Article posted on 12 December 2017

How Do You Motivate Your Staff to Change?

They say motivation is the heart of everything that we can do out of passion. It’s what propels humans to persist and achieve what they pursue. There are several ways to motivate people and the team you lead. The essential thing is that leaders realise what “buttons” to push or, rather, which mix of motivation tools can yield actual results in their specific case.

I know an executive who was able to motivate his staff in a less conventional way: he invited them all to try out an extreme sport like zip-lining. The activity was meant to make a relaxed atmosphere, pose an eccentric challenge and take the participants out of their formal business environment, but it was also going to be an extremely valuable lesson. “Now you all know what my daily work experience feels like,” the executive told the employees at the end. By this quite unusual and creative comparison the executive wanted to make his staff understand the huge responsibility he has (and the pressure that comes with it) and make them become more aware that they were all a team sharing the same fear of change, which they also had to  manage to overcome together. Again, there are various methods to communicate, persuade and motivate, and this particular one would certainly not suit just anyone.

That’s why it is important for us to know, before any action is taken, what exactly motivates people. What is it that executives usually believe motivates employees? Answers are individual, depending on each person’s values, beliefs, knowledge and experiences. Salary benefits and job titles are often mentioned. What might be missed out, in fact? Whatever the specifics of one situation or another, people want to feel that they are important, they bring added value to something or someone, they evolve and are appreciated, acknowledged for what they do. The feeling of contributing to something with a scope wider than apparent – something “larger than life,” to use an American concept – is one of the most beautiful and significant things for anyone.

On the other hand, it is quite natural to sometimes feel unmotivated. Especially in big organisations the personnel happen to feel permanently snowed under with all kinds of priorities; one pressing matter taking priority over another, and so on until the pace becomes too tense and fast for them. Moreover, if “enough is never enough,” employees may end up missing the point and stop seeing the reason why they are making such huge efforts every day.

What can executives do in such cases? Certainly, people can feel unhappy in different moments and contexts, and the lack of motivation starts from themselves. Equally true, executives would be well advised not to watch that passively from the sideline. It would be quite dangerous for managers to see themselves as positioned “outside” the game and expect only the others to change. Executives are team players, not outsiders in their team. They are conductors responsible for teaching the others, as well as learning from them, guiding them and supporting them. There’s a very low percentage of professionals who decide to leave their jobs because of the salary only – a  much more important factor is the need to  communicate openly  and feel respect.

People choose to join a team and work passionately when they feel close to each other, therefore the moment they perceive that relationship as more than just contractual – when there’s partnership there, rather than mere co-working. Of course it is not easy for executives to be always available, as they have a great deal of responsibilities which, quite rightly, need to be fulfilled sometimes against the clock. But the fact that executives don’t make time for their team because they are too busy to listen  might at some point cost them a lot more precious time in order to solve problems about their staff’s lack of motivation.

I invite executives to find their own recipe for motivating people. Difficult moments – and especially processes of change – require equal commitment and accountability from everyone. There are various types of people and just as many ways to motivate them.  In the end, we get where we want if we work together.