The one odd thing I note about management is the prominence of its paradox. There is so much material and a knowledge pool readily shared. Yet most of the areas found wanting have to do with managing people.
I have observed in my experience managing people and being managed that there are several aspects in which managers can do better.
One critical area centres on keeping employees (team members) motivated and engaged. This is a cardinal piece and ingredient for any business or organisation to thrive.
Sadly, it usually also is at risk largely because its impact is often underestimated at best or ignored at worst.
My observation highlights ten reasons team members end up disengaged and aloof. This is not an exhaustive list and many others can be cited but for this article, I will tackle only the ten.
1. Performance management
This is one aspect that has been taken for granted and remains shrouded in misunderstanding. We still have managers that use it to deal with team members perceived as rebels or not towing an expected line.
We still have organisations that leave appraisals to the end of a defined period, perhaps year end and rush through it as a formality and tick off on the checklist.
Performance management is much more than that and can be a rich tool when understood in the context of its value. When managers know how to curb poor performance before it happens or coach team members to apply their strengths, the results can only be positive.
2. Lack of recognition
How often do we see team members that are committed and offer their best but are largely unappreciated? Even without saying it, most organisations and managers may not realise the subtle message they relay. It usually is a message that “we know you’ll be here even tomorrow so we won’t bother much”.
This unfortunate scenario and message tends to solidify a belief that the team member is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things.
Managers must learn that even the daily mundane tasks add to the entire value chain. Therefore, no matter what the perception may be, these small contributions must be heralded. The least important in the team must get a sense that they are needed and have a contribution to make. Every seemingly small task is a milestone and must be acknowledged as such.
It’s not always about monetary rewards or an end of year prize giving or certificate. It can be as uncomplicated as a mention in staff meetings, a word of encouragement and a pat on the back.
Managers must be attentive to such and use timely relevant recognition to stimulate motivation. With that we may also see less situations of team members getting applauds and counter offers when they announce their intention to exit an organisation.
3. Supervisor superiority
There is an unfortunate fallacy and myth that all wisdom is reposed in top management. As a result, a top down approach to management becomes so rife. Then we wonder why staff usually suffer from indecision when decisions are required.
In addition, we see so many tactless and self centred insecure managers that have no active ear for team members’ contributions. This leads to worth ideas being lost in employees’ minds with a belief that their input is never of value or considered anyway.
This cannot be further from the truth. So much wisdom and insight can be brought out of team members at lower than manager levels. It therefore offers more benefit to give them a platform than completely disregard them. This is a buy in method that presents more motivational and engagement benefits than one way traffic. It calls for a manager’s perceptive intelligence where even when he/she knows more, it is not necessary to strongly exhibit it to the team and make them see who the boss is.
Instead, the team will appreciate being a part of their manager’s thought process, initiatives and decision making. Managers must never act as though they are in competition with their team members. This only works to accentuate the perception that they know it all and what they say is what stands.
4. Questionable reward mechanisms
We are in a prominent era of performance scorecards and bonuses. This development has immense value in terms of productivity and performance objectivity. Twinned with the reward arm, it also presents a transparent mechanism to incentivise performance.
But it is not as straight forward as it is meant to be. With scorecards and respective payouts, integrity challenges have arisen. What usually starts out with attractive amounts eventually slips into reduced payouts. This is usually on account of cost considerations or tweaks in computations.
The impact of this is that teams that were initially fired up now begin to struggle with demoralisation with a poignant belief that they are getting a raw deal. This is also compounded by pronouncements of overall profitability, leading to silent questions of why there is no commensurate reward if business performance is on song.
This presents a potent force against team motivation and engagement. Simply because the team now battles with a perception of being taken for granted.
5. Empty promises-walking the talk!
There is undoubtedly much credibility that managers lose with their employees. When a team member is wooed to make role switches or accept some changes, sometimes managers promise perks or flowery considerations. Unfortunately, once the change sought happens, these are readily forgotten.
Further, this is a trend that seems to have chronically caught on with staff townhalls as well. Pronouncements are made but follow through is either lagged or non-existent. This leads staff to stop believing what they are told unless it happens.
Light as it may appear, this is a cancer that needs to be avoided by all means at all levels of management. Managers must strive to only commit to what they can deliver and where change in course sets in, clear communication must accompany it rather than silence and unfulfilled expectation.
