Motivating Your Workforce Towards High Performance: 7 Tips

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 21st December 2015

You can’t motivate a workforce.

Let me qualify that statement. Years of scientific research have shown us that the most powerful aid to engagement and achievement is intrinsic motivation – the motivation that comes from within, and enables a person to fully commit themselves to giving their best in the service of a purpose they believe in.

So by definition, it has to come from them, not you.

Your focus, as a leader, needs to be not on motivating your workforce, but on creating and sustaining the culture and climate in which such intrinsic motivation can arise. You need to be articulating vision and goals in a way that inspires and enthuses.

Here are seven ways of enabling motivation in your workforce.

1. Hire the right people and put them in the right jobs

Nothing you do will be enough or truly effective if you haven’t got the right people in post. Think about their capabilities and deploy them intelligently in jobs that play to their strengths. As Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Don’t turn your geniuses into idiots.

For more advice on this, read our post about hiring mistakes to avoid.

2. Continually build your team

People who work predominantly on their own benefit from feeling part of a good team. I know this sounds contradictory, but it’s true. Membership of a high-performing team generates confidence and encourages innovation. If the team thinks it is good, well thought of and full of high-performers, then everyone is ‘on their toes’ and at their peak. No-one wants to let the side down.

This releases the extra 30% or more of ‘discretionary effort’ latent in most people and means that they value each other and value being a member of this valued team. Anything you can do to grow the team’s skills, knowledge, maturity and capability is hugely motivating.

3. Articulate the vision, goals and expectations

People perform better when they know what they are trying to achieve, when they know why it matters, and when they care about the outcome. The vision, goals and expectations must resonate with the people, and we’ve known for centuries that this is the key to engaging people.

Your team members must be able to see how they contribute, individually and as a team. Be careful with your language so that you choose your words wisely to ensure the messages are compelling. Provide sufficient detail but, wherever possible, leave the team free to decide how they will deliver it all. Increased autonomy usually equals increased engagement.

4. Deal with the problems

Any barriers to high performance must be removed, and it’s up to you to ensure that they are. If there is underperformance, deal with it by re-engaging, re-energising, re-deploying or removing the individual concerned. If the team needs you to intercede or go into battle on their behalf to gain cooperation, resources or approval for something that matters, do it. You are their ambassador, their cheerleader and their enabler.

5. Understand what makes them tick

Getting the best from your people requires you to know them well and to understand who they really are. I’ve never been much of a fan of the ‘throw people up a mountain then build a raft’ school of teambuilding, but this bit at least makes sense to me: interacting with people in a non-work situation usually improves mutual understanding.

It’s hard to understand someone when they are a job title, and when your relative positions create barriers. You need to understand each other as human beings, and activities outside work can help with that. This also relates to the next point…

6. Build effective working relationships everywhere

A high-performing team thrives on effective relationships; between you and the team, between each other, and between the team and others.

Focusing on building those relationships is wise and a good use of your time. Don’t think of it as trivia, time-wasting, touchy-feely or any of the other phrases people use to rationalise away something they don’t want to do. It matters and it’s your responsibility, so step up.

7. Mentor and develop every member

Even the best performers need a mentor. Scratch that, especially the best performers. The better the player, the better they can become. Use your referent, expert and legitimate power (see French and Raven’s 5 Powers for more on that) to mentor your people. Get them other opportunities for training and growth, and involve them in things that stretch them.

Make connections so they can learn from each other and people outside the team. Make sure they know that this is a deliberate investment in their ability, and a recognition of their value and potential.

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