Engagement and motivation come together
Sarah was a manager in large manufacturing company and had recently been promoted to lead a 120 member team making critical components for the end product. It was a great opportunity, but as she was about to learn, also a great challenge. Her new team was a group of individuals who worked like automatons. They were certainly not an effective team. Sarah understood needs and motivation and knew she could not motivate these people. Instead, she started by getting to know them. She learned her predecessor had never recognized them for the work they did and even seemed to suppress any team cohesiveness. Her workers were frustrated because they were motivated to be accepted as an important part of a team but their boss had made them feel just the opposite.
Sarah started by telling them she respected their capabilities and accepted each of them as essential to the team’s success. She knew they would see that as just lip-service so she also made it a point to get out on the floor and talk to each person individually to get to know their strengths and weaknesses. She was very clear with them about each of their contributions to the team’s mission. Slowly she saw improvement as the group began to work together and a team attitude started to emerge.
Two members of her team were charged with sweeping the floors and picking up trash. It was menial work, the company didn’t pay them well and they didn’t feel like an important part of the team. They both had second jobs and it was common knowledge they both were looking for better opportunities so they could at least take care of their families.
Sarah didn’t have the authority to pay them more but she spoke with them individually, telling them how she saw their importance to the team’s success. Everyone was surprised one day when she began helping the cleanup crew gather up packing material from a large parts order when it was obvious the mess was in the way and might prevent the team from meeting production goals.
There was another, similar team in a nearby facility that received all the accolades from corporate while Sarah’s team never seemed to be noticed. She decided it was time for corporate to notice her team so she gathered them together and presented a challenge. She told them that they should be recognized for their work and asked them to find ways to be more efficient and increase production. The team was impressed. Obviously this would improve her standing with corporate, but she seemed to also genuinely want the team’s success to be recognized. Her team was developing real self-esteem and they wanted the company to know they were good.
She had her eye on one person in particular; a machine operator named Joey who had made some really good suggestions. She spoke to Joey and challenged him to find three ways to improve the team’s production. Joey was one who welcomed a challenge and he quickly suggested several areas for improvement. Sarah then asked two other workers to help Joey implement the suggestions. When she explained what needed to be done they enthusiastically, and successfully attacked the issues. After implementing the improvements, they began to work on initiatives of their own. The rest of the team saw that Sarah valued their input and a steady stream of improvements began to flow.
It wasn’t long before her team was the one corporate was talking about.
A current management buzzword is engagement. A Gallup survey tells us that only 28% of the American workforce is engaged. (State of the American Workplace; Gallup, 2013.) Europe, Asia, and South America have similar, but slightly higher numbers. (Employee Engagement Research Update; BleesingWhite, 2013.) It’s a funny thing, this engagement idea. These studies found that where engagement is highest, leaders understand it’s a two way street.
As Sarah demonstrated, leadership engagement must occur before employee engagement. Too often leaders don’t understand this and see engagement as a one way issue. That’s where engagement and motivation come together. In order to achieve the employee engagement that makes the company more efficient, leaders must first understand employee’s motivation and help them achieve the needs that drive that motivation.
Leaders can’t motivate workers. They can, and to be most successful as leaders they must help workers achieve the needs that motivate them.
Zig Ziglar was famous as a motivational speaker but Ziglar’s magic was not in motivating. Rather, he helped people understand, and begin to take action to achieve their own motivation. His words are a mantra for leadership success. “You can have everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”