To motivate your staff and have an engaged workforce, you need to provide the right environment. But what is the ‘right’ environment? Is it different from what used to be the ‘right’ environment? And if so, how? How do you create it? And how do you support and encourage it to flourish?
Why Do We Even Have To Consider How To Keep Staff Motivated?
Attitudes to work have changed dramatically. It used to be that the majority of the people in the workforce sold their physical labour and saw the product of that physical labour immediately in the form of completed work. It was easy as an employee to be connected to your output. And it was easy for the employer to measure the quantity and quality of the output produced, set targets and reward high performers (pay per piece).
But for most people, those times are gone. Many people now work in roles where all, or most, of their work is what is known as knowledge work. With knowledge work, the inputs into the work stream are information, data and perhaps problems; and the outputs are transformed information and solutions. These outputs are usually not ‘end of line’; they become inputs into the work streams of the knowledge workers who are next in line.
As a result, knowledge workers have become increasingly disconnected from the reason for the existence of their role; and from why it is important and meaningful. When they feel disconnected with any meaningful purpose behind their work, their engagement and motivation levels fall. The result is less care over the quality of their output. And it is also less overall output.
Adding to this in general, today’s workforce is more affluent than previous generations. This results in their basic needs being, again in general, more likely to be covered. So they have more choice and control over where they decide to contribute their work. More and more survey data are showing that today’s workforce choose to work for a company with a strong and meaningful purpose over ones lacking such a purpose.
What does this mean for employers?
In a world where knowledge work is the primary activity within the majority of organisations, one thing is certain: The quality of the workers in the workforce (often described as ‘the talent‘) is a critical factor in the quality of the knowledge work. Great examples of these kinds of businesses would include health practitioners, IT, and customer service centres.
Smart employers have identified that the best talent has the most choice when it comes to where to work. Their talent is in high demand due to what they can produce, and they can be highly mobile if they get a better offer. As a result, smart employers know that to attract the best talent they must be an employer of choice. You first have to motivate your staff to come on board.
If you have sat on the hiring side of the interview lately, then, like me, you’ve probably heard the prospective talent ask: ‘So, why should I choose to work for you?’
As an employer of choice, the organisation’s leadership is responsible for establishing a meaningful purpose for the organisation. And it also is responsible for communicating that to the world. This is perhaps perfectly summed up by Simon Sinek and his ‘Start with Why‘ approach to leadership. Having a strong and meaningful purpose is the first step to attracting the best talent toward your organisation.
Can you crisply describe your company’s meaningful purpose? If you can’t, that may be the turning point at which the best candidate mentally checks out and starts focusing on other options. When I was last job searching, for example, I didn’t even bother applying for roles at some companies: I ignored those where I didn’t feel in tune with their purpose.
Then, how do you get the best work out of them?
In times now gone, most work was simpler. Typically there was a direct relationship between the physical efforts of the workforce, and the employee’s output. Manufacturing is obviously where this was most visible, with completed work resulting in finished products for the company to sell.
So, in the age of the knowledge worker, how do you motivate your staff to give the very best of themselves?
Getting Quality Performance
Well, the initial simple answer is Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). However that is really only brushing the surface of what is really required. For example, if you set your telesales team a target of making 80 calls a day, then by all means they might make 80 calls; although that could be 80 very poorly executed calls which might not sell anything at all! But hey, they met their KPI. It is a typical embodiment of the oft-proven axiom that ‘What gets measured gets done.’
That was the case for us when I ran a collections team. If all I said was that you must call the overdue customers every day, a call would get made, every day. And not much else. But things changed when the instruction became: ‘You must make some kind of progress every day; and document it in our CRM system. If you can’t make progress, document the obstacle; and document your action plan to address it.’ Outstanding items moved more than 50% faster through our collections process; we also halved the number of Days Outstanding; and it was always easy to get an up-to-date view on where things really stood.
Thus, your staff need more than just KPIs. A truly motivated workforce needs two things.
CONNECTION – your people will work with more engagement if they truly feel connected to the purpose of their work; and
CONTROL – they will work with more effort if they have, and experience, control over their performance and corresponding rewards.
