Too many managers forget the importance of encouraging their teams, and motivating them to higher performance.
With this year’s Commonwealth Games now concluded, it’s interesting to reflect on how much the cheering of crowds spurs athletes to greater heights of achievement. Lots of them talk about it, and you don’t have to be a champ to imagine the adrenaline boost one gets from the stadium audience’s roar as a person heads to the finish line. Equally, crowd support can turn negative, even ugly on occasion. It can place considerable emotional pressure on competitors who might blame themselves if their performance was less than they’d aimed for.
What about in the workplace? It’s astonishing that many managers forget the importance of encouragement, especially when they’re under pressure themselves.
Encouragement at work makes the world of difference
Often termed “positive reinforcement”, a sincere compliment, expressed delight or heartfelt thanks makes a world of difference to the majority of workers.
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There’s been many studies over the years of the importance of psychic income: emotional satisfaction derived from performing an economic activity matters every bit as much as earning money. When you’re putting in effort, working quickly and maintaining productivity flow, you will find fresh energy if someone notices and praises what you do.
Six ways managers and team leaders can support and encourage
1. Recognise what people contribute
Some people at work are always seeking attention. They are frequently good performers but tiresome in their constant need for recognition. Be aware of what they need and don’t allow yourself to turn off them because they seem “needy”.
If you’re a manager, you need to know what motivates your team, individually and collectively. Spend time observing and working alongside them. Don’t let a select few hog your attention. Other team members, even the solitary ones, are often undertaking the mundane tasks that are vital for delivering outcomes.
The high achievers need challenges and attention, so don’t assume because they are so self-managing you don’t have to worry about them.
2. Let people know what’s needed
It’s surprising but true: some teams are blurry about their objectives and worse, do very little about properly on-boarding their staff. This might be owing to insufficient resources, but is probably attributable to the absence of good communication. It’s been claimed that 75% of new executives lack interpersonal skills, but where do those managers come from? They were promoted, which means that actually most of us need to improve our “soft” skills.
Start with improving your ability to convey clarity and meaning — practise being knowledgeable and succinct. Above all, remember the importance of being constructive. Some people are blunt and summarise well, but offer few suggestions. Communication isn’t just about “telling it like it is”, it’s also telling what could be, used to be and will be, and weaving a narrative that makes sense to the audience. And it is about engaging with them and encouraging response.
3. Make quality time to spend with all team members
Don’t resort to empty platitudes. There’s the well-meaning boss who refers to “passionate people” but is far from diagnosing what makes his team tick. Or the senior manager who is given to lots of exclamation marks and reiteration of how “humbled” s/he is to be among such “awesome staff” when sending out the weekly circular. Maybe so, but after a while this becomes trite, even disingenuous. That person seldom does the rounds nor spends time within the different units.
Team leaders need to be less like car salespeople and more like panel beaters (“automechanics” if you’re reading this in the US or Canada), spending time on vehicles to ensure optimal performance.
4. Show enthusiasm
The origin of the word ‘enthusiasm’ is Greek, and meant being possessed by a god, or extreme piety. There is more than a hint of religious fervour in an enthusiastic person, so perhaps enthusiasm isn’t what’s called for here unless you like shiny eyes, call-and-response conventions, undiscerning cheer squads and so on.
If your office environment tends to scepticism, it will take people time to catch alight. Quiet positivity can be more contagious, coupled with clear directions for what and how things need to get done.
5. Give people what they (emotionally) need
Team “rev ’em up” meetings are like paintball, splashing vision statements and “you can do it!” mantras everywhere. Motivational paintball probably doesn’t achieve that much (though it’s great when there’s been a win as those help build momentum).
It’s important to talk one-to-one with colleagues, finding out what helps and inspires them and devising avenues that enable this. Connect the individual planning and review sessions to the company goals and KPIs. Remember flexibility at work is more than the chance to work offsite, it’s about perceiving where individual and company goals coincide and giving opportunities to shine.
6. Provide “medicine” where required
Management is really about coaching (again with a hefty dollop of panel beating — that is to say, repair work). Going back to those champion athletes, their training is necessarily intensive, involving both encouragement and diagnostics. Managing a workplace is not too different, remembering that the office has different styles of athlete and accordingly you can’t expect everyone to perform in exactly the same way. Make sure you give quality, constructive feedback.
Regularly ensuring the above is a good way to begin turning out high(er) achievers. It’s very easy for anyone to become demoralised by their work situation, so remember the power of approbation and support where it counts.