His firm had just released a new product that his company leaders believe has the potential to become a real game changer.
Development time lines have been aggressive and productive. A company-wide, cross-functional team has created major innovations in the product itself, along with new distribution methods and a streamlined go-to-market strategy.
“All of that is so positive,” he said.
Then he started to choke up.
“I’m now being told to ask my team for even more effort, even more time. But they’re already fried. They are working crazy hours and losing time with their families and friends as it is.”
“They have been pushed to the limit,” he continued. “There is just no way I can ask them for more effort. The rumor is that some are beginning to question whether they want to continue working here. They’re worn out, and so am I.”
This executive is known for delivering on his promises, and for caring deeply about his team.
Knowing this, I asked, “The emotion that is welling up right now may be trying to give voice to something big. What does it want you to say?”
He said, “I fear we are dangerously close to losing some of our integrity as a company. We tell the world that one of our core values is relationships and caring deeply about one another. Yet, we just keep squeezing each other harder. Do we value relationships or don’t we? What do we really value? Who are we really being?”
His questions hung heavy in the air like a dense fog.
Enhancing Motivation and Well-Being
How would you respond if you were in this manager’s shoes?
The challenge here is a group of high performers who are feeling the relentless demands imposed by senior management is negatively impacting and imposing upon their well-being and quality of life. This is causing them to question the company’s sincerity when it claims to care deeply about people in addition to results.
In some organizations, the grumbling and questioning might just be an expected part of the process when people are asked to put in extra effort. In those organizations, traditional approaches to spurring employee motivation might emphasize accountability.
In other organizations, another common leader response is to avoid the subject and just keep the conversation focused on the task at hand. Maybe a reminder that the project will eventually be completed and if the staff could just push through a little more it will all be worth it in the end.
But in motivational terms, these employees are no longer aligned with their work—and maybe the company. Here is an additional course of action that might not be as typical but would certainly better address the situation with a more optimally motivating approach. (Send us a note with your added suggestions!)
1. Hold an out-in-the-open discussion either one-on-one or in small groups about the company stated values and how people are feeling right now. The first skill of a mature motivational leader is empathy. Let people express themselves clearly and boldly. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Be careful not to respond defensively.
2. Seek suggestions from the staff about how they might work together to lessen the pressure, first without extending delivery timelines. Generate a dozen suggestions.
3. Allow the staff to choose implementation strategies for two or three of their suggestions. Modify as needed. The key here is the employees get to choose ways to address the issue productively.
4. Discuss how each chosen suggestion would demonstrate that everyone in the company honors the relationships value, without undermining goal achievement.
5. Lastly, make sure the leaders who have been applying the pressure are part of the process and are fully aligned with the adjustments.
6. End the meeting by celebrating the collective effort and affirming everyone’s dedication to continually enriching the work relationships while striving for meaningful results.
7. Monitor progress as needed—and be careful not to slip back into the old, habituated ways of doing things.
In today’s hyper-competitive business environment, employees everywhere are being asked to constantly focus on increasing performance. Too often leaders see results as an either/or choice that requires sacrifices in other areas—such as honoring core values. It doesn’t have to be that way. Think motivationally—consider how you can achieve results and promote autonomy, values, and relationships along the way. You don’t have to choose—a focus on results and relationships will create the results you want and promote the sense of well-being that employees genuinely need in order to thrive.
About the author:
The Motivation Guy (also known as Dr. David Facer) is one of the principal authors—together with Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.