Tune in to Your Team to Encourage Confidence, Project Ownership and Loyalty
BY SANDRA BECKWITH
MINDSET CAN BE EVERYTHING. An enthusiastic team will be better equipped to succeed, while lackluster employees will drag the company down with them. A 2005 study by the Gallup survey organization found that 24 percent of Japan's workers are “actively disengaged” at work—vocalizing and acting out their dislike for their job—and that their lowered motivation accounts for an amazing estimated $232 billion in lost productivity per year for Japan. In the United States, the 14 percent who said they were actively disengaged cost $300 billion, and in Singapore, it was 12 percent who cost $6 billion.
How employees are treated is the key factor in the energy they devote to their work. Engagement doubles when an employee is treated like a partner but is halved when the employee is treated as a subordinate, according to the survey.
In wielding that double-edged blade, you hold the power to affect your team's outlook and performance.
Factors that motivate employees include pride in their work, colleagues they enjoy and a supervisor they can trust, says Steve Morris, founder, Steve Morris Associates, a leadership consultancy in Singapore. “You can work for a great company but still suffer under a miserable boss. Troublesome bosses are insensitive to the needs of others, excessive in their behaviors, and insincere in their words and deeds,” he says. “Conversely, you could work for a lousy company, but with a great boss, you will feel that it is worth it.”
Organizational culture also can sap a worker's motivation. Incompetent leaders, unclear expectations, office politics, lack of recognition and lack of professional development can discourage employees. To avoid these pitfalls, find ways to tune in to the personalities and your team's work styles to understand what does—and doesn't—inspire them at work.
“I used to take the approach that it was all about money and incentives because that's what motivated me, so I assumed it worked that way with everyone else too,” says Mike Entzminger, CEO of Mach 1 Air Services Inc., Tempe, Ariz., USA. “I've learned that what motivates my employees often isn't money, but recognition in front of the group.”
His strategy of paying attention to his employees' personalities is one of the most effective, says John Gray who, as vice president of administration at Mach 1 Air Services Inc., reports to Mr. Entzminger. “Mike knows what motivates me isn't the same thing that motivates somebody else here,” Mr. Gray says. “He knows that I like it when he challenges me to push the envelope a little, so that's what he does. And it works.”
Getting an idea of what will motivate an individual means opening dialogue and paying attention, says Robert Berger, Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based vice president of Dubai operations for Hill International, a construction management firm in Marlton, N.J., USA. “The more we listen, the more information we take on in order to understand what really triggers an activity spurt or what diminishes the activity,” he says.
To facilitate the listening process, Mr. Morris uses focus groups in which he asks people not what motivates them, but what takes away their desire to perform. Team exercises and assessments also help because they reveal individual work styles, says Bill Stewart, president and CEO of Project Management Leadership Group Inc., a global project management professional services and training firm in Atlanta, Ga., USA. “By understanding the work style of each team member, the leader can adjust his or her approach,” he says.
A leader who can motivate cross-culturally knows that a “one size fits all” approach does not work. “Managers who are working across cultural boundaries and don't understand cultural differences often de-motivate their employees without ever becoming aware that the trouble is actually the manager's lack of awareness instead of the employee's ineptness,” says Gert Jan Hofstede, Ph.D., associate professor at Wageningen University in Wageningen, the Netherlands, and co-author of two books about the relationship between national and organizational cultures.“ In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, for example, we place a high priority on holidays and family life, so you can't make a Dutchman work harder by offering a larger paycheck or a car. It's about whether we work to live or live to work. In my country, we work to live.”
A manager who isn't sensitive to cultural issues can plunge a team into a de-motivating series of conflicts. “You have to be aware of political issues when assembling a cross-cultural team,” Mr. Berger says. “I wouldn't put a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot together to do the same kind of work—there would be conflict all day long. We see the same thing with different Arab cultures with conflicts among themselves.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Although different leaders use different motivational styles and tactics, most employees—no matter what country they're in—respond positively when they're treated with respect. A combination of the following methods will reach the greatest number of employees.
Offer praise. “There are some people who can be motivated for weeks by two words—‘good job’ or ‘thank you,’” Mr. Berger says. For employees who respond well to praise, consider putting it in writing, a tactic Mr. Entzminger employs. To keep employees motivated to write articles for the company newsletter, he sends the writers thank-you notes telling them what he liked the most in their current articles.
Open the lines of communication. Project teams need to understand the organization's vision, how they fit into it, how they can help the organization reach its goals and what is expected of them. In addition to offering guidance, make sure to listen. “Seek their input on a regular basis,” Mr. Stewart says.
Touch base. Mr. Entzminger requires his managers to give what he calls “touches”—notes, e-mails or conversations that keep people in contact. “If we've got a project going and we're trying to get specific results, I'll ask the manager to send out an e-mail or give a personal call to the people on the team on a regular basis,” he says, adding that this tactic is especially important when team members are in different locations.
Show empathy. Mr. Berger offers flexible work hours whenever possible and tries to accommodate all vacation requests. “A vacation leave request is one of the few times of the year when an employee asks for something from management, so I try to be accommodating, even when it puts a strain on the team,” he says.
Provide education and training. This is especially important for an employee who feels unprepared or too inexperienced for the job, or the individual who is motivated by opportunities for professional development. “I think you get more motivated people when you train them thoroughly and it's not indoctrination by fire,” Mr. Entzminger says.
Give feedback. Christopher Kummer, Ph.D., junior research professor at Webster University in Vienna, Austria, suggests providing job performance feedback as part of the training process. “It should be built into the project plan,” he says. That feedback, Dr. Kummer says, helps benchmark performance for improvement and determine whether further training is needed.
Share appreciation. When Mach 1 instituted a policy that encouraged employees to report the good work of team members, Mr. Entzminger saw dramatic differences in motivation levels. Employees not only became more motivated when they were praised by peers in other departments, but communication and rapport between departments improved as well.
Understanding what motivates individual team members takes effort, but it pays off in the form of employees who are more satisfied because they see the positive impact of their work.
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SPOTLIGHT: LARRY GRYPP
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