ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Building Motivation and Increasing Employee Involvement

Sometimes, especially in large bureaucratic organizations, people stagnate. They don’t feel as though the work they are doing is important and they don’t feel appreciated. This leads to just getting through the day, doing their work in a desultory manner.

In other cases, there is anger and resentment, which is kept under wraps, because the employees feeling that way don’t want to risk losing their jobs by telling management what bothers them. Thus, they become passive-aggressive, doing the work in a desultory manner.

Recently, I was consulting to a division of a company that was trying to integrate a new management team. The new managers had very different styles of operating than their predecessors and inadvertently made staff feel as though everything they had done in the past was wrong. Instead of embracing the new processes, the staff became passive-aggressive (some became outright aggressive) ignoring the new systems and continuing to do their work (you guessed it) in a desultory manner or not at all.

Other reasons employees are no longer motivated might be as simple as boredom, not feeling appreciated, not having enough to eat (yes!) or even too much to eat (in firms that have hot and cold gourmet food around all the time).

In some cases it is impossible – almost impossible – for a manager to reward an outstanding job by giving a bonus, a tangible present, or time off. Either government regulations or unions or both demand that everyone be compensated – treated equally (whatever that really means!).

So, let’s assume you can’t throw money at the problem. Let’s assume that you, as manager, have to find ways to make your employees motivated and engaged again.

Why bother, you ask?

Clearly once an employee (assuming you have hired correctly – but that’s another article) is re-energized and motivated, the quality of their work-product will improve as will their attitude of customer service both internally and externally.

I want to start my suggestions with the most obvious: Customer Service

Customer Service as a Diagnostic Tool

There is perhaps no clearer indication of whether an employee is feeling good about themselves and their work than how they treat others. 

Is their stock answer “not my job” or do they go out of their way to be helpful and supportive to those they serve – and those who serve them in the workplace? When you receive information from your internal customers that there is a lack of cooperation but only demands from your staff, you know your employees are unhappy. 

Let’s look at contracts and procurement of professional services in a government agency as an example.

There are internal customers who rarely need to procure something externally. Thus, they don’t remember, or have never used, the complicated processes required for the contracted services they seek. How the contract administration staff handles them is a litmus test of how this department feels about their jobs and about the company in which they work.

If they help the internal customer complete all the required forms in a friendly manner, you get one idea – but if they merely say “not my job – you are supposed to know where to find the information and fill out the forms,” you have a real attitude problem on your hands.

Let’s look, too, to one of the more standard complaints. IT against everyone else. Does your organization have an IT organization with members who think they are better than everyone else (“stupid user”), or do they recognize that they are a service organization to the rest of the departments?

You get the point! A significant way you can measure employee motivation and the way the employees in the organization work to support each other’s success, as well as the goals of the organization itself, is to create surveys and evaluations.

Surveys and Evaluations

Of course another way you can learn about how your employees feel is to ask them – you can ask them in one-on-ones, but most people will be to afraid to be honest. 

You stand a better chance of learning what really is bothering them if you create an employee satisfaction – dissatisfaction survey or have them do an evaluation of their supervisors, managers and peers (sometimes called a 360 degree evaluation).

Let’s suppose you ask them about their relationship to their management. You might suggest they answer all the questions on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent), and here are some suggested questions to ask: Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your job effectively?
  • Do you feel that you are being asked to do work that fits your interests and skills?
  • Are you challenged with stretch goals so that you are able to continuously improve?
  • Is your supervisor/manager available to you when you need him/her?
  • When decisions are being made that involve the work you do, or you, are you a part of the conversation and does your opinion matter?
  • Do you enjoy coming to work each morning?
  • Is your relationship with your co-workers friendly and helpful?
  • Does your supervisor/manager let you know when you’ve done a good job (attaboys)?
  • Is the work you do part of what makes our company so valuable to the community?
  • Is your performance appraised regularly, and do you know what you are doing well, what you need improvement in, and your stretch goals?
  • Would you feel better about the work you are expected to do if______________(fill in the blank)?
Of course you need to read the answers carefully and create a plan of action for improvement where necessary.

Let me give you some general ideas that you can do even if you are not allowed to give financial rewards.

