How to motivate your employees and increase performance

by Graham Field

One of the greatest challenges that leaders face in the workplace is how to motivate their employees. How best do we inspire and support them to increase their performance?

There are many theories around employee motivation, but in the this blog we’ll be giving practical suggestions that all leaders can put in place immediately.

To start with, we’d recommend that leaders assess how much they understand their team members’ motivations. This can be done simply by drawing up a table like this:

Team Member: What Motivates Them? What Demotivates Them?
A:

B:
C:
D:

The challenge is for leaders to see how many individuals in their team they could honestly complete this table for. Our guess is that many would find it a struggle! High quality leaders know these basics and use this knowledge to actively motivate their people, avoiding doing the things that they know cause demotivation.

Let’s now turn our attention to three sources of thought which we think are important in employee motivation, engagement and performance.

  1. Gallup Q12

It makes sense for us to use this commonly-cited source as our starting point. Created by pollsters Gallup, it measures employee engagement and its impact on business outcomes by asking employees to complete a survey. The survey questions cover 12 areas of consideration, which we cannot directly quote because they are under copyright.

However, the questions look at areas such as expectations at work; rewards and recognition; opportunities and progression; relationships between colleagues; materials and resources; leadership and support; communication; belonging, purpose and mission; and quality of work.

Asking questions around these areas are really important and give us a great insight in to some of the motivating factors of all employees (ourselves included). But leaders then need to do something with the information they get from asking such questions.

In fact, they need to then answer some questions themselves! Examples of what they could think about are:

  • What could I do to ensure that all my people clearly understand what is expected of them?
  • How could I make praise & recognition a daily habit for my team?
  • What could I do to ensure everyone is constantly involved with driving the business forward?
  • What opportunities might I create for growth for my people?

And then, of course, they need to be proactive in committing to actions based on their answers to increase employee engagement and guarantee performance.

  1. Ohio University Research

In 2000, Ohio State University carried out research into Human Motivational Factors (the things that drive our behaviour). Their research highlighted 16 different basic desires that affect behaviour. We think five of these have the biggest impact in the workplace, so let’s look at each in turn:

  • Curiosity

This is described in the research as “our desire to learn”. For us, this is an important factor in employee motivation. Leaders need to think about their people and the opportunities for learning that are available to them. From our work with organisations, we recognise that many people are given (or forced in to) ‘opportunities’ through training programmes. But, how focused is this development in terms of both what they really need to be a high performer and what they really want for their own development?

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you ensure that the desire to learn is (appropriately) fulfilled in your people?

  • Independence

This is highlighted as “our desire to make our own decisions” and, in our experience, it’s something that many employees may feel divorced from. Leaders need to consider what opportunities exist for their team members to make decisions. It’s not necessarily always about what they do (these will, after all, reflect your team or company goals), but certainly about how they can achieve them. Many managers will highlight what they need people to achieve, which does give focus. But they will also insist on the way in which things must be achieved, and this can stifle creativity, limit continuous improvement and ultimately demotivate. High quality leaders understand that the ‘What’ may need to be told, but the ‘How’ should be within the gift of the employee to decide.

As a leader, ask yourself: What freedom could you give your people to enable them to decide how to achieve your team goals?

  • Honour (morality)

This is described as “our desire to behave in accordance with our code of conduct”. More simply put, it’s about ensuring that our values are met in whatever we do. Many people are demotivated by what they see as a lack of congruence between their personal values and how the company they work in is operating. One a leader’s roles is to understand the values of their people and help them to align these values with where their organisation is headed. As a leader, ask yourself: What could you do to ensure there is ‘values alignment’ for your people?

  • Power

Quite simply, this is “our desire to influence people”. It’s one of the more curious Human Motivational Factors, but it’s something that can be seen every day in the workplace as people strive to gain the buy-in of others for mutual success.

As a leader, ask yourself: How can you use influencing techniques with your team? (this is a whole different blog altogether!)

  • Order

Something that many of us desire is order – in other words, we crave the certainty and organisation that daily routine and habits give us. We all have things that we do in a certain order, and most of us strive to be much more organised and structured. The number of people we’ve helped with their time and personal management demonstrates how important order is to us. We’re big fans of giving supporting structures and certainties to people, as long as they work, bring about success and allow for individual involvement.

As a leader, ask yourself: What structures or order might your people need, and how could you ensure these are put in place to support your team?

  1. Ron Clark, former ‘Outstanding Teacher of the Year’ at Disney’s American Teacher Awards

We believe strongly that inspiration can come from many areas, and the story of Ron Clark shows us that, no matter what your walk of life, when you’re looking to develop the motivation to perform, there are some simple things you can do.

