Employee Motivation is Not Rocket Science


When asked to identify his strength as a leader, Steve responded, “I’m a motivator.”

“How do you motivate your team?” I asked.

“I encourage my employees to push themselves.  I tell them how important their jobs are. I applaud their efforts. I’m always trying to build them up.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I think it works pretty well.  Not everyone responds the way I would like but I keep encouraging them.  I think most appreciate my efforts.”

Employees said they liked working for Steve.  They described him as “helpful,” “energetic,” and “caring.”

I applaud the efforts of leaders like Steve, and I’m confident that most employees would appreciate working for him.  However, I think a highly motivated work team also requires two additional ingredients.

One, employees’ motors need to be running when they come to work.  It is near impossible to kick-start a low-energy employee into spirited performance.

Second, employees’ must have the natural talents and acquired skills to perform the tasks well.  Long-term commitment to a job requires earned pride that comes only from doing something well.

When these two elements are present, Steve’s methods work great.  If one or both are missing, Steve’s well-meaning approach will likely whiff on motivation.

The Leader–Boss? Servant? Partner?


I’m a servant leader,” declared Braylon.

“What does that mean to you?” I asked.

“It means that I put my people first.  I identify their needs. I want to help people grow, to reach their potential.”

“What do you do if there is a conflict between a member’s priority and the company’s mission?”

“I advocate strongly for my people.  I take care of them; they will take care of me.”

Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant-leader” in the 1970’s.  Some, still today, invoke the concept to argue against what they see as top-down power.

Effective leaders utilize many servant leader concepts, for example:  listening to, empowering, and developing employees.  However, full-blown servant leadership may not sink employee efforts to a common mission.

Teams require members to bend some of their needs to achieve teamwork, as in, subordinate personal aspirations to team goals.  Effective leaders strive to make all better off by influencing, persuading, cajoling, and evening requiring employees to seek first the mission.

Perhaps it is better to think of leader-employee relations as a partnering, as in–we both have skin in the game and we both have a lot to gain, but it is my responsibility to ensure that we strive together in this journey.

 

 

Do You Over Value Loquacious Staff Members?


Although Estes attended every board meeting and did a great job auditing financials, I don’t remember him saying six sentences in twelve meetings.

In the midst of discussing a complex fund raiser involving multiple chefs, donated food, and unpredictable weather, Estes said, “I’d like to chair this project.”

Estes’ seemingly bold statement shocked eight other confident board members into silence. After a pause, Estes repeated, “I’d like to lead this effort.”

Because I had judged Estes as the classic, withdrawn introvert, he would have been the last member I would have chosen for this purpose. But since no other members seemed anxious to tackle the challenge, we reluctantly accepted Estes’ offer. As you might guess, Estes did a superb job planning, coordinating and executing the event to great success.

I think managers and peers often over value talkative extroverts while short-changing quiet, unassuming introverts. Recent research by Professor Cameron Anderson and others suggests that extroverts tend to lose status over time as their performance falls short of expectations.

By contrast, while they may have fewer opportunities, the status of anxious and withdrawn introverts tends to increase over time as their unrealized talents produce above expectations.

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 5 of 5

Helen, age 64, has been with the organization 33 years.  For most of those years, Helen’s performance was exceptional. “She lived and breathed the organization,” is the way a previous boss described her.

Helen has recently experienced serious family problems that have affected her health to the point that she is unable to adequately perform her job.  Helen says that she wants to work 10 more months and retire at 65.

The president said, “I’m in a dilemma, I feel sorry for Helen and I’m very grateful for what she has done for us.  Still, I’m not in a position to hire another person.  If Helen stays, others will have to take some of her work.”

“Could Helen take an early retirement?” I asked.

The president reported that he had suggested early retirement but Helen said that she would like to stay on until sixty-five if she could.

I say tell Helen and anyone else that you absolutely will honor her request.  Helen’s thirty-plus years of loyalty and productivity are surely enough to earn her another ten months.

When others complain about having to do part of Helen’s work, listen with empathy.  Smile and say, “I understand and I really appreciate what you are doing to help us out here.”

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 4 of 5

In describing an employee, a manager said to me, “Jessica’s job performance is excellent.  I don’t remember anyone better.”

“You are about to add a ‘but,’” I interjected.  “What’s the rest of the story?”

“She wants to do only the assignments that she likes.  More than once she has said to me, ‘Give that to someone else.  I’m not interested.’”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, she insists on doing things her way.  She may leave meetings early or even skip them altogether.”

“How does she get along with others?”

“Not well.  I’ve had one person quit and I think two others are looking.”

“I assume you have talked to her about this.”

“I have but our discussion usually ends in an argument.  She was transferred to my team about seven months ago when we restructured the division.”

Unfortunately, people like Jessica see themselves as the smartest one in the room and their fuse is always fast-burning.   They are not likely to change even with expert coaching.

Most teams can put up with a little disruption from high-performing grouches.  But when neurotic behaviors seriously disrupt team performance, it is time for the leader to “cut bait” and replace the evil genius.

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 3 of 5

“I’m at a loss about what to do about Margaret.” a manager said to me.

“What is the concern?” I asked.

“We hired Margaret about a year ago to manage a troubled group.  Although she has worked very hard, performance continued spiraling downward.”

“Were your expectations clear?”

“Yes, and she admits that she has fallen far short.”

“Did you give Margaret enough support?”

“Yes, we fully financed what she requested.  We met frequently and often agreed on needed changes.  For some reason, Margaret was unable to effect the changes or she took too long.”

“Were there unexpected challenges, things that blew up seemingly out of nowhere?”

“Not really, she had issues with a couple of employees and she had to replace a vendor but nothing too unusual.”

Margaret is an example of a good cooperate citizen who tried hard but was unable to achieve a tough goal.  There is a temptation to lower expectations and continue supporting hard working employees who do not achieve desired outcomes.

I believe, though, this is a case where the person just did not have the wherewithal to get the job done.  While it is heart-wrenching to remove a hard-working, committed employee, I think it would be better for all—including Margaret—to replace her and try again.

The Five Toughest Personnel Issues


Part 2 of 5

Alfredo’s manager described Alfredo as, “a likable, high-performing employee who gets along well with others.  He has been with us about eight months.”

The manager continued to say that Alfredo had been traveling a lot lately and the office manager became suspicious of his expense reports.  Taxi fares seemed too high and some restaurant tickets included more people than necessary.

The manager confronted Alfredo about his expense reports and he responded, “I probably did inflate some of my expenses a bit.  My previous company seemed OK with that.  But I know it is wrong.  I won’t do it again.”

About thirty percent of participants in my workshops say they would give Alfredo a warning and watch him closely.  He is a good producer and a good team member.

But about two thirds say that falsification of records justifies termination.  Alfredo did admit his discretion but only after he was caught.  This is a character issue.  It is probably not the first time and will not likely be the last.

While some managers tend to overlook such practices, especially for high producers, I side with the two-thirds who argue that it is a character issue and grounds for termination.