Leadership Barometer 35 Motivation

January 27, 2020

The concept of motivation is one of the most misunderstood terms in leadership education. Reason: Many leaders don’t fully understand the nature of motivation, so they try to achieve it using ineffective tools.

This article focuses on the learning from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and why those concepts can be used to create higher levels of motivation in any organization.

Typical low motivation

I believe the average organization obtains only a tiny fraction of the potential human effort that is available. My guess is that most organizations receive less than 30% of the discretionary effort that resides in its people.

Even if my number is off by quite a bit, it still means that we could double productivity and still have people working at less than their capacity. Wow, that represents some wonderful low hanging fruit. But how do we get that effort to come forth?

Motivate your people?

As a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you reveal a misunderstanding that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation. Seeking to “motivate employees” is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way are putting the cart before the horse.

While the temptation to get going may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy. Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation and catch the wind of trust. So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The horse is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The cart is what people ride in, or how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order and try to motivate people by simply trying to make them feel better? Some reasons may include:

Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace, we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to stay in the cart (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation and actually get to our destination. Why?

Because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. Enlightened leaders realize the only way to improve the culture is to build transparency and trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

When leaders approach motivation as something they “do to” the workers, it has the wrong connotation.

The word “motivate” should not be used as a verb.

I cannot motivate you. The only person who can truly motivate you is you.

Instead, I can create an environment where you choose to become motivated.

The difference between those two concepts sounds like double talk, but it is a crucial leadership concept to grasp.

Focusing on perks

Individuals will gladly take any perk you are willing to give, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, such as trust and empowerment.

Trying to force morale

Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a company cheer before employees are allowed to work.

There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.

The supervisor is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke.

Most people feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks.

It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.

In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors might allow this to happen?

The meeting itself

There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful.

Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles.

By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement.

It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding.

In some situations, managers use the morning meetings for reinforcing good behavior. This technique can help, but it must be sincere or it will actually backfire. Insincere praise is deadly in an organization because it lowers trust.

So, if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.

The centering thoughts

Rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers.

They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.

A pre-existing environment of trust

If the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility.

This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort.

At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are often helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.

Employee ownership

If the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then it has a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event.

This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence.

The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits by feeding a silo mentality.

In an excellent environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.

In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization.

Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Since many organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit.

No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of Adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics


Successful Supervisor 63 Reduce Silo Thinking

February 3, 2018

The term “silo thinking” refers to a situation when members of a team put up barriers of communication and interaction with other teams in order to protect their turf. Information and resources become trapped within the silo walls like grain is trapped inside a farm silo.

The silo problem is frequently a major issue in production departments when different supervisors have control of resources within an operation or shift. Resources are squandered when intergroup friction erupts into conflict or even sabotage.

Smart supervisors take preventive actions to reduce the tendency toward silo thinking, but often they are so close to the problem, they do not recognize when it is happening right in front of them.

Reducing Silo Thinking

The first step toward eliminating the problem is to realize it is a human tendency to feel allegiance to one’s home team. In most aspects of life this bonding is a good thing because it helps teams perform at sustained peak levels.

However, like most good things, too much team spirit can lead to insulation and dysfunctional competition with other groups.

Team spirit should not be wiped out, but rather expanded to include outside individuals or parallel groups. The supervisor needs to recognize this dynamic and take steps to keep team spirit at a healthy level while mitigating any negative side effects.

Here are five suggestions I have found to be effective at controlling silo thinking:

1. Reinforce the Common Goal at the Next Higher Level

Two groups at odds due to silo thinking always share common goals at the next higher level. For example, on a football team, it is common for the offensive unit to become a silo separate from the defense, so the coach has to remind everybody that they are on the same team, and the enemy is external.

Once people are reminded of their common allegiance to the larger effort, the parochial thinking process within the sub units is weakened.

2. Do Teambuilding for the Combined Group

Mixing two feuding groups together for a teambuilding activity allows the members to see and appreciate the resources in the other group.

It is important to have a good facilitator provide excellent teambuilding activities, and the points made during the exercise debriefs are particularly important. There are several excellent teambuilding exercise that stress working across boundaries for a common goal.

One of my favorite team building activities to illustrate working together is to mix people together in random order and have them form into small groups with some members from each team in each group.

Then ask them to brainstorm all the ways that performing as a high performance team is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. If you allow them to brainstorm for 15-20 minutes they will come up with all kinds of helpful concepts.

For example, even though there are different parts of the scene, the whole puzzle must be completed in order to succeed, so each part of the puzzle is equally important.

3. Reinforce Behavior of the Combined Group Rather Than the Silos

The trick here is for the supervisor of Group 1 to “team up” with the supervisor of Group 2 when reinforcing good work by both groups. If the supervisors model a kind of family spirit, then people will quickly get the message and begin to think like a single unit. When trying to accomplish this larger team spirit, it is important to eliminate language that focuses on “we” and “they.”

4. Eliminate We/They Thinking and Language

A Litmus test for the elimination of silo thinking is the absence of the language that uses we and they in conversation. This problem is often evident in email exchanges.

For example, note the flavor in this email, “Your group needs to realize that if you want a neat environment, you need to pick up after yourselves. We cannot be responsible for always picking up your messes. It is a sign of laziness to not pick up your own trash and we should not have to deal with it.” Note the very strong we versus you emphasis in this note.

A softer and more constructive note might be as follows, “The audit inspection turned up some trash left in the break room over the weekend. Let’s all work together to make sure our environment is neat and healthy.”

It is up to the supervisor to 1) model proper team language, and 2) insist that all people in her group refrain from using inflammatory language such as the first note above.

5. Cross Fertilization

This process involves swapping one key resource from Team 1 with another resource from Team 2. For a while the swapped resources remain emotionally linked to their former group, but eventually they become more aligned with their current group.

If the supervisor encourages a few of these swaps over time, soon it will be hard to tell which team is which, and the silo barriers will have been lowered.

This technique is often unpopular with the people being moved, so it is important to select the swapped people carefully. One legitimate way to explain the move is to let the people know they are highly valued, and the additional cross training on different functions will make their background even more valuable to the organization.

The primary action for any supervisor is to be alert to the problem of silo thinking subtly creeping into the thinking process and conversations of her team. Stay close to other supervisors and be vigilant on this issue, and you can reduce a lot of organizational acrimony.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763