Ron was a teacher in in a tough New York school when he won his award in 2000. He went on to become a New York Times bestselling author and a motivational speaker on the subject of inspiring educators.

We’ve picked out three of the areas he highlights when talking about motivation in the classroom, which we think continue to be very relevant in the workplace.

  • Raising expectations

Setting stretching, yet achievable, targets works! People will generally perform to the level that’s expected of them. If we expect little of people, they will match our expectations. The flipside that we, as leaders, can embrace is expecting great things from our employees – and giving them the skills, tools and resources to enable them to meet our raised expectations.

As a leader, ask yourself: What expectations could you set that might challenge and stimulate your team?

  • Celebration and praise

It seems really easy – and really commonplace – for the negative stuff such as lack of achievements to be brought to the fore. But building in celebration and praise are essential tools in developing employee performance and maintaining motivation.

As a leader, ask yourself: What might you find today that you could praise and celebrate?

  • Have a genuine interest

We recognise that there is value in having an interest in your people – and, as Ron suggests, this should be a genuine interest. At the simplest level, this is being interested in the response to questions; really wanting to know the answer to “How are you today?”.

As a leader, ask yourself: How could you develop a genuine interest in your team, and how could you show that you really are interested in your people?

As leaders, there is no magic wand we can wave to increase employee engagement and performance. However, one thing we can do is to invest quality time in understanding what makes our people tick. This forms the very basis of any aspect of managing people, and is the building blocks of high performing teams.

We recommend taking time to invest in your people and find out what really motivates them. After all, they really are the best asset your organisation has.

Why do change leaders focus on the plan rather than the people?

It is not uncommon to find elaborate, well-thought-through change plans missing just one ‘small’ component: the people.

Why does this happen? Why do some change leaders get so lost in the detail of their planning that they forget to bring the people involved along with them on the journey?

Paul and Richard discuss why it can feel easier just to focus on the plan and what happens when people get left out of it.

Effecting change involves two things: there’s the practical side of it and then there’s the ‘transition’ of taking people through it. Focusing on both elements leads to successful change. Having an awesome plan without the engagement and support of your people will mean it won’t be as effective as it could be.

A change plan can take up a lot of time and effort but, in a way, it’s the easy bit. Most change leaders have technical or project management skills, and know how to create a strong plan. It’s an area they feel comfortable with. But when it comes to taking people through the transition, the process is more unpredictable.

So, if you’re leading change and have a great plan but haven’t really looked at the people side, where do you start?

We’d suggest taking a step back and assessing where people are on the change journey. Ask two questions: 1, What is their attitude to this specific change? 2, How much energy are they putting into this?

Answering these questions about each individual will help you place them in one of four categories:

  • Spectators
  • Champions
  • ‘Corporate Corpses’
  • Saboteurs

The likelihood is that at least half of the people will be Spectators. They are in the neutral zone, supportive of the change but with low energy. However, the great thing is that they can become engaged with the process if they are given information and choices.

The Champions are the people who are supportive of the change and are putting a lot of energy in to it. They can help the leaders by taking some of the burden and acting as positive role models for the Spectators.

The ‘Corporate Corpses’ are the zombie brigade – people who have very low energy and a very bad attitude, although they’re not being disruptive or causing any trouble.

The Saboteurs are usually the very noisy vocal minority who have a bad attitude and lots of energy. They are the people who are trying to hold back change and undermine leaders. They tend to attract attention and effort which should instead be focused on trying to engage the Spectators.

What Would You Do? The launch of our management training resource

Last week’s official launch of What Would You Do? (WWYD) – our innovative new learning and development tool – was a resounding success, with half of the guests instantly arranging company demonstrations or further meetings.

Taking place in London on May 17th, the launch event welcomed around 50 representatives from major organisations in a variety of sectors, including finance, retail, transport, health, food, law, housing, packaging and public services. It was also great to see representatives of multinational companies, as our vision is to roll the game out not just in the UK but also abroad.

WWYD management training toolThe beauty of the launch event – and a big part of the reason for its success – was that WWYD is best appreciated when it’s played. It takes the form of a board game where participants aim to move up the board by getting points for correctly choosing the most appropriate answer to a variety of work-based dilemmas.

But, as those at last week’s event quickly realised, the game itself is really a subterfuge: it creates a safe environment in which people can reflect on and discuss common issues, sharing experiences and learning from each other, as well as committing to new behaviour. When played between peers, it helps a team to discuss options and best practice, and highlights individuals’ gaps in skills and knowledge, or their management potential. When played cross-functionally, it can highlight incongruities or inconsistencies between different departments and managers across a company.

