Staff, leadership and motivation

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It’s amazing how many managers expect their staff to be psychic. I often ask participants in our training courses the question: ‘How many of you know EXACTLY what your boss looks at, or looks for, when he or she is trying to decide if you are performing?’ About one in ten can answer with confidence; the rest come out with vague, rambling explanations or untested assumptions.

The issue here is: ‘How can you kick a goal if the goal posts are not stationary and clearly visible?’ Almost all your employees want to please you, and want to be seen to be doing a good job.

The great psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proved that once we have achieved basic physical security by meeting what he called the primary needs — air, warmth, water, sleep and food — we then spent out time trying to satisfy our secondary human needs. Our main secondary needs are self esteem, self development and contribution. Your staff get their self esteem from the way you treat them.

If you give praise, recognition and encouragement, your staff will feel good. If you hand out more complaints and condemnation than praise your staff can become miserable, and their work performance will deteriorate rapidly. Untrained managers often fail to understand this and fall into the role of ‘policeman’, going about their day ‘catching people doing things wrong’. When you do this, your staff see you as critical and negative, and this conflicts with their need for self esteem.

If your staff see their job differently to you due to a lack of proper communication or training, you’re setting yourself up for turnover and performance problems. If they are expecting a pat on the back and they get a reprimand, you will damage your relationship with them. They must know exactly what you want. You can’t afford to assume. Things that are obvious and logical to you often need to be spelt out to a new employee, even if they’re quite experienced.

The second of Maslow’s needs is self development. This is the process of moving towards our personal goals. Some of your staff want to climb the business or corporate ladder — their goals lie within your work environment. Other staff dream about different things — perhaps a little vineyard or farm, or something else not related to their immediate work. If they don’t feel they’re constantly moving forward in their lives, they won’t put much effort into what they’re doing.

You need to know the dreams and goals of all your staff. If they want to get ahead in business, help them by giving them the skills they will need. If they want something outside work you have to link what they’re doing within your business to their dream. This usually involves helping them work out how long it will take them to achieve their aims at their present rate of accomplishment (if ever), and what they can do to accelerate the process. Again, they must be equipped to please you by knowing what you want, or their rate of accomplishment will not make their goals achievable.

The last of Maslow’s secondary needs is contribution. Your staff all want to contribute their ideas and efforts to the team; they want to leave their mark. They must have a clear understanding of the vision that forms the foundation of your business to do this, otherwise their ideas will be misguided and subject to rejection. If you are not open to their ideas they will contribute their labour and little else, leaving you to carry the weight of innovation all by yourself.

You can meet all your staffs’ needs for self esteem, self development and contribution, and get a substantial boost in productivity by engaging in a simple, routine communication process known as Performance Appraisal. Here’s how it works:

Once a month you should plan to spend twenty minutes talking with each of your direct subordinates (if you have any more than ten people reporting to you, your structure is unworkable and needs to be revised). You must plan your use of this time very carefully — you have four objectives in doing this: (1) to give sincere praise and recognition, (2) to gently correct problems in performance, (3) to get honest feedback on your performance as a leader, and (4) to get ideas for improvement to your business. They must be tackled IN THIS ORDER.

Here’s where a diary is an extremely valuable tool. If you can discipline yourself to spend five minutes a day to make brief notes in your diary about those things you have observed — both good and bad — you will have all the information you need to construct an accurate performance appraisal. If you don’t, human nature will cause you to concentrate on the negative, and you will get the opposite result to what you want.

The feedback on your leadership is very important. You should train yourself not to react to criticism in any way. If you can remain impassive and just listen carefully and ask delving questions without commenting or arguing, your staff will gradually open up to you and tell you what they really think. They will train you, in a way. I learned more about leadership from the observations of my staff that I ever did in training courses.

Listening to and acting on their good ideas is the final part of the process. This is how you evolve your business. You don’t often have time to innovate; you’re very busy. Take the raw ideas of the young and the inexperienced and apply your wisdom to them and you will have an enterprise with some life in it.

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