Now, let’s break that down a bit further.
The power of CONNECTION
What we are after is an alignment between
- what people are asked to do;
- the overall purpose of the organisation;
- and the current goals of the organisation.
Lets take an example:
The overall purpose might be to deliver life-changing holiday experiences to the time-poor single parent market;
and the current company goal might be to increase year-on-year sales by 10%.
When you convert that to connected KPIs and performance, you might have this (ass an example): a target of helping to change two lives a day, by selling two holidays per day.
You might also choose to add a KPI for making 80 calls per day. Based on an expected 2.25% success rate, that’s what your team members would have to do in order to change two lives per day.
Now if you had to choose between the two KPIs, two sales or 80 calls – which would you choose? The former, of course. If you have someone making only 50 calls a day who is changing three lives, that is more in line with the organisation’s goals than someone making twice as many calls and half as many sales.
The power of CONTROL
And here comes the tough part to swallow: Let your people do what works best for them, and for the organisation.
If they know where you’re headed and how to get there, then why wouldn’t you trust them to reach their primary KPIs as they wish? and even if they don’t achieve their secondary ones?
If you have smart, competent people, then why not trust them to find ways to get results?
When I’ve done this, it has led to innovation and tactics that improved outcomes for our customers, and reduced costs for our organisation – and in ways that I could never have thought of.
Measure and Feedback
When you implement an approach like this, the next important component is measuring what the results are, accurately, and frequently. Let’s assume we are allowing our team members to determine how best they can achieve their main KPIs (within reason, of course). Then we want to support them with as much information as we can.
So, here are 2 examples of what would happen:
– The first telesales person might find out that when their calls go beyond three minutes, they make the sale 80% of the time; in that case they will put more effort into extending their calls.
– The second telesales person might discover that they are more than three times as likely to sell to a woman, then to a man; in this case, they might look to getting a more female-weighted list to call.
Overall, the purpose of measuring is to be able to see what’s working well, and what’s not. And, of course, you want to do more of what’s working and change or reduce what’s not working. The more granular you can be with the reported information, the better the decisions that can be made.
By regularly feeding back information about their performance, you can continuously improve the end to end cycle and focus efforts on the most productive activities.
If one team member innovates and is successful in trying a lengthy video presentation that allows her to convert eight sales a day, even though she can only manage to make 30 phone calls, the fact that she’s missed her secondary KPI is immaterial, because she’s overachieving on the KPI that matters most.
The final step in the process to motivate your staff is recognising and rewarding your top performers. This is a critical part of the process that requires just that little bit of bravery as a manager! Yes, because it means that, if done in the most effectively way, rewards may well be handed out unevenly.
When rewards are unevenly handed out, some people might feel disadvantaged; and they might complain that such a move is unfair. But think about who is likely to be complaining: It is least likely to be your top performers. They will see the reward distribution as fair compensation for their achievements.
Consider the alternative (and often common practice) where rewards are evenly distributed, and everyone gets a X% pay rise. If that is the practice in your workplace, then who there feels there is any incentive to be a high performer? I know I hated getting the same reward regardless of my efforts and achievements. It made me feel like I was wasting my time and I should be coasting like some of the rest of the team.
So, would you rather upset or encourage your top performers?
The Essential Keys To Motivate Your Staff
To sum things up, the best approach to encouraging a motivated an effective workforce requires that the work they are being asked to do has real meaning and purpose, and that they can easily see how the work they are doing contributes to that meaningful purpose.
It is important to give people freedom (within limits) to get to the important goals that they will be measured by in whatever way is the most effective for them. The more scope there is to deviate from a set process, the more accurately and frequently you should be measuring what’s working and feeding it back to the team members so that they can keep refining the way they go about their work.
And lastly, if you want to keep your top performers happy, and keep that talent from going to work somewhere where they feel appreciated, make sure you skew rewards towards those that are contributing most towards the organisation’s objectives.
(The image at the top of this article, by the way, comes from a very good piece on workplace motivation, which you can read here.)