Carrots and sticks off the menu.

Over the past months, I have had the pleasure to give quite a number of sessions on feedback and appraisals. Yet again, it became clear how hard it is for managers to actually “manage”.

The reasons are well known : an employee is good at the job, becomes better still, wishes to keep ‘evolving’ on the career ladder, and ends up in a managerial role. He or she is then expected to produce a spontaneous combustion of leadership qualities without receiving much training, mentoring, guidance or coaching.

Managers these days are no longer simply supposed to follow up or control their team. They are now expected to steer on output. That involves trusting the team and ensuring team cohesion. The traditional carrots and sticks method doesn’t do the trick any longer.

With budgets getting smaller by the minute, carrots are getting pea-size anyway. And to make matters more complicated, the ‘new way of working’ increasingly disperses team members. So what’s a manager to do to motivate people ?

The answer is both simple and difficult: offer authentic leadership.

If you follow these four tips, you are well on your way to create a motivated team.

1. Share context and provide relevance.

It is shocking to hear how many people don’t really understand why they do what they do.

What is your company’s contribution to the world ? What is your team’s role in it and how do you, as an individual contribute to the success and the meaning of your team/organisation ?

A manager needs to bring that clarity to the team and each individual in it.

2. ‘Be’ there for your team members.

Be aware of your team members’ needs to help them succeed.

Two questions I encourage managers to ask their team members during the appraisal conversation is :
1) How did I help you and how did I hinder you ?
2) This is a very different question then asking : how did I help the team ?

It’s a straight arrow to the heart of the team member : I see you, I recognise you and I wish to be there for you. It also involves humility : I might have failed you - how can I do better ?

Of course, you don’t need to wait till appraisal time ! This question is a good one to ask at any time of the year and particularly when you are asking anything significant of a team member. How can you make it easier for this team member to achieve success ?  Employees are motivated when they can make progress without unnecessary interruption and undue burdens.

3. Focus on positive feedback and be generous with it.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it ? Yet, most managers still stick to negative feedback, mostly focussing on operational matters. This is a capital mistake.

Showing appreciation has much more impact ! Especially when you do so in a precise way. Don’t say : Keep up the good work ! Be precise : ‘Thanks for staying late last night, it helped us get the deadline and the customer was happy we managed to deliver as promised’.

Positive feedback carries much more weight if it is specific.

4. Look inside.

How motivated are you ? You won’t be able to motivate the team in an authentic way if you are no longer enthusiastic yourself. Look inside and if you feel your motivation is gone, look for what you need to get it back.

What this means is that you don’t need to rely on outdated methods and tricks to motivate employees. Instead, talk with your team about the relevance of the work they do every day. Be proactive in identifying and solving problems for your employees. Recognise employee contributions in specific, meaningful ways on a regular basis. Connect with your own motivation, and share it freely with your team.

So throw away the carrots and sticks and have meaningful conversations instead. If you are not sure how, feel free to give us a call !


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