Now that the New Year celebrations are over and work is getting back to it’s usual routine, what kind of picture does your team paint? Are they energised and ready to succeed, or do they look a little lackluster?
I’m sure that like most people, you know someone who lost their job last year or perhaps the company you work for became very lean with everyone doing multiple jobs, feeling under qualified and over stressed. In an environment such as this it’s difficult to be motivated. And yet you need to find a way to keep your team happy and provide incentives for them to achieve their goals. So what can you do? How can you inspire your team to ever greater heights?
I recently attended a training course on leadership. As part of the course we watched a small segment from the film Apollo 13. We were asked to analyse the actions, words, body language and demeanor of the flight director Gene Kranz. For those that do not know the story, the film is based on historical fact. The service module of the NASA Apollo 13 shuttle exploded while in Space. Gene Kranz and his team worked with the astronauts to bring them all back home safe. It’s a very inspiring story and as a visionary leader, Gene Kranz is amazing. Below you will find some of the more memorable quotes from the film:
Gene Kranz: We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.
Gene Kranz: Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.
NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.
Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.
Gene Kranz: I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.
Can you see the Vision he was building for his team? Would you be energised by these words or deflated? Personally I was inspired. Of course not all of these phrases were said by the real Gene Kranz, but they were inspired by the very real work that he did and by his character.
If you want your team to behave in a certain way, you have to model it for them. No-one is going to be inspired or motivated if you aren’t. Talk is cheap as they say. If your actions don’t match your words, your vision; no one is going to believe them. Model the behaviour you told people you want to see from them. If you want them energised, be energised yourself. If you want them interested in new ideas, be interested yourself! Be optimistic. Stop complaining. If you can’t do it yourself, your team never will.
Show respect for your team members. Assume they know what they are doing. If you assume your team are idiots and act accordingly, that is the behaviour you will receive. People generally live down to your expectations. Expect more and you will receive more. In addition, don’t assume that your way of doing something is the only way. One of my favourite quotes by General Patton sums it up nicely: Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. You are not omnipotent. Just because your way is fast, doesn’t mean that someone else cannot do the same task in a different way just as fast or even faster.
Another way to show respect is to listen to your team members. Active listening involves being attentive to what you are being told, rephrasing what you hear and feeding it back to the speaker to ensure that you have understood. In this way you can find common ground and have effective communication. The speaker feels that you are interested in them and what they are doing. Once you’ve established and fully understood their message, ask them questions based on what they have told you. Expand your knowledge until you have a clear understanding of the whole. Use open questions. Open questions begin with such as: what, why, how, describe. For example “Why is that so important to you?” or “Describe for me what is happening.” can be used effectively to help you draw the correct conclusions and then troubleshoot.
Focus on the people, not on the numbers
We can all get lost in statistics. Sales are down 5%. We need 2% more revenue. Compared with 2012, we have 6% more market share, but 12% less sales volumes. Number are easy to deal with. People have feelings, emotions and are much more difficult to control. However, sales may be down by 5%, but that doesn’t mean that your sales team is being less productive. Instead, acknowledge what your team is doing, express your thanks for their hardwork, build up the team relationship. For all you know, your team could be working long hours, be missing important personal events to try and bring that percentage back to the target. Be aware of the sacrifices your team is making and make sure that they are recognised for it.
Focus on the small wins
You want to create a positive atmosphere, but in the current financial climate it is difficult to see the positive. Instead focus on the small wins. By all means, acknowledge the failures, but don’t dwell on them. Celebrate the successes of your team, giving them the confidence they need to move to more larger objectives and hopefully more larger successes.
You might also want to consider giving your team praise before they deserve it. You may have heard the old grass adage: You tell the grass, When you grow, and only after you grow, will I then give you water. The same is true of people. Encourage your team. Give them praise and they will flourish.
Remind them what is important and why
Occasionally we all get lost in the detail. We struggle to remember why we are doing what we are doing. It’s simply what we have always done. Instead of letting your people get lost in the repetition, remind them why all the hard work is necessary. Keep the vision first and foremost in their minds. The how is not so important. No-one wants to spend hours on a project that has no meaning or value.If they can understand why it needs to be done, they will be more willing to do it and to do it well.
So long as the vision remains constant, encourage your team to mix it up. For example, you could ask team members to switch responsibilities. New to the role, with a fresh set of eyes, not only will they not be bored, but they could find new and improved methods of working. What is meat and potatoes to one man, could be another’s caviar. Of course, recognising what skills your team members have and how they can be utilised is key in this endeavour. There’s no point asking a quiet and shy team member to play the role of an aggressive sales person. You’ll only demoralise them.
Fill the void
Finally, if your company is in financial difficulties, then it’s even more difficult to keep your team motivated. If you’ve downsized or you’re on the threat of bankruptcy, there’s a real danger of your workers simply keeping their heads down. Rather than working hard, trying to be noticed, a culture of getting by emerges.
In this case, all of the techniques above can help you, but it’s also important to address the main issues. When workers don’t have clear communication regarding what is happening to them and the company, uncertainty creeps in. They are afraid of being noticed, because being noticed could have negative consequences. The lack of clear communication creates a void. rather than letting this void be filled with gossip, rumour and negative complaints, fill it with clear concise communication, so that everyone knows what is happening and why.