Motivating employees, especially during economic downturns, requires an empathic approach. Or, as I prefer to call it—the “connecting your heart-to-your-head approach.” The pressure of too-much-work-to-be-done with too few people often causes a low level response to the threat of job loss as a stimulus for more production. Simply, their emotional well is dry and any increase in productivity is short-lived. Threats don’t work.
Managers expect employees to be self-motivated and to a degree that should be the case. Self-motivation is the ability to get things done without being directed by others. But, this does not absolve a manager from providing the reason employees should be working or behaving in a particular way. The best way is to show employees how their role is connected to something bigger than their job tasks.
The more removed an employee is from the ultimate consumer or beneficiary the more difficult it is to motivate employees to see beyond their job tasks. This can result in employees defending their job, being stingy with sharing information, or a demonstrating a lack of cooperation with other departments. The loss of connection to both internal and external customers constricts work flow and squashes creative solutions.
For example, accounting may never have any direct exposure to the ultimate consumer and hold strict that rules, policies and terms be executed “by the book.” Sales people may feel stymied by accounting’s lack of flexibility when they are attempting to help a customer find a creative way to afford their products or services. On-the-other-hand, sales people may not have contact with a customer at the time of delivery when delivery people may feel anger towards sales people for ordering products that don’t fit a customer’s home, business or needs. And around it goes.
An employee’s exposure to the bigger picture opens up the pathway for inspired solutions to emerge and greater empathy for customers and co-workers. As a sales person and a manager, I learned to handle problems before they began and to call attention to details that would help my customers because of exposure to all the people connected to my job.
Spending a day with the delivery team was an invaluable learning experience when I worked in the home furnishings business. Not only did I learn how to load a truck, what paperwork needed to be completed and signed, what physical challenges it required but also what questions, concerns and reactions customers had at the time of delivery. And, I learned a whole lot about what can go wrong!
This experience taught me to highlight to customers the written instructions of what to expect on the day of delivery, who to contact and in what order, if there were problems. What they could expect from the delivery people and what not to expect. It cemented my relationship with the distribution center’s staff and with the drivers because I experienced their jobs first hand. It connected me to customers and co-workers at a deeper level.
I was motivated to sell more when I saw delight on the faces of clients when products they purchased enhanced their lives or solved a problem. I was motivated to spend a few extra minutes filling out paperwork that made it easier for accounting to finish reports (reports I ultimately used to do my job) and I was motivated to help co-workers finish projects so they too could please a customer. When things did go wrong I had a greater understanding of what my customers were feeling, what frustrations drivers, co-workers or direct reports were facing and how to uncover the real issues because I had this greater awareness. My heart was now connected to my head.
The “something bigger” is the gratitude of the ultimate consumer or beneficiary. It’s the acknowledgment that you have made a difference—to something or someone. Get your people connected if you want your team to be self-motivated.
What are your thoughts?
Read more tips on managing and customer service in Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. You can get it at Amazon.