Playing the game

What Would You Do? gives maximum impact for minimum cost. As outcome-focused behavioural change experts, the team at Thinking Focus created WWYD to enable organisations not only to train their managers effectively but also to drive long-term culture change. Psychological concepts are woven into the game and, when played enough, the scenarios, debate and decisions can turn into learned behaviours which are then applied in the workplace.

The game includes 200 cards, each of which pose a different scenario covering one of eight management topics, to give variety, breadth and depth. The scenarios are split into two types: those which are set against the timer and require quick and test emotional decision-making, and those which are open to debate and result in more logical and rational decisions. The questions are designed to be as ‘grey’ as possible in order to generate the most discussion. Although there are no right or wrong answers, points are awarded for preferred answers.

Teams of up to eight people play the game, overseen by a facilitator. The facilitator role is key to the game, expanding the discussion, offering alternative suggestions, and even pointing out that the best option may not be one of the answers, or it may be a combination of them. Different companies with different cultures will also vary in their choice of the best response. For the launch event, Rob, Rich, Ricky and Graham acted as the facilitators with different teams.

WWYD management training tool

It was fascinating to see how the role and background of each of our launch attendees influenced their answers to the scenarios posed in the WWYD questions. The majority of participants at the launch work in L&D or HR roles, but some are managers within other departments. It led to some interesting and insightful debate – which is exactly one of the main objectives of the game!

It was also great to see people not just talking about what they would do in hypothetical situations, but actually what they have done in similar, real work-based scenarios. There was much nodding of heads and even ironic laughter when some of the dilemmas were read out – showing us that people not only related to the hypothetical situations, but had actually in some cases dealt with something very similar. And, interestingly, some said they would choose one answer, but when the situation arose in real life, they had actually done something different.

The response

The feedback from our guests was brilliant! Here are just a few of their comments:

“I like the simple approach that gives the opportunity for quite deep thinking and discussion.”

“It’s a good tool and catalyst to start conversations.”

“I like the flexibility of it, you can use it at all different levels, flex it to your own business. It’s as useful on the shop floor as it is in the boardroom.”

“It creates genuine conversations, not pseudo conversations.”

“I can’t compare it to anything else really. It’s very interactive.”

“It’s the discussion and the result that’s important.”

“An organisation needs to know the way their managers work things out, and ask: Do we want to keep doing it this way or does this show us that we need to change?”

Inspiration

WWYD management training tool

The launch also heard from Sonia Belfield, Adient’s HR director for Northern Europe. She described how she inspired us to create WWYD and how it has been trialled across her organisation to great success.

She said: “Team leaders are the most fundamental people in our business because they manage the vast majority of people that we employ. For me, WWYD is about helping people to be able to have conversations that make them better managers.”

The facilitator is key

The role of the facilitator is critical to the game, enabling rich discussion between the players. In the wrong hands, people could just end up playing the game and not learning from it. That’s why we give guidance on selecting the right people in an organisation to act as facilitators, as well as offering facilitator training as part of the WWYD package.

Facilitator training takes approximately five hours, and offers guidance on how to make the most of setting the game up correctly and the dynamics of managing the gameplay in the best way possible.

There are some real subtleties about the scenarios, so facilitators need to be able to listen to the answers that are coming back and give reinforcement of any good answers. The training aims to give the facilitator the confidence to be able to deal with different conversations, as well as how to manage the players (for example, how do you deal with the person who doesn’t get involved, or the one who always waits until the others have answered?)

The game also includes a facilitator’s handbook, which includes a debrief of each scenario and offers suggestions for discussion.

WWYD management training tool

Interesting questions

Our launch guests had a variety of questions about the thinking behind the game, and its application within the workplace.

But they also asked about various areas of development, some of which we are already working on, and others which gave us new ideas.

How do you keep the game up-to-date and relevant?

All the scenarios we have created are as valid today as they were 10 or 20 years ago, and they will continue to be so for years to come. But we are looking at adding scenarios based on other issues, such as diversity and inclusion.

We’re also keen to investigate the development of a digital version of the game and – directly prompted by a question at the launch event – will be looking at training facilitators online.

We also intend to create a facilitator community, where facilitators of WWYD can share experiences, issues and ideas with other facilitators from other organisations.

Does it fit in hand luggage on the plane?

This was quite possibly the most unexpected question of the day – although it’s very relevant to organisations with international offices!

The answer is that the fully-boxed version will only fit in the hold – and it’s robust enough to do so – but that flexibility over how the game is played means that the key pieces can easily be packed in to hand luggage.

And finally…

Well, what a great start! We’re now busy following up on all those requests for more information and demos, including some from organisations who weren’t able to attend the launch but are nonetheless intrigued by the benefits that WWYD could bring.

