Empowering people through motivation
Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way – Les Brown
What makes you get up in the morning with a passion and energy to start your day? What is it that drives anyone to give their peak performance at work or go beyond the call of duty? As we’ve just crossed the fifth anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai, I am reminded of the gallant response of the employees of the Taj Mahal Hotel. What made the Taj employees demonstrate exemplary strength of character by jeopardizing their lives to save the hotel guests? There is no definitive answer to this question and there are various factors that come into play. What is important in the business context is to understand what that force is, what drives people and how an organization can tap into the depths of people’s potential, how can leaders encourage, persuade and motivate staff to help them always give their best and excel at whatever they are doing. In the words of Mark Twain “Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Motivation answers the basic question of why people do what they do and why they behave in a certain way. To influence the why and how of people, it is important to first create an ecosystem where a leader understands “what makes people tick”. If you study any organization with high morale and productivity, you will find that it has an open culture that promotes dialogue between the management and staff. Both formal and informal processes are important. While town halls and staff meetings are vital, successful leaders are those that also find informal methods of checking in on people. The objective is to create an environment of trust – where people feel that they can candidly speak up. A leader has to be an enabler, taking constant feedback from staff and acting upon it to remove obstacles from their way so that they can concentrate on their work. In the words of Brooker T. Washington “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and to let him know that you trust him”.
Accountability is another cultural aspect that helps create the ecosystem of trust. Leaders must establish clear boundaries and hold people responsible for their behaviors with the intention of creating a value-based climate of respect and civility. Behavior that goes against the organization’s culture and values must not be left unchecked. There is no greater demotivator for the staff than to see high performers get away with unethical or toxic behavior. Take Tehelka for example. If Tarun Tejpal is guilty, no amount of professional brilliance can redeem him. If his organization fails to deal with this situation in a professional and ethical manner, it is doomed to die.
When it comes to motivating people, there is no substitute to leading by example. It is often said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave their managers and in the same vein it is also true that great leaders drive their people to great results. Emerson once wrote, 'Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying.' If you are not willing to set the example first, it will not matter what you want others to do. There is a simple experiment that every leader can try: When you walk into the office in the morning, your body language and behavior sets the tone for the day for your staff; so try walking in with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. No matter how tough your day ahead is, don’t crib and groan about it – face it with a positive, can do attitude and see the effect this has on the people around you. Leaders have to realize that people will consciously or unconsciously emulate them and that their behaviors and moods send out vibes in the organization that will affect the morale of their staff. If you want energetic, enthusiastic people who will simply be the best at what they are doing, you have to become that person yourself first.
Motivation means different things to different people. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for motivating people. Motivation is as personal as every individual and often is based on the value system of the individual. Different people will respond to different drives and that is why organizations have to create a smorgasbord of ideas that can keep the fire in the belly alive for people. There is nothing new in these and yet leaders and organizations sometimes forget to follow, or worse that they exist as a tick-in-the-box exercise, and the real meaning is lost in systems and processes. A word of caution against creating motivation tools and following them blindly – people are smart and can see through insincere efforts. If you really want to motivate people, be genuine, be sincere and put your heart in it. Put positive and affirmative action to back up your words. Telling someone that you value them will mean nothing if it does not reflect in your actions and in their career paths.
It is an understatement to say that everyone craves recognition for a job well done. Recognition and applause doesn’t cost money. Be generous with it and use innovative means of publicly acknowledging good performance. Personal coaching and mentoring has the greatest benefit of demonstrating to staff that you care and are committed to their development. All it requires from you is your time – so that people can learn from your treasure chest of experience. In the words of Kahlil Gibran “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
A simple but often forgotten tool is listening – just listen to people. Intelligent listening is an integral part of a leader’s job whether it’s about their career paths or any other problems, dilemmas that they want to talk about. Of course, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll soon be able to identify the chronic moaners and deal with them separately. Hopefully if your hiring process has been robust enough, these will be few and far between. You will derive value from listening to people who have genuine concerns and they in turn will appreciate.
People need positive control over their jobs so promote autonomy as much as possible. Delegate decision making and make people feel empowered and responsible. If you feel that your people are not prepared for that, then work with them on their professional development. One needs to make people believe in themselves and build on their self- esteem. Take time out to discuss career paths with employees. Growth stimulates people and is a great motivator so take time out to define what growth will mean for people. You have to demonstrate the interest in the career growth of the individual even if it means advising the person to look outside the organization. Provide enough training opportunities whether in-house or outside. The value of training is often underestimated. Sustained training is an important value addition to people and will help continuously enhance their performance.
To truly motivate people, leaders have to make a constant effort to understand them and provide them with the means of addressing their own drives. The tools of motivation have to evolve with the times and respond to the rapidly changing environment. The trick is to be able to reach and appeal to the core of your people’s heart; that is when people will respond with passion. People lie at the heart of the organization and leaders have to make continuous and conscious efforts to ensure that employees are committed and driven to deliver results that serve the dual purpose of fulfilling themselves along with achieving organizational goals. Leadership and motivation go together – you cannot separate one from the other.
“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can't be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people." – Lee Iacocca
It is often said that people donÕt leave jobs, they leave their managers and in the same vein it is also true that great leaders drive their people to great results
Motivation means different things to different people. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for motivating people. Motivation is as personal as every individual and often is based on the value system of the individual