Training & Development

Quint column: Create a culture that allows employees to motivate themselves

Quint Studer.

Often times this column focuses on ways to create a work environment with high employee engagement. The columns have covered things like employee selection, development, feedback and reward and recognition.

I received an interesting, and rather common question while I was discussing leadership with the managers at the famous Flora-Bama Lounge last week: How do you motivate employees?

The short answer? You don’t. Employees motivate themselves. You also can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to be engaged.

Each worker must choose themselves to be motivated. The company’s leadership goal is to create the right atmosphere so the employee can motivate themselves. A motivating culture is important. However, more often the issue is not what is being done to motivate, it is to not do things that demotivate. Just as creating a culture that makes it easier for an employee to motivate themselves, it is vital not to take actions that demotivate people.

So how do leaders, and particularly the top executive, demotivate people? These generally fall into the category of not adhering to the same rules and procedures that others follow. Here is a list of behaviors that demotivate your workforce.

— The top leader(s) are spending dollars on themselves that are not spent on employees. An example that come to mind: A CEO had the organization buy expensive art work for the waiting area and the interior of his office. Because the purchases were made with company money, the purchasing department of the organization and some employees were not happy with the expense. At the same time, expense management was being preached by the CEO. Word of the cost of artwork traveled quickly and it became part of hallway conversation. In fact, employees were walking by and peeking in the waiting area trying to figure out why those paintings cost so much. This action demotivated many and led to a real loss of credibility for the CEO.

I often used this example in talks with CEO’s, and I’ve heard a few comments like “Well, the employees in purchasing should not have shared the information.”

No, the CEO should not have made the expenditure.

— Top leaders or leaders treating themselves better than others. This means not booking travel in a timely (cost-effective) fashion. Organizations may, as a rule, require travel to be booked 14 days in advance. While everyone is held accountable to follow this rule, the CEO regularly books late. Another sure-fire demotivator is for the top leaders to stay in better hotels, spend money on meals, etc. that others are held accountable for. I even heard of a CEO who, while at a conference with other employees, had them stay in one hotel while he stayed in a different and nicer hotel.

—Top leader or leaders spend money on their own office when there are other needs. When a person takes a leadership position, a piece of advice I give them is to not spend any money on remodeling their office. This is a large de-motivating factor for the workforce. A new top leader took over and when he arrived the CEO office was empty. It was assumed the new CEO would just order new furniture since the previous one took his furniture with him. During the interview process the new CEO saw that many parts of the company needed upgraded equipment and furniture and said to wait to furnish his office until he arrived. Once there, the CEO asked the maintenance people to find a table from storage and four chairs. He couldn’t see getting new furniture until the employees had what they needed to do their job. How long do you think it took for that word to get around? The CEO made a great first impression.
4. Top leader or leaders putting themselves first. Employees will always offer the top leader a cut in line for things, like meals, etc. Don’t accept. In fact, insist you go last, not first. Same with parking. Park the farthest away not the closest and do not have a designated (and close) parking spot.

5. Top leader or leaders having others attend training, yet not attending the training they make others attend. Over the years when I conducted large training sessions for organizations, I would only do it if the CEO was present and sat in front. Attendees knew it was important when the CEO attended the whole time and was front and center.

6. Top leader or leaders not pitching in. A company had their annual awards banquet at an event center. The top leader was new, only arriving a few weeks prior. After the event was over, many leaders in attendance headed for the door. The new top leader did not. He began helping the maintenance staff break down tables and chairs. It did not go unnoticed by the leaders on their way out. Most turned around and helped the staff finish putting away the tables and chairs.

7. Top leader or leaders coming late to meetings. If anyone else came late, the person would be considered not having respect for the time of others. So, when the top leader arrives late it shows a lack of respect for other attendees’ time. It can’t be “do as I say, not as I do.” It must be “Do as I do.”

It’s common for a top leader to say the employees are the most important people or that they are the lifeblood of an organization. However, what is said is not always what is done. Employees figure out quickly who walks the talk and who does not. While they may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings out of fear, they know they are there.