Lackluster performance is everywhere. You see it regularly in retail situations and too often enough in your own work environment. Most people assume that an absence of motivation is caused by poor attitude. Sometimes this is true, but it’s just as true that not much seems to be expected of anyone in the first place.
This latter point is often overlooked. Many times people believe they’re doing their job well, but since they don’t understand what the job really entails, frustration — and lack of motivation — results.
What can you do to improve matters? Here are some ideas.
Define responsibilities. You probably think you’ve already done that. Guess again. It’s clear that, even with job descriptions, employees aren’t sure what’s really wanted from them.
Certainly, well-spelled-out duties are a start. But they’re not enough. Responsibilities need parameters, which lead to a full understanding of what’s expected.
When I owned an agency, I felt that one way to provide these guidelines was to treat managers from each division as if they were entrepreneurs. They were assigned overhead costs that had to be paid from their group’s labor. Sales goals were set for the firm as a whole, not one group against another.
Therefore, one of the managers’ first goals was to control their costs and generate enough billings to pay overhead. Supervisors also had to understand the company’s overall finances, its costs and revenue, and how their department fit into that structure.
Workers were brought into the picture by being taught specifically how their job contributed to the business’s financial health.
Have truly informative update meetings. Every employee was told where the money went: how it was being spent and what we needed to generate, department by department, to increase billings. Salaries and bonuses were, of course, part of the incentive to grow your department, but there also was pride in seeing your department more productive than others.
Make employees take care of themselves. When you work for a New York agency, the cool thing is to work yourself to death. “Skip lunches, stay late and prosper” is the mantra. At our agency, I had to beg some employees to take vacations…and I’m sure you know many just as driven. Being driven is good and bad. Yes, you get output, but it can be adversely affected by an overly tired worker.
At our agency, employees weren’t allowed to eat at their desks. A small but attractive lunchroom was provided. As the overwhelming majority didn’t go out to lunch, this meant people had a place to go that forced them to get away from their work, if only for a short time. An added benefit was the impromptu conversations where different departments caught up on happenings.
Those who sometimes worked late into the night were given perks like massages at a local spa or extra time off. These “extras” were not in lieu of raises or promotions, but were added incentives that helped spur productivity and reinforce employees’ awareness of the importance of taking care of themselves.
Manage by walking around. It’s still an excellent way to find out what actually motivates your employees. Assuming “What I want is what they want” won’t work. Key worker stimulations often are: a private office, more time off with family, money, medical benefits, respect, team playing…the list goes on and on. Find out if employees want risk or stability, a starring or supporting role, freedom or structure, details or theory, travel or stay-at-home opportunities, reward or recognition.
Once you pin down each desired stimulation ask employees what’s behind what most motivates them. For instance, if employees choose reward, what does that mean to them? Control? Special status? Distinction? Acknowledgment of contribution?
You can set up meetings to detail what gets people going, but a less formal atmosphere results in more truthful and complete information.
Get the team to help non-motivated individuals become motivated. At my company, we billed by the hour. That meant turning in timely and accurate time sheets was critical. If you’ve ever worked where time sheets are used, you know that with some employees, this feat has the appeal of getting a root canal.
Reverting to the old-style school days approach, we put individuals on teams. Each team got a gold star, posted on a chart, when time sheets were turned in promptly. The group with the most stars got one extra day off every three months.
To spare one division from being burdened with the “bad guys/gals” label, members were rotated every three months. Time sheets suddenly appeared with unbelievable efficiency, as team members’ opinions motivated chronic offenders.
Use multiple-question assessments. While walking around and listening can be great, sometimes, due to an organization or management style, this isn’t the way to go. In that case use a questionnaire to get the information you need to make positive changes in your staff’s attitude.
Mel Silberman’s “The Consultant’s Handbook” has a well-thought-out 60-question assessment that helps determine your organization’s motivational level. The person filling out the form rates statements, which run from such basics as “Employees are highly productive” to less obvious ones like “Unsafe conditions are identified and promptly corrected.” The questions, downloadable at www.workforce.com, are a great source of ideas for running an effective, well-motivated workplace.
KATIE MULDOON is president of DM/catalog consulting firm Muldoon & Baer Inc., Tequesta, FL.