How to motivate in practice

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How to motivate in practice
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You do not need psychobabble to work out how to motivate people. Start by thinking about the best boss you ever worked for. What did the boss do to motivate you so well? Do you do the same things with your team?

In practice, we all respond to simple motivational measures.  Having asked thousands of people about their jobs, there is one question which consistently indicates how positive or negative you are likely to feel about your work: “my boss cares about me and my career” (agree/disagree).

People who have bosses who don’t care feel bad about their job and their boss. People who have bosses who care are much more positive.
Caring is not about currying favour and trying to be liked. Caring can mean having the courage to be honest, to have the difficult conversation about performance in a positive way. You do not need to be liked: you need to be respected.

Ultimately, there is no short cut to motivating people. If you care, you have to invest time in your team. It is investing, not spending or wasting, time. And it is not “quality” time: “quality” is a euphemism for “minimal”.

Showing you care is simple to say, hard to do. So how do you show you care? Here are ten things you can do every day to motivate your team better:

  • 1. Take time to listen to your team:

    Understand their hopes, fears and dreams. Casual time by the water cooler, rather than a formal expectations meeting in an office, is often the best way to get to know your colleagues and team members.

  • 2. Say thank you:

    we all crave recognition. We want to know we are doing something worthwhile and that we are doing it well. Make your praise real, for real achievement. And make it specific. Avoid the synthetic one minute manager style praise: “gee, you photocopied that sheet of paper really well….”

  • 3. Never demean a colleague

    : If you have criticism, keep it private and make it constructive. Don’t scold them like school children. Treat them as partners and work together to find a way forward.

  • 4. Delegate well:

    Delegate meaningful work which will stretch and develop your team member. Yes, routine rubbish has to be delegated, but delegate some of the interesting stuff as well. Be clear and consistent about your expectations.

  • 5. Have a vision:

     Show where your team is going and how each team member can help you all get there. Have a clear vision for each team member: know where they are going and how you can help them get there.

  • 6. Trust your team:

     Do not micro manage them. Practice MBWA: the gurus call it “manage by walking around”. The better version is called “manage by walking away”.

  • 7. Be honest:

    Be ready to have difficult but constructive conversations with struggling team members early. Don’t shade or hide the truth. Honesty builds trust and respect, provided you are constructive with it.

  • 8. Set clear expectations:

     Be very clear about promotion and bonus prospects, and about the required outcome from each piece of work. Assume that you will be misunderstood: people hear what they want to hear. So make it simple, repeat it often and be 100% consistent.

  • 9. Overcommunicate:

     You have two ears and one mouth: use them in that proportion. Listen twice as much as you speak. Then you will find out what really drives your team members and you can act accordingly.

  • 10. Don’t try to be friends:

     It is more important to be respected than it is to be liked. Trust endures where popularity is fickle and leads to weak compromises. If your team trusts and respects you, they will want to work for you.

As with all things that sound simple, in practice it is very hard to do all these things well and to do them consistently. It is high effort, but normally very high reward. Of course, there will always be the occasional member of the awkward squad, but most people will respond well if you show you care.


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