An Employee Funk Rescue Tactic–Watch ‘Em Work. | Tailored Motivation

Motivating employees should be high on a supervisor’s to-do list. Too often, though, what’s tried falls flat.

Not every employee needs or wants:

  • A go-team pep talk
  • Artery-clogging donuts at staff meetings
  • Certificates for weekly productivity achievements
  • Public praise for a job well done (Many dread this)
  • Brown bag lunches with the boss

That said, employees do want and need reasons to stay motivated.

No easy formula 

One-size-fits-all motivational techniques either don’t work or don’t last. They assume that each employee works based on the same drivers.

Motivation is a function of aspiration. If you don’t know what your employees want from their careers, then you can’t tailor motivators to fit them.

There are two ways to figure out how to motivate employees:

  • Ask them what gets them energized to do more
  • Watch how they work, taking note of what gets them going or stalls them

Once you know what motivates each employee, tailor your actions to their needs.

Take mental snapshots of your employees when they’re in gear and when they’re not. Think about what you can do to help and then take action like in these scenarios:

1. Mary is a staff engineer in a mostly male work group. She gets bogged down in the details when given repetitive assignments but becomes highly engaged when working on a team. That changes, though, when she gets the notion that her ideas aren’t being fully considered. If that happens, she disengages and becomes despondent. 

Watching Mary work offers a clue to what motivates her—work that provides her with visibility and recognition. When those aspects are absent, she loses energy and interest. One remedy is to schedule opportunities for Mary to showcase the results of her routine work and periodically assign her to be a team leader. 

2. Brian is a crackerjack IT troubleshooter, interacting with coworkers at every level, answering user questions, fixing glitches, and installing new software. He’s considered humorless and indifferent by some, cavalier and impatient by others, only when the workload gets overwhelming and coworkers are impatient.

Observations of Brian reveal changes in him when under stress. Instead of coming across as energized and enthusiastic about providing these expert services as usual, he comes across as resentful. Just like us, Brian has a stress threshold that, when reached, brings out negative reactions and attitudes. To keep Brian motivated, his supervisor needs to keep tabs on his workload and the conditions driving it. A weekly conversation with Brian on ways to manage his workload can become a strong motivator.

3. Martha, a physical therapist, was promoted to manager of a hospital-based exercise center. Her responsibilities include scheduling, recordkeeping, supervising professional staff, equipment maintenance and purchases. Her workday is full but not always fulfilling. She often stops to watch wistfully the client care being given.

Martha was promoted because of her technical capabilities and commitment. She’s wired to do an exceptional job no matter what. Although motivated to excel as manager, she misses those one-on-one caring interactions that she left behind and very likely is concerned that her skills will erode. Her manager can fix this by scheduling Martha to fill in for physical therapists when they’re out or by assigning a limited number of clients to her schedule and delegating some administrative duties. 

The price paid 

Poor motivation is contagious. Other employees catch it easily. When it becomes epidemic, productivity and quality suffer.

Low motivation among employees is a drag on the collective energy of the work group. It gives employees an excuse for not giving their best effort, fully participating in teamwork, delivering on their commitments, and believing that they have a future with the organization.

Remember the last time you felt unmotivated? Did your supervisor help pull you out of it? That’s a big part of a supervisor’s job. It’s important to pay attention to the motivational needs of your employees and give each one the unique support they need. Time to get motivated to motivate.

Photo from KaiChanVong via Flickr

Come to the Rescue or Let ‘Em Squirm? Your Call! | The Value of Leadership Intervention

Ever been in a tight spot at work? Over your head? Out of your league? I sure have.

Terrible thoughts start to take over:

  • I’ve lost all credibility.
  • My career is toast.
  • I’m going to hear about this.
  • This is my last shot. 

If we could yell, “HELP!” we would. But would anyone throw us a rope?

“Hey, Boss, I’m over here.” 

If we’re lucky, we work around leaders who are willing to step forward when we’re in a pinch. They may be our immediate boss, someone higher up, an esteemed colleague, or a customer with clout.

We may get ourselves into situations like:

  • Being unable to handle a Q&A
  • Over-committing company resources
  • Irritating a customer
  • Making a faux pas with a bigwig
  • Overstepping our authority 

We don’t do these things on purpose. They are mistakes, oversights, and gaffs that we’ve gotten ourselves into but can’t get out of.

Our leaders are our hope. We need them to make things right again, so we can stay on the right track.

To help, our leaders can:

  • Insert themselves into the situation
  • Redirect discussion and facilitate agreement/collaboration
  • Defer actions and clarify expectations
  • Pull rank and impose direction
  • Take the fall for us (Ouch!) 

Good leaders are teachers with a kick! 

We get ourselves into fixes for lots of reasons: poor preparation, immaturity, impatience, and short-sightedness. The leader who rescues us shows compassion, empathy, understanding, and fairness. We deserve that the first time.

The leader who lets us squirm knows that until we truly “feel” the consequences of our goofs, we won’t grasp their importance and our need make changes.

Smart leaders have a tolerance for our missteps but not a penchant for them. When we learn, we’ll get points. When we don’t, we’ll feel it!

From squirming to rescue!   

1.) I was scheduled to meet with the COO along with my boss. I wasn’t feeling well that day and told my boss I felt a bit off.

At the meeting, I opened my mouth to speak and out come these sounds: “Tha thea, tha thea.” My boss looked at me, stunned.

He quickly interrupted whatever I was trying to say to give me a moment to regroup.  He turned the conversation back to me. I said: “Tha thea, tha thea.” I sounded like the cartoon character, Porky Pig, whose famously stuttered line was: “That’s all, folks!” (Right then, his words seemed to summarize my career!)

My boss jumped in again. The COO swallowed a laugh. Miraculously, I recovered.

On the way back to the office, my boss said to me, “What the hell happened to you in there!” What happened was that he rescued me!

2.) Rachel, a very smart, spunky woman, ran the field service dispatching department for me. It was a very tough job and she was its first woman supervisor.

I attended her initial storm debriefing meeting, involving the line supervisors from the field, Rachel, and her staff. There were lots of pent up issues in the room. Rachel focused on defending her people while the rest were gunning for her.

She wasn’t a great listener. The meeting rose to a higher and higher pitch. She lacked the experience to hold her own on her own. I let her squirm just enough to realize the situation but not enough to undermine her credibility with her staff.

Then I started to participate in the dialogue, got agreement for changes on both sides, and committed to ongoing improvement. Rachel got the picture.

Step up! 

Letting someone get skewered at work or anywhere else when they are giving it their best shot is heartless. No one is made better when that happens.

Being business fit includes taking the lead whether you have the position authority or not. When you know how to bail someone out of a tight spot, just do it. The loyalty and learning that result are worth your effort!

Do you have an experience where you were rescued or left squirming? How did it work out? What did you learn?