For my whole career I have been under the impression that managers must be the ones responsible for motivating their staff. It stands to reason that if you can demotivate your people by doing the wrong things, you can therefore motivate them by doing the the right things.
There has to be some truth in that. However I’ve always struggled with this idea. Mainly because I am so aware that my own personal motivation levels go up and down like a yoyo and it often has nothing to do with other peoples actions! It comes from within, my own mood energy levels, sugar levels (I’m diabetic), my level of engagement etc. In fact I can be totally motivated to do something one day, but feel woefully demotivated to do the same thing on another. I see it in lots of avenues of my life, a simple example of this might be my motivation in visiting the gym.
If other people’s motivation goes up and down like my own, then how on earth am I supposed to be the one responsible for the motivation of others?
Yes I get that I can impact it, but motivation itself will always come from within the individual. So perhaps as a manager I need to work out what I need to do to create the most positive environment for other peoples motivation to thrive.
I’ve been working at this for a while and want to share with you three things that I find have a significant impact on teams levels of motivation.
Inspire people with purpose
The manager does not need to work at motivation, instead they need to work at inspiring their teams. Just as motivation often comes from within, inspiration often comes from outside. People are inspired when they see something that they admire, desire and or align themselves with.
By focusing on inspiring your staff you will start to propagate the right conditions for motivation to grow and thrive.
What does that look like in practice? The answer is simple, work hard at:
Defining why your team is doing what it is doing and
communicate this all the time.
If the why is clear then it is easy for people to admire it, desire it and or align themselves with it.
Sometimes the purpose will be clear, but most times you will have to work at finessing it. It needs to be inspirational, so it’s no good saying the why is to “line the shareholders pockets with money” or something similar. What we need to find is an inspiring purpose. Here are some possible examples. The finance team might have a purpose to ‘enlighten the organisation with numbers’. The marketing team might have a purpose to ‘excite a specific demographic’. At iManage we’ve defined our own purpose as ‘changing people for good’.
Once you’ve got it, you need to work out how to keep it front of mind, not bottom of drawer. This always takes much much more communication than you imagine. Do what you think and then do ten times that much – you’ll be much closer to what is required. Think through how you make that inspirational purpose live.
Guide people with intent
It’s far easier to be motivated when you understand not only the purpose, but also what is required of you. The key here is to find a way to guide your people even when you are absent from the day’s activities. In short they need to know how you would want things done, if you were present.
This may be easier than it sounds. We use an approach called ‘contextual choices’. The manager provides the contextual choice for the activities of the team – this in turn guides staff in everything they do.
The really clever thing about this technique is it’s simplicity – you have to select one word that speaks volumes about the way you want your team to be guided. Just one word – that’s the rule. Here are some of ours to give you the idea:
For finance it’s ‘safe’.
Marketing it’s ‘fun’.
Sales it’s ‘daily’.
People it’s ‘brilliant’.
Customers it’s ‘thrilled’.
Face to face training it’s ‘challenging’.
Online products it’s ‘simple’. Etc.
You need to give good thought to the choice of word, but once its decided it becomes simplicity to share and embed.
Create commitment in people by giving the authority to where the info is.
Commitment is such a powerful thing compared to motivation. That’s because commitment is a constant until it’s withdrawn. I may or may not feel motivated to go to the gym today, but I will still go if I am committed to it. It’s the same for almost anything. Motivation goes up and down, but commitment gets things done. So creating commitment is far more important to a manager than always trying to ensure high motivation.
How do we do that? People are committed when they understand what they are committing to (see purpose and intent above) and when they feel able to influence outcomes.
If I can’t control something, if its out of my authority limit, there is no point committing to it – I cant influence it.
So here is what we managers have to do. We have to put the authority where the information is. Which in most cases means we have to stop being the ‘clear it with me first’ person. It’s one of the hardest things to learn as a manager, you have to stop owning the authority and pass it down. Yes they need the skills required, yes they need to get the intent, but with these in place they are the ones best place to make the decisions required.
Let me give you an example: Lets say we’ve decided to carry out some online marketing, pay per click style. Who gets to make the decision as to whether we spend our precious budget with Google, LinkedIn or Facebook or, or? The answer’s not you the manager, it’s the team or individual that have the information. The team that has researched this, that know about it, that deal with it on a regular basis. You have to give the authority to where the information is. Let them make the decision, it will be a faster decision, even a better decision than you would have made because they have all the info.
Ownership for the process and decision ‘rocket up’ the moment you let go and hand it to them. They will be committed to making it work and so committed to making the right decisions at any point in time.
Managers, stop trying to motivate your people!
So there we have it, three things that facilitate a climate which propagates motivation, but do not rely on motivation. Give it a try, begin putting these things in place and begin to release the potential of your teams.