“How do I keep my team more motivated and engaged?”
The above question is asked of me practically every time I speak. I agree that in this post-pandemic, sometimes hybrid, sometimes not hybrid world, that engagement and motivation are often challenging commodities for managers to find. However, that should never stop you from trying – then trying again.
The good news is that there are tried and proven leadership lessons that are effective, empowering, and doable no matter the kind of organization in which you work. Let’s review the lessons with a shared vision as to how they can help you to better engage and motivate.
1. Model Cultural Clarity – We might also label this lesson, “Do you know who you are?” The response is usually, “Of course we do,” but strangely when many leaders are pressed for an answer, identity can’t be verbalized in a few sentences, nor do the executives extend that sense of clarity down to the newest employees.
In a recent GQ piece (June 15, 2023), we are re-introduced to the iconic Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps organization, where the newest employees are greeted by “Foamy Homies wearing tie-dyed mechanical coveralls.” The company had 2022 revenues of over 170 million. The family-run company is constantly pressured to be acquired, with the lure of even greater fame and riches, but David Bronner, the CEO maintains: “Most brands and companies our size sell-out to some soulless conglomerate that has not a lot of ethics in the world. We get to rock it how we want here. Soap, work hard, rock that product, and then…joy. Drop the joy in there, make sure we’re having fun while doing good in the world and making good products.”
I love that Dr. Bronner’s eats, lives and breathes their All-One culture and their values are clear to all who work there. When you’re clear on your values and culture, you attract the right people who share your purpose and that’s highly motivating and keeps everyone engaged.
2. Motivation is More than Money – How many times in your life have you heard that “money isn’t everything?” Most employees are programmed to not believe it. Yet, in a recent piece about Amazon (Harvard Business School, July 31, 2023), we are introduced to Amazon’s unionization movement.
“Isaiah Thomas, for example, was initially excited to land a job at Amazon in 2020 to help pay for food, rent, and his tuition at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. ‘But the day I started; I realized something was wrong. It literally felt like we were cattle. When I learned about the union, I was all in.’ Giving workers the ability to have a voice in the workplace and a sense of control over our own work, that’s what this is about.”
Said Reshmaan Hussam, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who examined the complaints of workers, “Yes, they want a livable wage. But more than that, every employee we spoke with was asking to be treated with dignity and given a voice. When we refer to them as ‘labor,’ we often forget that managers and workers are equally human. Labor is not a disposable resource.”
Want to better motivate and engage your employees? Remember that people need to feel a sense of control over their work, like they belong and feel their voices matter. Amazon increased pay, but not individuals’ dignity. It led to unionization. Improve dignity to improve loyalty.
3. Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace – How safe do employees feel in your organization, and what steps is your company taking to ensure work safety? By “safety,” I am not referring to factors that must always be a given, such as the absence of bullying or sexual harassment, but a deeper sense of psychological work-team well-being. Kara Baskin, writing for the Harvard Business School (June 14, 2023) stated:
“People who feel psychologically safety work better in teams because they can share information and be transparent. And the very act of being productive—just doing the work together—becomes a feedback loop that can bond a team and help create the conditions for psychological safety.”
Baskin details four principles of psychological safety which align with my own teachings: Encourage teams to bond, normalize opportunities to learn [not punish] from mistakes, ensure that all people feel seen and as a manager, seek input from employees with humility and openness.
How safe do employees feel? If they don’t, it will affect engagement and motivation. Please note how often “being seen” is identified as an issue. It is no small matter, and leaders must be aware of the negative impact “worker invisibility” will create which is why I’m so passionate about the power of connection.
4. Listen, Listen and Listen Some More. How well do you listen, or is it simply a matter of lip service? In a Forbes magazine article (June 8, 2023), business writer Ann Kowal Smith states: “A recent global survey revealed that 86% of employees feel they’re not heard fairly or equally. And even those who do feel heard don’t feel listened to–reporting that they see no meaningful change, despite speaking up.”
Smith goes on to explain, “Listening isn’t a game. It’s serious business—the currency of collaboration, productivity and innovation. The ability to listen well accounts for 40% of the variance between effective and ineffective leaders.”
We are often taught how to be a better speaker. Goodness knows, there are hundreds of courses, podcasts, videos and blogs. Unfortunately, there are far too little tutorials on being an effective listener. Want better results from your team? Listen to what they are saying and act on their concerns. It is a powerful motivator.
5. Reward Employees for a Job Well Done. Love her music or not, Taylor Swift recognizes her team. People magazine recently detailed the generosity of Taylor Swift. In fact, the generosity is in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Sources confirm to PEOPLE the pop superstar recently gave bonuses totaling over $55 million to everyone (from her dancers to riggers, sound technicians and catering, among others) working on her massive show. TMZ previously reported that Swift, 33, gifted truckers on her tour $100,000 each ahead of her concert stop in Santa Clara over the weekend.”
What I personally love about this was it was unexpected which always has more impact. Obviously, Taylor Swift is an organization, not just a talent. To stage the shows she stages, requires a complete staff of professionals who work hard and excel at what they do. The major point here concerns how your organization engages, motivates and appreciates. It isn’t a matter of money, but recognition. How are employees recognized? Are they seen, listened to, empowered, and motivated?
Ultimately, there are “1,000 excuses” for failing to motivate and engage a highly valued employee, but no good, single explanation for how you feel when they close the door behind them and walk away.