HT PowerJobs | Motivating employees

To get the most out of your workforce, you need to build engagement, says Lauren Keller Johnson.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2006 20:38 IST

A salesperson, instead of quitting at five o'clock, makes one more call to secure a deal that helps the company achieve its revenue goals for the quarter. An equipment operator stays past the end of his shift to ensure that oncoming workers get off to a quick start.

A purchasing manager forgoes plans to have lunch with a friend so that she can help a new hire complete an important project on time.

What do these organisational heroes have in common? They have managers who have a talent for engaging employees and motivating them to go above and beyond the call of duty, argue Aubrey Daniels and James Daniels, authors of Measure of a Leader: An Actionable Formula for Legendary Leadership (Performance Management Publications, 2005).

As a manager, you know that telling an employee what to do goes only so far. To get the most out of your workforce, you need to build engagement. Engagement, the authors say, is not simply a question of working longer or harder; rather, an engaged employee is one who demonstrates commitment, initiative, and a holistic understanding of the company's needs.

Consider the distinction between a worker who stays late to catch up on paperwork and one who stays late to help a panicked colleague package a promised shipment for a key customer just as the UPS van pulls up to the loading dock. Here are seven steps for generating engagement and initiative in your employees:

Identify required new behaviours

What are your company's most pressing challenges? And what actions must your employees take to help surmount those challenges? By answering these questions, you clarify the critical behaviours that you want to reinforce — thus ensuring that employees focus their discretionary efforts on high-priority goals.

Communicate required behaviours

Once you've identified the new behaviours needed to address your company's key challenges, communicate them in crystal-clear language to your direct reports. For example, at one Canadian ferry company that Aubrey consulted to, a new CEO took the helm just as the organisation's performance sunk to new lows.

The Chief Executive laid out his agenda for recov ery in no uncertain terms, saying, "These are the changes we need to make to run this company successfully. If you disagree, I'll help you find other employment — because you won't be happy here."

Identify others' preferred reinforcers

Though some positive reinforcers — such as a note of thanks for a job well done or a heartfelt, one-on-one expression of gratitude — have broad appeal, every person has preferred ways of receiving thanks.

Say you learn that one of your direct reports spends his spare time repairing and refinishing old cars, indicating a love of technical problems requiring acute attention to detail. Potential reinforcers for this individual, say the authors, might include invitations to contribute his ideas for solving a technical problem.

Leverage peer pressure

Many people find invitations to share success stories positively reinforcing. Aubrey points to one manager at a manufacturing plant who used this technique to good effect.

"At every Monday morning staff meeting, this manager asked employees to tell him of someone they knew in their department who had gone the extra mile the previous week on a key organisational priority. People started looking around more energetically for such success stories to share because they wanted to be able to answer the question at the next week's staff meeting."

Follow up on your directions

When people know that you'll follow up on the goals you've communicated, they'll be more likely to deliver the behaviours you want. James cites the example of a plant manager at a nuclear power plant: "Every morning, the man ager briefed his line managers on the important issues that needed to be addressed by their employees that day, such as an emphasis on safety policies. After lunch, the plant manager walked around the facility and asked employees what they'd been told about key priorities that day." The line managers, aware that their boss would be testing their ability to communicate priorities to direct reports, were motivated to deliver those crucial communications promptly after the morning meetings.

Use intermittent rewards

Behavioural studies have shown that intermittent rewards have a more reinforcing effect than constant rewards. The authors recommend using very frequent (near constant) positive reinforcement when employees first begin delivering desired behaviours, to get them up to speed.

As soon as people are steadily giving you their best performance, switch to intermittent reinforcement, or less frequent rewards.

Help employees relive successes

Although positive reinforcement is often most effective when delivered as soon as possible after an employee demonstrates a desired behaviour, you can't always provide that reinforcement immediately. In such cases, the authors recommend building a mental bridge that lets the direct report go back in time and relive the success. To construct that bridge, ask the person, "How did you solve that problem/win that customer back/score that great sale?"

As the person explains what led to the success, he experiences the accomplishment anew. If he's like most people, he will find this experience powerfully reinforcing.

Courtesy: New York Times Syndicate

First Published: Aug 15, 2006 16:27 IST