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Seven Steps to Motivating People at Work

Seven Steps to Motivating People at Work

Kevin Dwyer

1. Ask

Ask people questions. There are two goals of asking questions. To find out what people are passionate about and to make sure that they know you care about what they think.

If you are at a loss as to what motivates people, their passions are a great start. Do not fall into the error of asking, “What are you passionate about” and taking what they say at face value. Look for body language signs that reinforce their stated passion. In an era of self help by means of television, radio and new age music, almost everyone is convinced they need to be passionate about something and quite often make it up, even to themselves.

It is better to have a conversation, asking how things could be done better around here. Respond with further questions to explore. The phrase, “Tell me more” works well to open up the conversation further. Have several conversations like this and as trust develops you will find out what motivates people without having to ask.

Having a conversation with people where you are genuinely interested in their responses builds self esteem for the person to whom the questions are directed.

2. Involve

For major and minor changes, go further than asking for advice and opinions; involve people in analysis and design of solutions. It is not necessary to set up quality circles as part of a complete quality management system. Involve people in the definition of the problem and they will own it. Involve them in the analysis to create solutions and they will own the solution alternatives. Involve them in the design of the implementation and they will own the outcome.

3. Communicate

When you are anticipating change, let people know what your intentions are. Tell them the goal. Tell them the rationale. Tell them the consequences and timing of what you intend to do. Tell them the consequences and timing of doing nothing. Tell them the process by which things will happen. Tell them how to find out more information. Tell them how to make sure their comments and thoughts are to be included.

Listen to what they think. Listen to what they would rather do. Listen to their aspirations. Listen to how changing things impacts them.

Do this for good news and bad news. Do this as early as possible, often and by several different mediums. Do this for big events and do it on a small scale for small events, such as responding to a conversation you started by asking, “How can we do things better around here.”

In day-to-day business life communicate the standards to which you expect people to perform. Make them explicit standards, not implicit. Do not ask for a public toilet to be clean. Develop a standard on what clean is. The standard will include as a minimum, what is to be done, the measure by which it is evaluated and time elements.

People are not de-motivated by certainty. They are, however, de-motivated by the uncertainty created by the whirlpool of rumor and denial resulting from a vacuum of information when change is anticipated. They are de-motivated by the duplicity of informal standards when none is formally set.

4. Appreciate

Appreciate people’s achievements in public. Even those who shun the limelight will appreciate being commended in a low key way in public. Be specific. Do not say, “I just want to commend Jim for the great job he is doing”. The assembled group, including Jim, is likely to have two or more views on what behaviors “Doing a great job” reflects.

Say instead, “I want to commend Jim for going out of his way to help our customer stay in business. Jim not only came in on Saturday morning when the customer called in a panic, but he personally delivered the part. Jim did not have to do that. In choosing to do so, he has helped us all get a reputation for superior service”. Nobody is left in doubt as to what behavior, with what consequences, is being commended. It is this precise behavior which will be reinforced.

5. Reprimand

Reprimand in private. People will talk and the fact a reprimand has been given will be known. Embarrassing people in public will de-motivate. Reprimanding in a constructive manner will motivate.

Reprimand as soon as possible after the event and be as specific about the behavior which is unacceptable and the rationale as to why it is unacceptable as for appreciating behavior. Be specific about the consequences of repeating the behavior. Ask for advice on what can be done to help the person stop the behavior. Work together to eliminate the unacceptable behavior.

If the reprimand does not work, counsel to improve or find employment where the behavior is acceptable. Do not shirk your responsibility to all the other people exhibiting acceptable behaviors, so that a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is made.

6. Build

Build people’s strengths and help them eliminate their weaknesses. Make it unacceptable to continue in a position where a weakness is a liability for the team. However, make it acceptable to have a weakness on which people are willing to work. Help them help themselves. Allow more skilled team members to help them. Monitor progress and appreciate progress.

Identify, appreciate and build people’s strengths, especially those who have weaknesses they are working on.

Use all resources at your disposal you can afford. Not only use coaching and training but ask people to train and coach others. Nothing makes people realize their true strengths and weaknesses more than when they are asked to teach. Nothing builds self esteem like being successful at teaching someone else well and watching their behavior change.

7. Delegate

Delegate your responsibilities to people who have the competence to execute some of your tasks. State clearly what is expected, setting a standard which is mutually understood. Delegate the authority. Do not double check them as routine. At the beginning of delegation monitor their output as part of an greed standard of handing over delegation. At an agreed level of execution quality, stop monitoring except for normal quality audit purposes. Make sure the data required to execute the tasks is easily accessible.

At work, being responsible, having the competency, authority and tools to be responsible and having the trust of your colleagues, superiors and subordinates is the most powerful motivator of all. Find something, even the smallest thing that an individual can actually be responsible for and you will be on the road to a motivated workforce.

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