Why not contact us to see what all the fuss is about? Or read more about WWYD: how the game was created, the thinking behind it, and how it works in practice.

Why do some people take organisational change personally?

Dealing with any kind of change can bring out an emotional response in people – and when we get emotional, things get personal.

In this podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why some people take organisational change personally, and how thinking of ‘ice’ – Information, Choice and Engagement – will help managers thaw any frosty relationships with their people.

An emotional response to change is natural. It usually starts with shock and uncertainty before moving on to denial and feeling threatened. We only see the bad things and what’s being taken away from us.

These feelings can grow into resistance if left unaddressed and if we don’t feel that we have a choice in the process of change. If people feel they have no idea what’s going on, that uncertainty can very easily turn to an introspective feeling of unfairness, helplessness, despondency and loss of control. This often leads to people being negative, resisting change and sabotaging the process.

As a manager, it’s vital to lead your people successfully through change. Thinking of ‘ICE’ could help: Information, Choice and Engagement. Giving people information in answer to their questions about change will help to ease their uncertainty. But, because people who are feeling emotional won’t immediately process the information they’re given, it needs to be provided consistently and repetitively. Also think about who provides the information, whether that’s you as a manager or someone else.

Move as much choice back to your people, to give them control over details that affect them. For a start, give them a choice about whether they even want to be involved and, if so, to what degree.

Engage people as they go on the journey of change. There are thousands of things, from small details to larger activities, that need to happen for organisational change to take place, so engage people in what’s relevant and meaningful to them.

Why do some people think that managers are keeping secrets?

When senior managers drive change, they can get stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they may not be able to share certain, sensitive information. But if they don’t give their workforce enough details about what’s happening, people will become dissatisfied, suspicious and unproductive.

In this podcast, Rob and Ricky discuss how and why this happens, and the impact that a growing perception that senior managers are keeping secrets can have on an organisation.

In the absence of any clarity or information about change in the workplace, people start to fill in the blanks. Sometimes, it’s with information that may be true – but more often than not, it’s massively assumptive and untrue.

There are many reasons why senior managers do not share information with their people. Some information is confidential or sensitive, or may be withheld because of the perceived reaction it would cause. Sometimes, managers are trying to protect their people.

During times of change, there will be people who embrace it and are proactive about asking questions. They’re a breeze to manage. But there will be others who start to fill in the blanks and – worse still – go recruiting others who are easily influenced by their opinions. Why do they do it? Because they are looking for meaning and certainty when they have a lack of information. They want that classic ‘comfort blanket’. This links to our previous podcast about why people look for evidence that supports their point of view.

Everyone is making assumptions: Employees are filling in gaps with information they don’t know to be true, and managers are deciding what information they think is relevant to their people.

So how does this impact the workforce? Effects can range from falling engagement levels and rising dissatisfaction to people asking difficult questions and spreading false information. Some employees will cause a fuss while others may withdraw into themselves. All of this can lead to a drop in productivity and efficiency.

What can senior managers do about it? It’s crucial to keep people informed and engaged, to tell them what’s going on and why. And involve people in the journey, especially the most cynical or critical ones!

Welcoming a new change and development expert to our team

We’re delighted to welcome Graham Field to our team following recent strong growth at Thinking Focus.

Graham is an experienced consultant, facilitator and coach with more than 20 years’ experience in delivering a range of development and change programmes for organisations across the UK.

An advocate of encouraging people to develop simple, effective action plans, Graham turns learning into results, and will be a great asset to us as we continue our work with clients. He’ll also support the roll-out of our new gamified learning tool for management development, What Would You Do?

Graham’s career in the industry began in a retail bank, before working with organisations in a variety of sectors, including contact centres, the NHS and local government, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, health and leisure, hospitality, property services and charities. He has supported and developed all levels of staff, from front line, through team leaders, managers and project managers, to senior leaders and board members.

Highly skilled in one-to-one coaching, structured development programmes and team facilitation, Graham has developed programmes world-wide and is passionate about achieving measurable outcomes. He’s an expert in removing self-imposed limitations and organisational interference to unlock individual and organisational potential.

He says: “I’m delighted to be joining Thinking Focus at this exciting time in their development. Like them, I believe that development should be simple and easy to understand, and motivate participants to apply their learning on to their role. It can make a massive difference to the individual and, by default, to the organisation they work for.”

Thinking Focus director Ricky Muddimer says: “Graham’s approach to delivering people productivity solutions fits perfectly with ours, and his depth of experience within the industry means he’ll play a key role in driving Thinking Focus forward, continuing to build our reputation as one of the leading organisational change experts in the UK.”