Motivating employees is often exhausting and time-consuming work. Managers provide incentives, set goals, acknowledge top producers, even use consequences or threats. They use these tactics in an attempt to stimulate some level of interest in their staff, trying to push them into action. Yet when that external stimulation is no longer present, people have a tendency to slip back into their old ways, not moving unless someone is there to push.
Although worn out from this exercise, business owners tell me they believe their primary role is “problem solver” to their employee’s challenges, a role probably learned from their predecessors and mentors. Many attempt to control their environment, working within the limits of what they already have. Some spend their time extinguishing fires. Others derive their energy by keeping certain challenges alive, providing them with some sense of purpose. Perhaps the real issue is not tapping into what might drive employees to motivate themselves.
J. Hallen, owner of Home Security Inc., discovered this. His 25-person staff had a tendency to deviate from company procedures that continually resulted in production delays. Deciding it was because they were unclear about their responsibilities, Hallen had his staff write up their own job descriptions and career goals.
The results were surprising. Telemarketers wanted flextime and opportunities for career growth. Salespeople cared more about job stability and receiving positive acknowledgment for good performance rather than commission. In response, Hallen adjusted the job descriptions and procedures, creating individualized incentive programs geared to each employee’s goals and strengths. He empowered his staff by seeing and acknowledging their natural abilities, while supporting their personal vision of what was important to them.
Hallen found this simple exercise made a dramatic difference in how his staff approaches their careers. “There’s less friction or communication breakdowns. People are taking ownership of their responsibilities, providing a greater sense of accountability and direction,” Hallen says. “I also find they are much more responsive to changes in our company that support the corporate vision we can all be pulled toward, rather than pushed to achieve.”
Continually providing employees with solutions can train employees not to be accountable. It will likely result in the lackluster performance you are working so diligently to avoid. It creates an environment of dependency, preventing employees from sharpening problem-solving skills or discovering their own solutions.
Today’s enlightened leaders instead are coaching more than managing their staff. The difference is that you give strength or inspiration by uncovering what internally motivates them based on their beliefs and values, as opposed to stimulating interest externally based on your beliefs. Tapping into a person’s previously unused talents advances personal growth, challenging people to discover their best.
Coaching utilizes a process of inquiry, which allows your staff to articulate what they want then access their own energy to achieve it. Otherwise you’re using your energy to get someone else in motion. To uncover each person’s internal drive, ask questions. Invest the time uncovering what is truly important to your staff in order to improve performance and align their efforts with the company’s vision and direction.
Here are some suggested questions:
- What do you want in your career that you don’t currently have?
- What do you want to be doing that you aren’t currently doing?
- What are you doing now that you don’t want to be doing?
- What areas do you want to strengthen, improve or develop?
- What is most important to you in your career? (What does a successful career look like?)
- What is the driving force that motivates you to achieve more each day?
- What are the three most important things you would like to accomplish right now?
- What is your action plan to achieve those goals?
- What do you need that’s missing that is preventing you from reaching those goals?
- How can I best support you to achieve these goals? (Uncover how each employee wants to be managed/supported.)
- How can I hold you accountable to achieve your goals in a way that won’t come across as micromanaging?
- If I have to approach you about something that may be tough to hear, how can I do so in a way that you’ll be open to hearing it?
Invest the time asking your staff questions, listening to their responses, and asking more questions as you uncover what they most want. Sure you need the right answers to stay in business. However, to get ahead you need the right questions. Allow questions to become the cornerstone for effortless leadership that generates long-term results.
Keith Rosen is an executive sales coach, speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. He was named one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country by Inc. magazine and Fast Company. He can be contacted at 516-771-1444, email@example.com, or his Web site.