Tips to Improve Employee Motivation, Morale and Involvement

1:         Make it personal

The most important tip I can offer you is to take the time to get to know each of your employees personally. People want to be recognized as individuals, not merely as part of a group. How you accomplish this will vary depending on the size of the organization you personally manage and whether people are in the same facility – state or country – as you.
Of course it is easiest if you manage less than a dozen people and they all sit within walking distance of your office. In that case, you can stop by in the morning and say “hello” and compliment them on something they are wearing (be careful it doesn’t cross the line) or ask a question about where they might have obtained a particular personal item on their desk or the poster on the wall. Of course you should also ask if there is anything they need from you. Over time, learn something about their personal lives – their families, kids, hobbies, birthday, etc. 

If you manage people that work out of their homes, or in other facilities within your state, bring them together for team meetings at least once a quarter – more if possible. Start those meetings with social time and end them with social time. Have business issues discussed – being sure to solicit their opinions – in the middle.

Unfortunately, if your people are all over the world, it’s going to be much harder. If at all possible, create an annual retreat bringing them all together. Even if you do this, or if this is not possible, spend some time on the telephone getting to know them individually.

2:         Communicate the value to society of the company and the work

Next in line of importance is for you to communicate to all your staff how important their work is to furthering the goals, values and the mission of the organization. Most employees want to feel as though their contribution is worthwhile, not just “busy-work.”

If your firm is in the business of doing something that is obviously valuable to society in some form or other, this will be an easier task for you. The further away the value appears to the average person, the more difficult this task will be for you. 

You might consider including some community service for your employees – such as participating in a walk-a-thon, a community-wide fundraising event, or as a group feeding the needy.

People need to feel good about what they are doing and the company in which they are doing it.

3:         The importance of customer service

It is your responsibility as a manager to assure that everyone understands that they are part of an organization – a large team – all of whom are responsible for achieving the overall goals of the business together. Silos need to be broken down as does the attitude that it is us against them. Encourage and reward positive internal (and external) customer service.

Where possible bring together people from different departments who have to interact with each other. I create mini-retreats of three or four hours during which people working in facilities near each other learn something personal about each other (hobbies, for example), what the other’s job really entails (walking in his shoes) and how what they do or don’t do impacts the other group.

If you are bringing people from far away – create two or three day retreats, but less frequently.

4:         Accountability and recognition

Each of us wants to be recognized for the work we do. Yes, we are usually part of a team – but as I’ve written before (and given speeches about) there is a ME in teams.  We are individuals working together. Attaboys, awards, notices in the newsletter are all inexpensive ways you can recognize outstanding work. Don’t ruin this by making sure everyone becomes “employee of the month,” especially if it is undeserved.

Management by walking around is one of the ways you can be aware of what is being done and what isn’t being done to your satisfaction.

So, in order to be recognized, we need to have specific assignments and we need to be held accountable for the completion of these assignments in an exemplary manner.

Correct those behaviors, performance and comments that are inconsistent with the goals of the organization and the values you wish to instill.

5:         Create stretch goals and professional development

Although there are some people who prefer doing the same tasks day after day, week after week and year after year – most people get bored over time. They need to have their work varied.

So create stretch goals with them. What would they like to learn next? Can they be given higher levels of autonomy-responsibility? Should they be cross-trained so they can be promoted?

If your company can – work with your employees to create a plan for their career development which would be consistent with the succession plan needed by the firm. 

Offer opportunities for training – both internal and external.

6:         Coaching, mentoring, counseling

Whether a particular staff person needs to be coached to do better in their present job, or you see them as having potential for promotion, you might offer them one-on-one coaching, mentoring or counseling.  There is nothing better – but be careful that you pick someone competent to do the coaching, etc.

7:         Improve the working environment

Ok, I know you aren’t Google or Apple – but – you can make the environment in which you and your staff work more pleasant. Here are some ideas, some of which you may or may not be able to implement depending on your organization, funds, and rules.
  • Keep every area clean and well-lit.
  • Make sure the restrooms are serviced regularly – more often than you think.
  • Allow for personal decoration of cubicles and offices.
  • Have areas where people can join each other to brainstorm, problem-solve or just visit for a few minutes.
  • Provide the best in ergonomic seating as possible.
  • Provide the most effective technology for doing the job.
  • Treat to coffee/tea etc. during the day – have those in a break room.
  • And, of course, if you have the funds provide good meals.
8:         Listen and learn

Create frequent opportunities for employees to give you feedback. We’ve mentioned some ways in which you can accomplish this earlier in this article.

Good management is akin to good parenting. You are not their friend – but you should not be their enemy. There should be respect, courtesy, and a mutual desire to accomplish commonly accepted goals.

Good Luck!


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