A few years ago, I inherited a project team that just was not performing very well.  They barely made deadlines and their work while passable was certainly not inspiring. They were content with the status quo and the motivation to do better was just not there. After a few weeks of observation, I realized that the individual team members were very talented and wanted to do a good job. The problem was that their environment sapped their motivation. They were basically given an assignment and then told how to do it.  They had no knowledge of how the material will be used or even if it was important. A recent employee survey indicated that the team members were not happy and wanted to leave the organization.

So I started working on creating an environment to address these motivational issues. In this particular case, I changed the way their assignments were given to them. As opposed to just telling them what to do, I provided them what the end state needed to be and how the information would be used.  I then gave them the latitude to develop how they wanted to go about obtaining the data and creating the reports. After completing their work, they presented their findings to our internal customers.

After a few months, our internal customers really began to value their work and began seeing them as a strategic arm of the organization.  Over time, they received larger than normal pay raises and became very sought after for their work and expertise. Overall, a great win for everyone!

Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where their employees can be successful. At a minimum, the environment has to provide clear expectations, ensure that the tools and resources are available and that the people see the results of their work.

The following are some thoughts on creating this environment.  This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list but rather a starting point for you to build upon.

  1. Lead by example. As the leader, you set the tone and direction through your words, thoughts and actions.
  2. Communicate the goals & objectives clearly and succinctly. Describe the end state of what you are looking for. Of course, you can only do this if you actually know what the end state should be. So before you begin “issuing directives and orders”, make sure that you have a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished.
  3. Give honest deadlines as to when the tasking is to be done. Sometimes, it is helpful to provide checkpoints along the way so that the team member can show progress. This is especially true if it is a large undertaking. Hold the team members responsible for meeting those deadlines.
  4. Unless there is a predefined method of how the tasking is to be done, give the team member the latitude to develop their own course of action. In this sense you are allowing them to own their work.
  5. Give them the tools and resources that they need to do the job. Typically people want to do a good job but oftentimes they really do not have the resources to do it or know how to obtain the resources. This causes a lot of undue stress for the individual and will eventually lead them to just quit.
  6. Praise the team member for doing a great job. You can provide a gift card for a dinner or you can handwrite them a thank you note or you can even let their significant other (or parent or manager) know what a great job they are doing.
  7. Do not ignore them if they did not do a good job. Assuming that their intentions were good, provide solid feedback on how they can the job better the next time. If you are not the “expert” on the job, pair them with an “expert” who is willing to help them become better.
  8. Give them credit for the work that they did. Over time, people will stop doing work if they know that they are not going to receive credit.