6. Selfish top management agendas
This seems harsh. But this is the corridor view of what happens or is decided at the top level. A clear pointer here would be that communication perhaps is not effectively handled as it is cascaded.
This tends to build a barrier between top management and the “rest”. The most prominent trend in the recent past has been communication around costs. Most businesses face cost pressures and are keen on managing direct costs downwards.
The rigorous discipline and most initiatives around costs remain necessary. But usually there is little or no attempt to make the team know why certain actions are taken or their impact on the entire organisation. Not that they need to be in on everything but that the organisation values them enough to let them know.
However, in some cases this cost discipline has been taken with a hint of extremism, affecting things like staff training and engagement activities. Every cost is now scrutinised, questioned and mostly thrown out even when it may not have any significant impact on the bottom line.
This is a cardinal one to manage as it has a possible construed effect that the team that generates revenue does not deserve any expense. Caution must be taken so it does not appear the team is a cost to be kept to the barest minimum.
This is further compounded when top management seems to easily spend on what they sanction which staff will also believe to be less important.
7. People make it happen
Every organisation and manager must always remember that people make the money and organisation. Therefore, people must not be treated like tools or statistics.
The value attached to meeting objectives or making profits must be evidently more so on the people side. Logic holds that without people, there will be no revenue or profitability discussion.
Sadly, in most cases and organisations this piece is largely ignored. Staff are made to seem like mere tools or pawns in the game. Therefore whatever is done or decisions made, they ought to take it and not question in any way.
How many times do we see changes in policy, operational guidelines or increased demands on staff without due regard of their input? It may appear more is demanded of teams but less given in return.
It is worth noting that giving back is not always monetary but can take many forms from consultation, appreciation and respectful communication. This may just curtail discontent, mistrust and even burnout.
An organisation must at all times remember that it is the people that make it. Therefore this is the most prized asset and actions must support this assertion.
8. Inconsistent work ethic
We all appreciate reporting times or being at work and actually doing what you are paid for, among other things.
The downside here though is that though expectations are set so clearly, role models may be rare. The top management that ought to set the pace “says but does not do”. Organisations ought to have more managers or leaders that do what they ask of their team members.
If timekeeping is an issue, a manager must be in the forefront showing discipline here. If it is quality of work or respecting deadlines on tasks, the manager must also be seen to deliver on these aspects.
The rule of thumb will always be that one must never ask for what they cannot give.
9. Perception of growth and mistakes
The satisfaction that emanates from growing in one’s career cannot be ignored. We all seek to progress in terms of knowledge, personal development and career.
What may be a fact too is that growth will have mistakes, experiments and wrong turns tagging along. This ought to be taken as being a part of the learning curve and growth process.
However, I have been in organisations where a mistake is censured so strongly. I agree costly ones must be appropriately sanctioned. But some mistakes are a result of someone lacking exposure to the art of decision making. When they show an ability to decide but get it wrong, I would hold that this is more of a coaching opportunity than censure.
We must take a creative view towards mistakes with our sight set on using them to grow people. That way, we will not have a team that remains rooted in indecision or low self esteem, believing it is the preserve of top management. Instead, people will learn to freely apply themselves and learn along the way.
10. Clueless and planless leadership
Finally one of the biggest contributors to demotivation is having a leader or leadership team that simply sails on with no direction. This may be so especially for middle management or in some cases entry level top management with teams they lead.
How many simply report for work and depend on what the day presents or tasks handed to them? They believe their job from that point becomes knowing what to assign to someone else, often called delegation!
But how many plan and have aspirations for their role apart from meeting targets or objectives set? Do we spare a thought about the level we want to take our team or organisation to? Or how to enrich roles in the team? Or enhance processes that support our delivery?
These seemingly simple things have the potential to feed into a rich overall vision that an entire team can aspire for collectively. What this does is create a sense of purpose and a drive to achieve which is a critical ingredient for engagement.
But when a manager or leader simply sees an 8am-5pm window, inspiration also becomes elusive as there is nothing more to work than reporting.
A team must dream together, strive together and have an over arching goal to make a difference in an agreed area. This forms the vision and when all are aspiring for something bigger than a set of objectives on paper, success through team engagement is never far off!
The above are the ten factors I have observed and continue seeing with a significant impact on team motivation. However, as stated earlier, they are not exhaustive and several more can be added to the list. Take a step back, assess your role and determine what you need to eliminate or consolidate to make you a top notch manager.
Have fun while you are at it. Highly likely the team will be in tow on your way to success.