Saturday, April 6, 2013
Recent Forays into Motivation
I have been conducting, over the past 10 days or so some workshops in Prague and it has been a great experience. A magic city and great people. A frequent question was about how to motivate people. Of course, this is a question that many managers ask especially in relation to poor employee engagement, which has well known negative effects on productivity and quality.
There are a couple of nuances regarding this question that are interesting. Clearly the problem is seen as the unmotivated person and, somehow, there is something wrong with them. This may, of course, be true. It constantly astounds me how people will stay in a job or relationship for that matter even though they are clearly unhappy. It is just too hard for them to make the choice to change, to move on. Why would you want to work at anything if you are not engaged to a reasonably high level? Time to move on.
We, as a species, are notoriously bad of taking control of our emotions. There is some great evidence from positive psychology and cognitive behavioural psychology that we can improve how we feel, and therefore our motivation. This involves making a decision to change how you feel and then following some simple steps: getting out of bed is a good start, putting on nice clothes, grooming nicely, holding back the shoulders, smiling (even though you don’t feel like it), responding to people enthusiastically, and talking positively to yourself. In short, fake it! The evidence is that you start to feel better after a while and you no longer have to make such an effort. Importantly people start responding positively to you, which creates a positive feedback loop.
This is a skill that some managers could learn too in order to apply, purposefully, the skills of transformational leadership that are pretty well known.
Which brings me to the main point in this blog and that is that motivating someone or a team requires a more long-term effort. One of the things that directly creates disengagement in an employee is a negative relationship with their manager. Thus, building positive relationships with employees is critical to motivation. This doesn’t mean we all have to be best friends. But it does mean doing things like not micromanaging (enabling autonomy), providing purpose and being at least a little inspirational, and providing the opportunity for developing skills (see Daniel Pink on TED). We also need to be empathic, to listen, to try and relate from the frame of reference of the other rather than self, to keep control of our emotions, to be optimistic and enthusiastic, to be self-aware, be assertive, and to provide opportunities for growth and the future.
This requires a good deal of hard work and will not produce results overnight. But it will work. If you have employees who cannot seem to get motivated then it is time to have a meaningful conversation. This requires another set of skills around coaching and finding a way to help people to change. If this is unsuccessful then perhaps this job is not the one for them: perhaps there are other horizons to seek. This should be the last resort but not seen as failure but the inevitable consequence of a bad fit.