Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First Time - Part 3: Motivating Your People

You have been told you are taking over division ‘X,’ a dozen hard working folks who ‘tune widgets.’ You understand that you are going to be responsible for making sure those 12 people have everything they need to keep tuning widgets. You are resolved to be a good leader, one who cares about his folks and does the right thing.

Meanwhile, your boss has told you that the division needs to become more efficient (tune more widgets per week, with greater accuracy). You need to figure out how. Where to begin?

The real issue here is how do you motivate your division to achieve this new goal? In short, how do you – how do YOU - motivate someone? The ultimate aim is that the people you lead take on the goals of the organization – that your goals become their goals. But that is quite a bit down the road; you need to begin someplace – today.

Begin with some ‘simple’ steps: build a ‘biography’ on each person: single, married, children and other dependents, education, experience are the basics. There should be a basic file on each that you can use to start your own file. Talking with them – the daily coffee - will give you more information to add to what you know of each.

Health issues will arise. They are essential to understand. And they will demonstrate YOUR motivations. If you are worried about their health and the health of their family, it will show. (One case in point: as much as possible, insist people take their annual vacations. People NEED time off.) You will need to know these people like your family – they ARE part of your family now. So, you need the details.

I can hear some HR folks saying you can’t know this kind of thing. Maybe you can’t in their world. But you need to. These people are not machines, they are human beings with very real problems, concerns, hopes and fear. Most of those hopes and fears have nothing to do with work. But those hopes and fears will carry over into work.

Now comes the hard part. Listen to them, and then connect ‘their’ goals – the individual goals of your people – with the goals of the organization. Though it has been pooh-poohed of late, Maslow’s hierarchy is an excellent place to start to understand how to organize and understand people’s needs and translate them into something that you can directly affect.

For example, almost certainly, if you are in your first leadership position you have a limited role in providing either pay increases or bonuses. But, as Maslow pointed out, there are several psychological drivers that are more powerful, often significantly more powerful, then economic reward vis-à-vis motivations. While there are few people who will not welcome a pay increase or a bonus, the fact is that most people won’t and don’t work harder because their paycheck got a bit ‘fatter.’ They will, however, work harder if they feel they deserved some sort of public recognition for their performance AND they received it.

This is not an easy process, nor is it done once and forgotten. It will require that you get to know each of your people well, and that you then ‘connect the dots’ on each one – separately. Each person will require his own ‘motivational map’ and you have to construct it. Some will be simple. In every division there are 2 or 3 folks who truly are self-starters. They are fully motivated, they are already out ‘pulling the sled.’ All they need is someone to sign the ‘requisitions’ once a week (or some such thing), and then you can get out of their way. One or two will simply need someone to listen to them rant for 30 minutes a week, then they too will go back to pushing the rock up the hill. (Frankly, those people can also be fun, you get to sit and listen to ‘Dave’ sound off for 20 or 30 minutes, you pick up some weird stories to tell your spouse over dinner, and then he leaves your office and he feels great because he got a chance to simply unload it all on someone who was willing to listen.) You then need to ‘figure out’ the rest. Whether it is an overriding concern about a sick spouse or parent, their children’s grades or getting the right fertilizer for their pumpkin patch, you need to figure it out and connect that to what they are doing at work.

Perhaps, it is simple - an exception to work hours so they can take someone to a physical therapy session, or twice a week arriving late so they can get the kids to hockey practice and then school. Maybe it is more difficult, requiring that you get involved and have the company work some adjustment to their healthcare. Maybe it is as obvious as determining a way to reschedule their work shift so that they can meet the requirements of their own schedule and yours; whatever it is, that is a place to start.

The point is this: the best motivations are about people having an opportunity to leave a mark on their world. Most of us may have fairly small worlds, but we still want to leave a mark on it. Money gets us through the day, but it really is rarely about money, once you get past the simple (but necessary) paying of bills. People want esteem, and self-respect, they want the respect of others, and finally, they want a chance to contribute to something else, to help to create something new and something of value. (Even among some the high-rollers on Wall Street it rarely is about simply money; in fact, from what I’ve seen, money was more a way of keeping score, the money itself was rarely important.) Most organizations can create something of value, at least to some limited extent. A fast food restaurant is arguably simply a fast food restaurant. But a fast food restaurant that is also committed to supporting the fight to cure diabetes or that supports inner city schools, or whatever it is, can step beyond the world of fast food, and in doing so provide a greater motivation for its own people. If you want to develop into as a leader, it is your job to find that path.

One final thought: the question of motivations is perhaps the most difficult question to ever answer. It is a subject that often comes up in combat zones, or more accurately, after you have left the combat zone and are looking ‘back’ at it. Young Marine PFCs* have often amazed me because they are, in fact, so motivated. They join the Marines ready to slay dragons. It is rarely as simple as young men filled with piss and vinegar who want to prove they are tough, though there is obviously some of that, and that is the most visible facet of it. Instead, you bump into them by the score in any Army or Marine company, 20 year olds who are truly determined to change the world, and who believe they have both the skills and the opportunity to do so. They are operating at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy. It is a testimony to the skill of their drill instructors that the gung ho spirit that led them to enlist has been nurtured and fed and pointed so that they get to their first unit and they are coiled steel, ready to spring.

That level of motivation reveals itself years later, when veterans will look back on their enlistment with a great deal of nostalgia, and why not: it is often true that never in the remainder of their lives will they ever operate at the very pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy. They may have spent a solid year completely self-actualized, whereas most people will rarely spend more than a few weeks at a time at that level of motivation. No wonder they do incredible things in the military!

* Private First Class


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