Question Time with Mentor John – Ready… Get set… Motivate!

Anyone who’s tried to convince a moody teenager to do household chores will realise that getting someone to do something they don’t want to do is an uphill task. Your employees are not moody teenagers but motivating them to give their best can still be a challenge. Is it possible to ignite that ‘spark’ amongst your employees in order for them to produce their best results? We find out how with Mentor John.

I’ve hired the best of the best, with the right background, experience and track records. It started out well. But lately, I don’t feel they are well motivated. I pay my staff well. Isn’t money the best motivator?

No, study after study shows that money is not the best motivator. People don’t work for money, they don’t generally work for companies or organisations. They work for people. If they are very senior, their CEO or leader will be the person who motivates them. If they are middle managers, their immediate boss is the key figure. Wherever you are in an organisation you need to know who is your boss – your real boss, not just a “dotted-line” boss.

Your question speaks as the boss so you probably care a lot about your employees. I’m talking about caring in the sense that you devote a lot of time to them. If the answer is that you are too busy then I’m afraid you are not a good boss nor will you motivate your staff. In this situation ask yourself these questions:

[1] What are your greatest assets? If your answer is “not my employees”, you have a problem.
[2] How much time do you devote to nurturing and guarding them? As much as you can is the best answer. Nurture your employees. They are people first, employees second. Behave as though you understand this.
[3] Do you think money, team-building exercises, holidays are the best way to reward your employees? If your answer is yes, you have got it very wrong.

Even though my company is a small business, we have several offices around the world, with just a few employees in each location. As such, I don’t get to see employees face-to-face regularly. Are there motivational tactics that work long-distance, in particular with everyone’s busy schedules?

Skype and the various other video conferencing calls systems are the best way to deal with your employees beyond the day-to-day email or messaging. Not being able to see them in the same room is a disadvantage but a video call can be very effective. When I was building Cerebos Pacific Ltd we didn’t have video calls. I made it a practice to phone my overseas colleagues often, without an agenda, just to hear the tone of voice, get an update and hopefully let them tell me things they wouldn’t write or say in a meeting. Gossip is not good but it is sometimes necessary.
If you find video calls rather wooden get your colleague (and you) to install a camera some way away from the computer. Sit back so the you can see his or her hands – and he or she can see yours. Get them to relax, chat about inconsequential things some of the time and about their families, too. They are probably quite lonely people in a work sense. Give them a feeling that they belong and you care.

I have previously used motivational strategies such as incentives, recognition and career advancement for my team. However, I notice that millennials do not seem to respond as well to this. Should I do things differently for my younger employees?

The training culture is shifting and good trainers are shifting with it. Much more experiential and participative sessions are needed now to engage people. They want to know who they are, what they are for and how they can acquire the experience that they can’t seem to get except by being around for a long time. Shortcuts to experience involve giving them real-life situations, specially written for their situation and business. Involving them in roleplays is tough but they end up appreciating it. Roleplays are one of the best training systems, I think.

As the boss, I see my role as setting the vision for the company, charting the direction we should take and then leading the team. I’m not very good with all this “touchy-feely stuff.” Why can’t employees just do what they’re paid to do?

Have you ever expected your employees to stay a bit later, to go the extra mile, to pull out all the stops to deliver an order? I’m sure you have. And I am sure they have responded well, too. You seem to be against what you call ‘touchy-feely’. It’s a nasty expression implying false sentiments and even unacceptable behaviour. Being kind to people is not ’touchy-feely’. It is being kind. You want them to be kind to you. Who do you think should take the first step in being kind? Why, you, of course. Kindness is the quality that makes for the best relationships.
Someone who works for you and is paid by your business is entitled to be treated with the respect that all human beings deserve. Help them reach their goals, just as they help you to reach yours.

Whether you like to or not, you are their mentor.

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