Motivational strategies for busy people managers

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

know that you’ve written hundreds of articles on employee engagement and motivation in the past. Looking back, if one has to unlearn, learn, and relearn what you’ve written, how would you summarize them all if you’ll give an advice to a busy people manager like me who doesn’t have enough time to read? — Wants Shortcut.

A college student majoring in Zoology needed a minor, optional two-hour course to fill out his schedule. The only one that fit was on “Wildlife Animals.” He had some reservations as he heard the course was tough, and the teacher a bit odd. But it was the only choice. He signed up just the same. After one week and one chapter of the prescribed textbook, the professor passed out a test for the class. It was a sheet of paper divided into squares, and in each square was a carefully drawn picture of some bird legs. Not bodies, not feet, just different birds’ legs.

The test simply asked the students to identify the birds from the picture of their legs.

The student was utterly disgusted. He didn’t have a clue. He sat and stared at the test and got madder and madder. Finally, reaching the boiling point, he went up to the teacher’s desk and exclaimed: “This is the worst test I have ever seen, and this is the dumbest course I have ever taken.”

The teacher looked up at him and said: “Young man, you just flunked the test.” Then the teacher picked up the paper, saw that the student hadn’t even put his name on the test sheet. “By the way, young man, what’s your name?”

In reply, the student bent over, pulled up his pants to reveal his legs, and said: “Identify me.”

If I’m to give you a short answer, I can tell you that you’ve only to ask the same question. What kind of “legs” do your employees have? Or what motivates your worker to work hard for you and your organization? Chances are, you’ll receive various answers that may revolve around the following:  Challenging and responsible tasks, harmonious work relations with the boss and colleagues and high pay. The ranking of these three factors will change depending on the personal circumstances of each individual worker.

If the worker is a family man, married to a jobless spouse and with several children of school age, then most likely, he will always strive to have the highest pay package for the upkeep and maintenance of his family, while relegating temporarily his concern over imperfect working relations with his boss and peers. He may even ignore the fact he’s assigned to do menial and less desirable tasks in the organization.

On the other hand, an unmarried young man would prefer to enrich his track record with performance milestones, never mind the nature of his work assignment and salary level. He may be contented with any reasonable pay hike and corresponding statutory benefits, in the hope that he’ll finally justify his existence to be able to get more in the near future.

In other words, there’s no hard and fast rule. You need to ask and get the answers straight from the horse’s mouth and reconcile them with what the company can offer. It should be easy as you’ll be talking with your direct reports that may not exceed seven workers towards an effective span of control and determine the unique character and needs of individual workers. Of course, you can only do what you can to negotiate with those workers whom you like to be retained for the long term.

Now, for the shotgun approach covering all types of employees, regardless of their personal circumstances, allow me to enumerate the following strategies:

One, create a clearly worded performance appraisal system. Do this with the help of concerned workers whose ideas must be incorporated under a spirit of shared responsibility and ownership.

Two, criticize without creating resentment. This is challenging to do, but not difficult to do if you’ll change your approach (tone of voice, etc.) and be sincere in offering help solve a problem.

Three, catch people doing something right. And commend them for it. A simple marginal note or a congratulatory e-mail message, may be sufficient but not enough. You’ve to vary your style.

Four, be responsive even to minor issues. Take prompt action on employee problems so that they will not be a major challenge in the near future.

Five, treat everyone with utmost respect. Don’t neglect common courtesy. Requesting with the word “please,” is better than giving instructions that could sound like a demand.

Six, promote one-on-one dialogue with everyone. There’s no better way but for the boss to initiate regular interaction with the workers but to have it in an informal setup and free from any stress.

Once again, it’s important to know the personality differences of each and every worker and their work attitudes, skill levels, and experiences, among others. These may be difficult as they are compounded by many related factors, such as age and gender. Nevertheless, despite the many difficulties, management can only resort to a proactive, two-way communication to help calibrate its relationship with the workers.