Sustaining employee motivation during tough times

Motivation – Sustaining it – through a Leader’s Lens

For motivation to be sustainable in the long run, it should spring from within each member of an organization or a team. Motivation is manageable. It is a quality of management and not a strategy. Gary Hamel, the well known author and first in the rankings of the Wall Street Journal for the thinker of 2010, says that the key to a company’s long-term success lies in its quality of management rather than its strategies or products. Undoubtedly, motivation constitutes a high priority area of management.

1. How and Why are people Motivated?
• In motivating employees for achieving company goals, they should be convinced that it is attainable and that it would benefit them personally.
• Mathew Kelly, through The Dream Manager portrays the realities of how and why employees are motivated. This masterpiece, though a work of fiction that nevertheless would count among all time greats in literature on leadership, brings to real life how a company plagued with a problem of high labor turnover and losing profits turned around within months of hiring a “dream manager” who worked devotedly to help workers achieve their personal life goals. It presents an altogether revolutionary concept of what management and leadership is, and emphasizes the ability to recognize the dreams of those that we lead as a critical role of leadership to inspire and motivate them to ultimately help us achieve our own goals.

2. Basic Requirements for Motivating and Sustaining It:
• Enlightened leadership has a big role to play in motivating and sustaining it. A leader should have a good track record for being genuine (one that never stays after normal hours cannot motivate others to work overtime.)
• An ethical leader would not seek cheap popularity from the team players by criticizing the top management.
• Since motivation has to ultimately spring from within the employees and not from you, have a company policy to screen and hire self-motivated people wherever possible.
• A new leader has to work harder to win the confidence of the team players. He or she should be sensitive to changing options and priorities, and responsive to new ideas, and capable of assessing situations and individuals quickly and realistically.
• Explain how a new project would benefit them; but guard against weaving fairy tales that show through.
• Devise an action plan and encourage employee feedbacks, constructive criticism and alternative suggestions.
• Show appreciation for suggestions however trivial; and reward ones that contribute to improvements.
• Show sincerity of purpose. Be responsive to their needs and eager to resolve them. Give them your ear first to get them to give their ears to you.
• Once a project gets underway, be on the constant alert for constraints, bottlenecks, signs of frustrations, and slackening or lack of interest among participants. Take immediate remedial action.
• When things go wrong, ascertain the reasons thereto calmly by talking to those concerned in a genuine troubleshooting and understanding attitude. Avoid subjecting anybody to humiliation. If this reveals any square pegs in round holes, switch tasks/positions and transfer them to activities more suited to their respective skills and temperaments. They will be grateful for having helped them to “discover themselves” and giving them a new confidence, a renewed sense of purpose and an opportunity to mend, to be useful and shine. (Nobody wants to be a drag on the team and attract the contempt and humiliation of others.)
• Control burnouts and fatigue – manage workload, work balance and keep focused on results and priorities.
• While making it plain to all very firmly that there is no room for whiners and wiggle room for the lazy, a tactical leader would try to show the carrot first before showing the stick.
• Instill a sense of purpose and pride in belonging to a winning team. Organizing unofficial get-togethers, trips, sporting events that would help further strengthen existing bonds and understandings. Make use of these unofficial occasions to conduct games whereby you could slyly arrange (to look as if by chance) to make some players to present items according to their varying talents. This would help some earlier unknown and lost characters to gain immediate recognition, admiration and acceptance among their teammates. It is good for building up self-confidence, enhancing morale and team spirit while keeping up and sustaining the motivational levels.

Sustaining Motivation under Stressful Conditions:

There are two types of stress that affect employees for attainment of goals.

(i) Stresses and constraints caused by external market conditions, especially during prolonged periods of economic downturn:
• At times of falling markets, employees are easily de-motivated through fears of possible pay cuts, redundancies and layoffs. Take them to your confidence and invite suggestions for improvisations, if not for mere survival. Many firms survive such bad periods through different strategies including diversification and replacement of unprofitable ventures with new ones with better market sustainability even at reduced profit margins.
• While excessive stress can retard motivation, some reasonable level of stress helps inspire extra hard work, and even some creativity and innovation to survive first, before achieving objectives. Too little stress also works against motivation by making employees take things easy, lose interest and move to comfort zones and stay put.
• A leader who is constantly in the fire-fighting mode cannot sustain motivation especially during stressful periods.

(ii) Stresses caused by limitations in individual skills and aptitudes for different types of work
• The nature of stress differs among individuals (for example one may have a phobia for doing presentations whereas another may thrive on it.) For better motivation, it is the level of perceived stress within individuals that need to be managed, and not the events or the situations.

Motivational Exercises & Team Building Ideas:
The Helium Stick Team Building Activity is a fun way a team can learn how to get motivated as a team rather than as individuals. Find this fun activity aptly described in
Team building and employee motivation should happen as a regular or periodical feature just like a sports team having regular training and practices.
Continuous motivation is maximized by a leader conducting debriefing and feedback sessions to link and relate what is learned through games and metaphors to the actual activities at the real workplace. These exercises help enhance camaraderie, team spirit, better understanding, and communications amongst the team members with the emphasis on keeping focused on goals, objectives, members’ skills and available resources. Dr. Gardener, a great thinker with a high rating from the Wall Street Journal, in his Frames of Mind – The Theory of Multiple Intelligences advocates such motivation building training programs to be incorporated with data, visual images and stories to reach out to people with different approaches.
Interventions for team building exercises may be followed by about 30 minute interviews with each player to find out how they feel about one another, how they react to mistakes by others as against their own, how they cooperate with one another in others’ difficulties etc. You may frame your own questions to suit the situation and obtain such vital feedback information from all players to have the motivational levels under constant check.

One good question to ask is whether they would leave the organization if offered a similar or higher pay elsewhere. The answer we get, perhaps with a little more probing, would sum up to what extent the firm has or has not succeeded in motivating and sustaining motivation as regards its employees.

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