Leadership Series: Motivator
A team of motivated professionals is a thing of beauty and will create a place of beauty. Know your people and work hard to keep their hearts and minds focused on the great task at hand.
This is the fifth of a six part series on leadership by Geoff Van Berkel from Calvin College and Eco Green Supply. Read the previous installments listed below and stay tuned every Friday for more.
I am writing on motivation as I sit in my truck watching my 13-year-old son’s first Little League practice of the season. It is, of course, about 38 degrees with a good stiff north wind and 1 ½” of rain fell about 20 hours ago. The team is shivering, cold and hunched over as they go through the introductions.
This is Josh’s 8th year in Little League. He loves baseball, loves to compete, loves to have fun and loves the comradery that forms with a team. A few things have changed this spring however- he has picked up some side jobs, he’s graduating from grade 8 and moving to high school, he has started noticing girls a bit- and along with those changes, his independent practice hours are way down this spring.
Five years ago, we bought him a pitching net. We’ve replaced the net once, all the bungees multiple times- the thing looks like it got beat by an angry elephant. It has been well loved. He used to spend hours in the backyard after school throwing at that net. It helped him become one of the clutch pitchers over the last 3 seasons. He has a wicked curveball and change-up along with some pretty good speed.
This spring- he threw at the net once before the first practice. He asked me to play catch only once so far this spring. He still says he loves it, but something is missing- his motivation to keep getting better seems to have tailed off. (So much for my dreams of being a “Big League” Dad, right?)
Highly talented, natural instincts, top of his game with great potential for making a travel or high school varsity team, yet his heart isn’t in it like it used to be. As a dad I could nag, I could try to get him to play catch more, I could remind him of his obligation to the team- or I can realize that this might be his last year and his heart and mind have moved on to the next things.
To move on is the luxury of a 13-year-old. He’s not getting paid to perform, he really doesn’t have an obligation to Little League to perform at 100%. Revenues, quality, craftsmanship and professionalism aren’t going to decline if his heart isn’t into the task.
Unlike a Little League team, what happens when motivation suffers at work? That’s different matter entirely.
Extra-long coffee breaks or lunches. Slouching into the shop at the last minute in the morning and out the door as quick as possible in the afternoon. Maybe some “dubious” sick days and low quality work- you know the signs when an employee is losing motivation.
Even when you are doing all the right things, employee morale can still erode. It is imperative to recognize and act on apathy quickly- it has a bad habit of spreading throughout a department.
While every department and every employee is different, there are some things you can do to help your crew get back on track- here are a few ideas.
- Clarify expectations- remind employees what you expect in the quality of their work and be sure they have the tools to do the job. Be realistic with the skill sets of your crew- never put them in a “no-win situation”, rather give them work that can challenge them and create a sense of satisfaction when completed. Some guys need a checklist to stay on track, some guys are better at managing large projects- fit them in jobs that use their giftedness as much as possible.
- Create opportunities to get your team engaged- My prior post talked about go kart racing. Try a breakfast or lunch out together once and awhile. Maybe grill up some burgers for the crew at lunch. Give them reasons to want to be part of what is going on here at work.
- Encourage them to learn something new- look for a class or trade organization to get them engaged with other professionals who are passionate about their work, then let them implement some new ideas they bring back.
- Challenge them to earn a new certification or endorsement- become a Certified Sports Field Manager, a Certified Arborist or a member of the Professional Grounds Managers Society. These organizations help professionals take their “game” to the next level.
- Have a face to face conversation- listen to what is going on with your employees. Is there trouble at home, an illness in the family or other outside stressors that are affecting their work life? Give an opportunity for employees to be known- they might just need some encouragement. I like to do this over lunch or breakfast- get out of the workplace to neutral territory, and waiting for food prep and consumption gives lots of opportunity to connect.
- Small gifts or tokens of appreciation for going above and beyond, or for hitting one out of the park.
- A performance based pay scale/ bonus system is always a great motivator for those high achievers- it keeps them engaged and competitive.
A team of motivated professionals is a thing of beauty and will create a place of beauty. Know your people and work hard to keep their hearts and minds focused on the great task at hand. Invest your time in your people, and they will reward you with performance.
As a manager, you can’t expect a self-motivated and focused team without a good coach.
This spring, I am hoping that my son’s Little League coach will invest in Josh to find those things that motivate him to excel and call those things out of him- I do love watching him do his thing when his head is in the game.