?
Well, for tasks which require lots of cognitive processing; knowledege work being a great example; financial rewards have been shown to have little effect and, in some cases, to actually worsen performance. In his speech at the TED conference, which you can watch online, Pink talks about an experiment done at Princeton University where one of the groups was offered a financial reward for completing a puzzle quickly. The other group just completed the puzzle without any mention of a bonus. On average, the group who were offered a reward took 3 and a half minutes longer to complete the task. And similar results have been replicated in other studies for many years.
Pink also points out that rewards can destroy the intrinsic motivation gained from doing a task – a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect – where the subject of the reward eventually loses interest in doing the task for its own sake and becomes hooked on the reward.
So, instead of focusing on how we can use money to motivate people to get a job done, let’s focus on those intrinsic motivators. Mastery of skills and having the opportunity to do something enjoyable was a big motivator for Steve Hardisty:
I had a manager who made the observation that I work really well when I do things I enjoy. I’m multiple times more effective. I think that’s probably true of everyone. The difference was that then I was afforded that freedom and my enjoyment of the job just exploded.
Sometimes there’s simple things like that that you can do that really help people. Maybe it’s not that simple, maybe there’s things going on under the hood which are fairly complex. But nonetheless, there are definitely things like that where I’ve seen people have such positive experiences from their managers.
A good manager understands their people and engages with them. Recently, I saw the movie The Imitation Game; in it, the character of Alan Turing is not connecting well with the team he’s leading. On the advice of his fiancée, he comes in one day with an apple for each of them and proceeds to stumble through a joke. It’s an inflection point as they the team then starts to rally around him.
Life, unfortunately, is never as simple as Hollywood depicts, but engaging with people on a personal level and not just as cogs in a machine goes a long way to setting up an environment where great things can happen. The power of personal relationships is one of Kerri Rusnak’s ingredients for motivation:
You have to first engage people as close personal friends and people you truly care about. And always looking for the best in people.
I would just say stay out of the detail, keep engaged at a very personal level, don’t come in with too many rule. When you start making things too regulated, that kills motivation.
Motivation will come from the accomplishment of a challenge. But if you’re falling behind, what good is it going to be focusing on now we have this massive gap. What you want to focus on is where are we going? And keep redefining where you’re going. When you miss the hoop, when you miss the goal, just reflect on why are we missing that goal? What’s going on? What’s missing here? What are we going to do? Why has that happened? What’s the information telling us? Where did that come from? And does it still matter? Is this actually still relevant? Is it just that the budget or the estimate was wrong? And I think this is often the case. We create unrealistic goals, lofty goals and that’s what’s wrong. It’s not the team’s achievement or the team’s capability that’s wrong; it was our original estimate, our original goal.
Having the right goals and spending time fixing the system of work is also important to Neil Killick
If you focus on creating a better environment then people will become more engaged because the work is more interesting and the way things are done is more conducive to a happy, productive workplace. Obviously, things like an obvious support and trust from management and leaders, the sorts of decisions that managers and leaders make and the way they act with you and the way they design the way that the work works; shows you that they believe in helping you have a more happy and productive environment.
For me, it’s really important to have the autonomy to be able to achieve outcomes but also have real clarity about what I’m supposed to be achieving in terms of the business goals and customer goals and these kinds of things.
Also, the way we’re measured, in terms of: Am I being asked to collaborate with people who have different goals from me? In which case, collaboration is actually unlikely to happen. Because we have different goals.
These are kinds of things that, if you’re seeing these obvious problems happening, the smart people in your organisation are going to become disengaged because they’re like “well, it’s pointless engaging in this because it’s a bit of a facade. Because I’m being told that I’ve got to collaborate with people and then you’re giving me completely separate goals that are in conflict with those people. So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to make a good decision?” So, I think, providing the information for people to be able to make good decisions in their work and be consistent with that is motivating and encouraging.
A common theme which comes through in all of these conversations is that you need to treat people like adults. Talk to them as equals. Don’t demean them. Trust them. Don’t bribe them with rewards. Support them. Make expectations clear. Then you’ll be on the way to a happy, motivated team.
Next time on Feel: influence and persuasion; how do you sell an idea and get people on board?
And if you have a story to tell about leadership and organisations, I’m looking for more people to talk to for upcoming episodes. Get in touch on Twitter – @feelpodcast or contact me via the website – FeelPodcast.org
I’m Andy Kelk. This has been Feel. A big thank you to Alex Stokes, Kerri Rusnak, Neil Killick and Steve Hardisty. The show’s music is by audionautix.com and our website is FeelPodcast.org