Motivating Employees for Success

here is no better feeling in the world than achieving a goal.   Imagine this: you plan something, put in the hard work, and at the end of the journey you achieve success.  Sweet, isn’t it?  Of course things do not always go so smoothly but when they do…BOOYA!  You feel like you a rockstar.

Success is a whole other beast, however, when we are managing others.  Sure we can still apply that same 3 step formula described above but the addition of another element (a human element) means that we are responsible for managing more than just our own attitudes, actions, and emotions.

There are several managerial styles and perspectives but quite often, it feels like there are two dominant philosophies: cut them down or build them up.   Quickly, the cut them down philosophy says “let’s throw “Sandy” into the fire and see how she does.  If Sandy is strong and capable the she will prove herself worthy of my praise, promotion, and better compensation.”  Going through misery will make them stronger and thus a better employee in the long-run.  There are times when this perspective is unavoidable but generally I do not subscribe to it and this is about all I have to say on this perspective.

The “build them up” philosophy focuses on developing the employee and putting them in positions to win.  It focuses on building upon strengths, improving weaknesses, and developing a win-win strategy.  When I coached football I did not always have the biggest, fastest, or most talented players.  My challenge as a coach was always to maximize and improve the talent I had.  I could have easily said “my nosetackle is only 5 foot 1, if he’s any good he’ll find a way to make plays”  but that would have been counterproductive.  Instead I worked on strategies and drills to utilize his talents (low center of gravity, aggression, and feet that kept on moving) to turn him into an All-Star player.

Beyond organizational success we need to remember that as managers we hold the keys to much of our employees happiness (read my previous BLOG for more on this topic).  Have you ever come home from a rough day at work or negative encounter with a supervisor and had those events ruin your personal/family time?  Of course you have, we all have.  It’s called work-family conflict and managers are often a key component of that.  Although managers can’t control everything (employees  think we do!) one thing that we can control is whether we have done all we can to make someone successful.  Here are some managerial considerations when trying to lead your employee and team to glory:

Dumping vs Delegating: When delegating tasks to others are you just taking work off one plate and plopping it onto another?  Are you assigning tasks without thinking about employee strengths, mindset, or current projects?  Do employees have input into what new duties come their way or do you just hand out extra tasks because you are the boss and you know best?

Skills training: There are times when that unsexy task needs to be given to someone because of circumstances outside of your control.  In other cases, employees will be asked to perform tasks that are new and possibly strange to them.  As a manager are you giving them the skills training and tools they need to be successful in these new roles?  Although there may not be time for a lengthy training or skills session, some effort towards ensuring that the employee has the right tools to succeed must be ensured.  Sometimes this skills training can be as simple as a discussion about time management or how previous priorities and deadlines may shift with this added workload.

Context matters.  What is the current company climate?  If you’re working with “Bob” then what prior experiences and backgrounds shape Bob’s thinking and actions?  What have Bob’s performance and interactions been like in the past week, month, or quarter?   I am not suggesting
having weekly counseling sessions with workers but having a basic understanding of organizational and personal contexts can assist managers in understanding behaviors and performance.  Bob will likely act and operate very differently if he came from a regimented and highly regulated company before working for you as opposed to a creative “come when you want, just get the job done” environment.  Factors such as layoffs, departmental shuffling, or that fabulous staff retreat may also impact how Bob acts.  No matter what the specific details are, context cannot be ignored.  Plugging into personal and professional context will also fill a lot of gaps regarding your staff on several levels.

Different workers have different styles.  This is where you get to apply all of those fun and fancy personality tests that inevitably become part of staff development sessions.  All organizations have their fair share of introverts and extroverts; of highly organized individuals and free spirits.  No one style or personality type is better than the other and a balanced staff is needed for optimal performance.  Working with an employee’s style quickens goal achievement and will have a positive impact on morale.  It also opens the doorway of communication and makes it easier to foster employee growth in areas of weakness.  Just demanding that a quieter, more introverted worker be more outgoing and social is not as effective (it’s actually quite stupid) as discussing ways that the employee could take baby steps towards involvement in the company community as a whole.   Scientifically speaking, job demands that are starkly different to ones personality type will freak an employee out.  Why cause that undue stress?  Managers should also consider aligning tasks that play towards worker strengths and comfort whenever possible.  Remember: there is a fine line between pushing the comfort zone in the name of development and eroding an employees sense of self and worth.

Just because you went through it…: One of my mentors when coaching football was brought up “old school.”   As a poor grad assistant he slept many nights in the film office, as an assistant coach he was brought up under tough men who would rip into their staff in front of players and the public.  He prided himself on this experience (and rightfully so) but his old school approach was not always relevant to new age staff.  As an aside, I liked the old school approach but I saw how other staff members hated it.  We are often proud of what we have accomplished and gone through.  That being said, trying to simulate your experience for other employees is usually not very effective.  As a manager you are likely in a different time, a different context (see how that works?), and too many variables are different.  Be proud of the path you took but do not let that path cloud your judgment.  Even when situations are eerily similar to your past do not assume that your employees will or should react in the same manner you did.   Let go of the past and work towards finding methods that fit your current situation.

Final thought….

Being a leader is more than just giving rah-rah speeches and powering through.  Like a good quarterback, you have to have a good feel for the team and what their limits are.  Push them too hard and you lose their trust.  Don’t push them and you will get dismal results.  Finding that balance can be difficult but as managers we have to have an open mind.  We have to think of employee success as a vehicle to our own personal and organizational goals.  Covey’s Habit “Think Win-Win” is the ultimate metaphor for this week’s message.   All parties should come out of a situation energized and proud of their success.  The bulldozer mentality can only get you so far.  Likewise, relying on your favorites or workhorses really does little to improve team strength.  Anybody can manage a team of all-stars- there is no skill in it.  More importantly, working with employees to improve their skills and abilities will make them feel valued and energize them to come to work.  They will also feel content when they clock out at the end of the day paving the way for them to spend their family time in a positive and life-giving way.

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Dr. Paul Artale is a motivational speaker, author, and organizational coach who helps organizations create high performance culture through understanding employee needs and leveraging their strengths. 
For more information visit www.paulartale.com

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