As a leader or manager one of the most common questions we get asked is how do I focus on keeping staff motivated as part of my job?
The answer is both complex and simple all at once. The nature of how people are motivated is unique, individual and highly personal, meaning that there are many different considerations to take into account for each person and a multitude of answers to the same question for a team of people.
Yet there are commonalities and general principles that are shared between many of us as humans in respect of ways that we prefer to be treated and feel in reference to our work, our colleagues and our managers. Being treated with respect, professionalism, empathy, understanding and being valued are examples of a baseline approach that we should all be able to expect.
So what if we dig a little deeper into how as leaders and managers we should start to think about levels of motivation and energy within our people?
The easiest place to start is to think about yourself, after all it’s the one mind that we have instant access to without having to go and have a physical conversation with someone else.
So lets start by asking ourselves what matters most to us within our job and our work environment, but lets frame this against a background context of what we bring to the party at work. As John Stacey Adams observed; we all unconsciously make a list of what we bring to that party and we store that list in our minds as our “inputs” in his Equity Theory, a model examining job motivation and a person’s relationship with their employer, colleagues and their work.
What do you do and bring that is worthwhile and earns your right to be a part of that team and business?
Typically people will think about things such as; effort, loyalty, hard work, commitment, skill, ability, adaptability, flexibility, tolerance, determination, heart and soul, enthusiasm, trust in our boss and superiors, support of colleagues and subordinates, personal sacrifice, as well as things like job specific skills, relevant experience, education, prior training and development as well as knowledge.
So when we are giving all of those things, what do we hope to get back – or rather as Adams describes it; what outcomes do we expect in return from our employer and our manager?
Our outputs are typically any financial rewards – pay, salary, expenses, perks, benefits, pension arrangements, bonus and commission – plus other intangibles – recognition, reputation, praise and thanks, interest, responsibility, stimulus, travel, training, development, sense of achievement and advancement, promotion, etc.
So if we are to understand first ourselves and then others, we must look into what outcomes we truly value? What would be our priority order on what makes us content, happy, fulfilled and motivated within our work?
It is important to note that we arrive at our measure of fairness – Equity – by comparing our balance of effort and reward, and other factors of give and take – the ratio of input and output – with the balance or ratio enjoyed by other people, whom we deem to be relevant reference points or examples in our immediate place of work or who do similar work within the same marketplace or industry..
Critically this therefore means that Equity does not depend on our input-to-output ratio in isolation – but that it depends on our comparison between our ratio and the ratio of others that we refer to.
The reality of keeping staff motivated
In reality, and in most places of work, this helps to explain why people are so strongly affected by the situations (and views and gossip) of colleagues, friends, partners etc., in establishing their own personal sense of fairness or equity in their own work and life situations.
If we are to know this about our own mind, then the next obvious question to you as a leader and manager is a reasonably straight forward one. Do you know what the outcomes list looks like for each of your colleagues and team members as well as your own boss?
If you don’t – and let’s face it, many managers don’t, why is this the case?
If it’s something that you have never sought to fully understand this aspect about others, then what is the simplest way to uncover the information?
Now, this is where the topic of motivating other becomes simpler; ask them, genuinely and truly ask them. Be inquisitive, with authenticity – actually ask because you care.
Will they answer honestly? Well, that depends on the strength of your relationship with them?
The level of trust that exists between you and your team. The trust that has been built up by two-way conversations over the months and perhaps years – sharing info about yourself and exposing your thoughts and feelings about how things impact and affect you. Trust will only exist if you share as well as asking others to share with you?
Once you can understand each other you will be better placed to make sure that each team member has their inputs and outcomes reasonably balanced – allowing them to feel satisfied – or put more simply, to feel that there is equity in the give and take aspects of work and reward.
If this falls out of balance and they perceive that they are giving more than you feel you are getting then they won’t feel as happy, valued or motivated in the workplace. More damaging is that potentially if this remains unaddressed then this will affect work quality, commitment, attitude, standards and ultimately the likelihood of people staying in their role or with the organisation.
This means that leaders and managers need to be good observer’s, taking temperature checks amongst their teams, remaining vigilant and tuned in to how people are being impacted by this invisible equation.
If we can help people feel like their needs are being catered for (within reason and what is fair within the context of their performance) then they are more likely to give more. Which is the battle many leaders strive for – committed hard-working individuals focussed on collectively helping to achieve difficult and challenging objectives.
So how will you now seek to better understand the motivation landscape for yourself and your teams?
Let us know what you will do differently when you’re thinking about keeping staff motivated as a consequence of putting this often poorly understood aspect of leading and managing under the microscope for a few minutes?
There is a lot more to Equity theory than discussed in this blog so we encourage you to do some further research and reading.
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