In our recent Leadership group meeting, Joyce spoke up about her new team. “I have one woman who’s engaged with us – who gets excited about new projects, comes up with new ideas, and is creative and focused when she’s working. I wish I could clone her. The other four are nice enough, but when they interact it’s more about what is going on at home or the latest movies and gossip. When I give them new projects they just do what I ask without adding any ideas of their own, and by 5:00pm they are out of there! While they don’t have any specific behavioral problems, working with them drags me down. How can I continue to achieve as a manager if my team is uninspired? How can I get them motivated?” This was a great issue to bring to the group, as so many leaders face similar challenges.
Here are the five main ideas that came out of our discussion on motivation and engagement:
- There is a difference between external and internal motivation. Internal motivation, or what most in the field label “engagement” is what drives the highest levels of innovation and performance.
When employees are engaged they get a personal sense of fulfillment from achieving objectives and / or doing their work well. It can be anything from “winning”, to being seen as valuable, to feeling pride in mastering a project or pulling a team together to accomplish something exciting. External incentives and consequences such as: winning trips, getting monetary bonuses, or getting scolded for not achieving an objective, all influence behavior to a degree, but when the desire comes from within, there is an unlimited supply of energy driving success.
- Engagement comes from within, so it works better for a leader to have a systematic process that encourages engagement, as opposed to a focused “push” that relies on external incentives and consequences.
You can’t command an employee to be more engaged, or give a consequence for lack of engagement, but as an immediate supervisor your behavior has a lot more influence on engagement than you might think. Most people who leave a company cite the reason as their relationship with their direct supervisor. If they perceive their supervisor to be disinterested in their work, or at the other extreme, if they feel criticized and micro-managed – this can drain the potential engagement right out of them. A line manager can do a lot to build engagement, just by doing the work to get to know team members and find the balance of support and empowerment that enables each individual to thrive.
- Observing and getting to know team members personally can provide excellent insights about when and how they get engaged with their work.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that almost all of your team members seem more or less energetic at different times. If you can identify five times when they “come alive” and compare that to times when they seem to be “going through the motions”, the pattern can give you some great clues about what drives them. You can also ask each employee to write down five examples of when they were especially excited while working and observe what the situations have in common.
- Everyone on your team is different. This doesn’t mean you have to have a different “system” for each employee, but it may mean that your relationship and interactions with each employee are distinct from others.
Some employees compare themselves to others and want to come out on top. They want recognition for their achievements, and they want to monitor the scores. Other employees want to be in charge or absorb themselves in a project that shows their mastery and expertise. When you have one-on-one talks with individual team members, your “winners” are going to want to know how they compare to others and how close they are to being on top, while those who want to be experts will want to hear how much others are starting to rely on them and see them as a valued resource. Understanding how employees measure themselves – and then sharing information that matters to them – can go far when it comes to increasing engagement.
- Your own engagement is infectious. Sharing your own excitement with your team and allowing them to see what inspires you tends to get them energized and thinking about what excites them, as well.
In one of my leadership positions I remember getting excited about an idea and sending an e-mail to the team in the middle of the night “Am I crazy or could we pull this off?” I was completely transparent about my own enthusiasm for a project and asked who wanted to join me. It was completely optional, and I was surprised that 100% of the team immediately jumped “in”. My excitement had energized them, and they didn’t want to be left out of the fun. That was the year I learned that the more transparent I was about my own thoughts and feelings, especially the positive ones, the more connected my team felt to me.
How did these five ideas translate to our Leadership call, and what can you learn from our discussion around employee engagement?
As a result of our team discussion, Joyce decided to get her group together and have a conversation about engagement. She shared what excited her about her job, and asked them about their dreams and aspirations, and how the work they were doing lined up with it. It turned out that many in the group had never had a conversation like this at work before and had never even considered paying attention to what engaged them. Since the team already got along well, this turned out to be her best strategy for systematically getting the team more engaged. Twice per month, the group set aside time to talk about what personally excited them about work. Sometimes the group conversations didn’t go well and spiraled downward into negative “complaining parties”, but as Joyce practiced her own facilitation skills, she was able to lead the group to a place where they learned to take ownership of creating and maintaining a more innovative and high-performance team environment. Although you can’t always get the entire team excited about their work, studies have shown that if you get the majority of the team to a certain level of engagement, that critical mass establishes the culture! From that point on, this culture influences all team members, and attracts new people who are already lined up with what you stand for. What is your team’s level of engagement? Have you incorporated any of these strategies with team members? If so, feel free to share any successes, challenges and outcomes here, as we always welcome your ideas and experiences!