Have you ever had to get a child out of bed who JUST DOES NOT WANT to get out of bed? It’s a very tough thing to do. You gently jostle him. Nothing. You offer a number of perfectly rational reasons for him to get up. No response, just a surly growl and a roll over. You even get confrontational with “if you don’t, then…” No interest whatsoever. You go back to the positive reinforcement in the hopes of hitting the one motivational item that gets him to spring up in a state of unbridled enthusiasm. Silence. Finally, you carry him to the car.
Two Ends of the Spectrum
What about an office full of people who just aren’t as motivated as they used to be? Do you just fire everyone and replace them with new blood? Not entirely practical, especially if these are people that know what they’re doing and just need the motivation to do it. Some executives and managers are obsessed with being “tough” and “uncompromising” while others are compelled to be “understanding” and “nice”.
You can place any manager somewhere on a scale – with totalitarian dictator at one end and pushover schmuck at the other. Both extremes are counter-productive.
When you are so stern that you are unfair and people are afraid to talk to you, you shoot yourself in the foot. When you are so amicable that no one takes you seriously, you send the message that you are easily fooled and tolerate a slack atmosphere. Somewhere in between you’ll find competent leadership. I won’t say that there is an ideal point, because people have different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. With a little soul-searching you can see where you are and what you’d like to improve.
The Words You Use
Look up “Coffee’s for Closers” on YouTube and you’ll find Alec Baldwin’s infamous “motivational” speech from the film Glengarry Glen Ross. The character and his speech lean toward the antisocial, but at least he gives a bit of know-how to the group of beaten-down salesmen when he points to the blackboard that reads: ABC = Always Be Closing, AIDA = Attention Interest Decision Action. The mistake he makes, in my opinion, is in calling them all “losers” and other expletives, and basically being a jerk (a charismatic jerk).
When you seek to correct someone, avoid labels that tell them who or what they are. Calling someone a “failure” or a “loser” is very different than pointing out something they failed to do or a deal they lost. The difference is that one statement directs their attention INWARD and onto themselves and the other directs their attention OUTWARD onto what they did or did not do. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards and demanding high productivity, but when you do so, be SPECIFIC and focus on ACTION, while avoiding words and phrases that lower people’s self-esteem.
If someone is supposed to be a salesman but isn’t being one, do something counterintuitive by looking them dead in the eye and saying YOU ARE A SALESMAN. Inspire them to be one. If your secretary is not acting like one, tell her (or him) YOU ARE A SECRETARY. If you say it and really mean it, they could turn around right there.
The Value of Necessity
To motivate people, it is necessary to raise their level of NECESSITY. This can be done in many ways. In a football or basketball game, the prospect of winning or losing of course affects the level of necessity on both teams. The factor of TIME plays a large role in it as well; scoring points within a specific framework of TIME determines the outcome. The RULES also determine play and outcome. The same principles can be applied to an office, a factory, or in any situation where you’re trying to motivate people.
Raising necessity by proclaiming “You’ll be fired if you don’t…!!!!” is a very narrow approach. Agreeing on short and long-term goals to be met within specific time frames is a more productive approach. When these goals are set and communicated, when you do it right, you get uniformity of action, more vigor and more life. “To be the best branch in our region”, “To be the industry leader in volume and quality of service” are examples of goals you can set and which you’d break down into finite, quantifiable sections, all placed within the framework of time.
By all means offer rewards and incentives. Talk to people and find out what gets them excited and on fire to do more and do better. Incentives can be big or small. You can even break it down hourly. You make the morning or afternoon target and it’s doughnuts. You make the weekly target and it’s an office outing on Friday night. People like being part of a team, part of something meaningful. They appreciate a company culture where members take pride in what they do and have fun doing it.
A Team or Not a Team
You’ll always have turnaround. It’s inevitable. People quit; they move; they have to be let go. You’ll find that that there are only a small number of people who cannot get behind a team effort, who remain permanently malcontent, and who seek to foster dissention even when the purpose of the team is perfectly rational and conducive to the prosperity of all concerned. Such individuals aren’t likely to be very helpful on your team.
You can and should listen to others’ opinions, disagreements and suggestions, but you should be able to tell when a person is actively working in the opposite direction. This is an important point because such an individual is bringing the rest of the team down. You owe it to the team players to allow them to work beside other team players.
Productivity = Morale
Want to know how to kill morale? Allow low productivity, that’s how. The basis of morale is PRODUCTION. Ever get the holiday blues? One reason for that is you just haven’t been doing anything, and you are probably relieved when you get back to work! When people are not working and are not producing much that is worthwhile, they feel down in the doldrums.
It’s a bit of a Catch-22 because they need to be fired up in order to work but of course they aren’t fired up because they haven’t been working! It becomes your job to get them fired up enough to START getting some work done. You’re the kick starter, the spark that ignites the fire. The more work they get done, the better they’ll feel. With high productivity comes high morale, high motivation, and happier people.
Take a Real Interest
Talk to people. Take an interest in their personal lives – within professional boundaries of course. Your team – and I emphasize TEAM – is spending most of their day at work. They are relying on you for their livelihood and vice versa. They can show up grumpy, bummed out, with troubles from home wrapped around their heads. You’d be surprised how far it goes just getting someone to talk about something for a few minutes, just letting them bounce their troubles off someone else. Once they’ve downloaded, hopefully they’ll be more “in the moment”. Offer a suggestion if you are able to. Maybe you’ll even want to counsel people over break or after work – that will be up to you.
Obviously they have the responsibility of doing their jobs; that’s what they’re paid for. But when you have people physically at work, it helps a great deal when they’re there mentally and spiritually as well. They are people and life can be rough. You may think this is too much of a burden for you. Well, welcome to the life of a boss!
The nameless man played by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, who’s “from downtown” and was sent by the management of the real estate firm, gives the group of salesman the ABC, AIDA lesson I mentioned earlier, but that’s about it. These are all presumably good salesmen who are in a slump (all but one). They SHOULD have gotten some drilling and coaching, some re-familiarization with the basics of their craft.
What about a bunch of newbies – green personnel who may have some training but little practical experience? Any job has a RIGHT WAY of doing things. There is a right way to drive a school bus, fly a plane, answer a phone or type a letter. Something called JUDGMENT is also essential. And if the technique or technology for something does not genuinely exist, it eventually gets developed, discovered or invented.
What may seem like a motivational problem could in fact be a lack of understanding and know-how. The person just doesn’t know what to do. They have the job description; they may think they know; they may say they understand. But can they DO? Only by DOING will anyone really prove that they know and understand. So as a boss, watch what people are doing and how they do it. Maybe they are slow and uncertain because they really aren’t sure what is expected of them. Help people with their jobs. Write up sound and practical company policy that relates to the real world.
You can also hire someone whose job is to make sure others know their jobs and are doing them – that person would need to be very sharp indeed. I know because I have such people in my organizations, whose job is to see that others get well-established in their respective positions, know what they’re doing and do it. When people really KNOW their jobs and DO their jobs, motivation and morale basically take care of themselves.
Stoking the Fires
In the first example of the child who does NOT WANT to get out of bed, you keep mentioning things he might want to do that day and suddenly, BOING!!!! He’s wide awake! You said, “Show your toy airplane to your friends!” and that was the go button! The same is true of grown-ups. Talk with your people. Find out what makes them tick, what gets their fires burning and their hearts racing. What does it take to inspire them? And see how you can work that into your overall strategy. Over to you!