Knowledge of what makes employees shine is worth its weight in gold


December 17, 1990|By Ellen L. James

With layoffs and belt-tightening becoming a way of life at many companies, managers are under pressure to get more work out of fewer employees at the same time the bonus pool is drying up.

The challenge is to motivate without money -- to tap into workers' innate desire to do a good job. But many managers fail in these attempts largely because they believe what motivates one should motivate all.

"There's no one answer to motivation," says Fred Dickens, a Baltimore-area consultant who operates his own firm. "If you have 10 people, you have 10 different motivations. And perhaps the most misunderstood motivational technique is money. Money is a short-term motivator only."

In addition to money, says Jody Johns, a senior consultant at the Maryland Consulting Group in Timonium, some employees are driven by excitement and newness, some employees by the chance to be part of a team, some by analytical problem-solving, some by recognition from the boss or peers, and others by the simple completion of tasks.

A good way to channel the energy that comes with motivation is to "coach like crazy," says Richard Yocum, a management consultant affiliated with Chesapeake Consulting Group in Lutherville.

Suppose that the regional manager for a tire-retailing company wants to encourage the manager of his Annapolis outlet to build sales through cold-calling to small businesses around town. By spending an afternoon working side-by-side with the subordinate doing cold calls, he could help the local manager gain momentum for his own efforts.

"The motivational principle here is to model the gutsy ability to get the work done. It's also to demonstrate the boss' strong interest in the employee," Mr. Yocum says.

Stephen R. Covey, chairman of a Utah-based leadership training center and author of the best-selling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," says that "the No. 1 mistake managers make is to project their own motivation on others. They assume what motivates them motivates the other. It's kind of like raising child No. 2 like child No. 1," he says.

The art of motivating is to listen to the subordinate, discover his internal motivations and then try to maximize the energy behind that motivation, Mr. Covey says.

Many employees may not be entirely clear themselves about what would drive them to work harder, so the manager's process can be to talk it through with them, he says.

"If you continue to listen, you start to see a pattern in the person's motivations. You find out what really excites him," says Mr. Covey. He contends that a boss who wants to take full advantage of an employee's motivation should create with the employee a "win-win" agreement that allows both to meet their goals. Such synergy is the essence of leadership, he says.

The process of fashioning a win-win agreement with an employee takes time and perseverance, but can be well worth it, says Mr. Covey. "Even if it takes two or three hours a week of discussion, it can be your most profitable, valuable time you spend if it gets the person operating on all eight cylinders."

Disappointing as it may be to managers facing time constraints, there are no easy manipulative techniques or cookie-cutter methods to turn the motivational process into a simple process, Mr. Covey says.

"You build your emotional bank account with people by being unconditionally trustworthy to them," he says. "It takes the building of a relationship based on genuine caring and integrity. Then there tends to be a kind of unraveling of their internal confusions and their self-ignorance, and they feel the freedom to express themselves and what it is that motivates them," he says.

An important element in motivating people is to make job goals clear, Mr. Dickens says. For instance, a manager in a shoe store should make clear to his sales clerks that the goal is not only to meet a particular sales quota but also to be very friendly to customers in the process. Even a motivated employee may be confused if expectations aren't spelled out, he says.

"You have to be very clear with people upfront about what constitutes excellent performance so they have a fair chance of performing excellently," says Ms. Johns, the Timonium consultant.

A manager doesn't always need large blocks of time to keep his people motivated. Some small steps can add up to a big difference, according to Dr. Jeffrey Moss, a therapist in private practice who teaches courses at Sheppard-Pratt Hospital. He offers these pointers:

* "Use positive rather than negative feedback because blaming is a de-motivator." Although many managers feel an obligation to point out the shortcomings of subordinates, research reinforces the maxim that "One catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than 20 casks of vinegar." If the employee's overall work is good and yet criticism must be delivered, do so by putting the bad well within the context of the good.

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