Motivating Performance

Motivating Performance

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January 9, 2016

There are a lot of classic business theories about improving performance but the essence, the distillation, is that when people want to do something, they not only are more likely to do it, but also do it well. As a business owner, entrepreneur, and leader, part of your role is to make your people want to do their jobs. This is motivating performance of others within your business.

These days it’s called incentivizing (which can have unfortunately narrow connotations of bonuses and reward & recognition packages) but it used to be called motivation – which is the art of understanding what drives your people and then building that into what they do. You can do this in a number of ways and through a number of avenues.

Meaningful work.
You believe in your business but that is not enough. To really see top class performance, your people need to believe in it too. Whether it’s a charitable venture or totally profit-driven, commitment drives performance. Value every task that is done. There’s a famous story about JFK visiting NASA pre-1969. When he stopped to talk to the janitor and asked him what he did around here, the janitor did not say, I mop floors, he said, I’m helping put a man on the moon. Now that’s the sort of commitment and belief that you need. The actual task is secondary, what’s important is that everybody understands the role they play in the bigger picture.

Much is made of ‘creative’ businesses such as Google with offices full of dogs, scooters and Lego, but you don’t have to go so far (unless you want to). The right environment comes down to two issues: where do people work, and how does that workplace encourage good performance? Technology means that your people no longer need all be in the same building – remote and home working is increasing popular as is operating on multiple sites rather than a single corporate ‘HQ’. What’s more, if you do have premises, allow people some control over that environment, whether it’s customizing their personal workspace or choosing the color of the walls and the artwork hanging on them. People are more productive when they are comfortable.

This is about leadership and management styles… people who feel involved in decisions about their work are more likely to have a sense of commitment to it, to want to see it succeed. Naturally, you can’t please everybody all of the time, but you can involve everybody and even if the decision doesn’t go their way, they will at least have had the opportunity to contribute and have their contributions heard. In a sense, everybody in the company needs to be a stakeholder.

Let them know how they’re doing. Feedback is often seen as a scary process but in reality, nobody likes to work in a vacuum; they want to know that they’re getting it right or if not, what they need to do differently. Unfortunately, decades of bad performance appraisal culture have created a negative impression for many, so follow these tips for good, effective, performance-enhancing feedback:

  1. Build them up, don’t tear them down – focus on what’s going well.

  2. Where a negative needs addressing, be factual not emotive and end on solutions that will lead to a positive improvement.

  3. Offer specifics – saying the individual needs to make more sales is not as useful as talking about the specific behavior that is impeding their sales performance (and the behavior that will turn things around).

  4. Timely – positive or negative, your feedback needs to come soon after events. Don’t wait half a year to tell them improvements are needed or that something they did last January is exactly what you’d love to see more of.

If you could do everything yourself, you wouldn’t have hired anybody in the first place. But given that you’ve hired people to do a particular job, once you’ve checked they know what’s required of them and have the resources they need, you need to get out of the way and let them do it. By all means, check in, ask about progress, offer support when needed, but don’t be that boss; the one that micro-manages and pops up every 10 minutes asking, “Have you done it yet?” Responsibility breeds ownership which leads to commitment and performance. So don’t undermine their responsibility by demonstrating a lack of trust.



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