Why does it take an economic downturn for business leaders to realise that listening to employees and really understanding their values is the key to authentic motivation which is fundamental to creating outstanding performance?

Sadly this still seems to be the case for many.

Research revealed last week by recruitment specialist Robert Half showed that promoting employees within an organisation, but not attributing a pay rise to that promotion, is becoming more and more prevalent in the UK (less so in Europe). The cynics among us may think that this is just about getting more for less. However, it seems that many business leaders are beginning to understand that, if they want to retain employees they need to provide them with the opportunities to develop in their organisations, regardless of remuneration, by offering them roles that demand higher levels of responsibility.

Of course, this is not to say that remuneration should not be appropriate and no doubt, as economic times improve, there will be some adjustments. Leaders appear to be realising that if you want to retain and develop your talented people you need to provide them with opportunities to experience their own leadership capabilities.

Regardless of the finances, they need the stretch and the chance to develop as outstanding leaders.

We can all recognise that when times are good and money is more plentiful in the organisation, generally we find retention and motivation easier. But this often leads to less thought being put into it – we just focus on financial rewards.

As a result, how authentic is that motivation, and moreover, how long does it last?

We would suggest from a leadership training point of view that while increases in pay and remuneration generally form part of the motivation jigsaw puzzle, they are not the only important factors. True motivation that inspires outstanding performance across the organisation is really all about leadership.

So many other surveys in the last few years have found that what people want most from their leaders is to be listened to and feel valued. When was the last time you truly listened to those working around you?

It is important to remind ourselves that people are complex, and there are very few leaders who can look at the people they work with and have an accurate idea of what truly matters to them in life. By communicating more openly, asking powerful questions, listening and getting to know individuals, not just as employees but as people, leaders will be able to inspire high performance, regardless of whether a pay increase is on the table.

This may sound like a great way to be, but how does it work in practice? Listening is a critical part of the Personal Leadership Programme (PLP), and each time we work with groups of leaders (whether they are team leaders, senior managers or department heads) they begin to recognise how little they actually manage to listen to those around them.

Try this – next time you speak with a member of your team, consciously give them your undivided attention. So no phones, no door-knocking, no rushing off to meetings or constant note-making. Just listen absolutely, without interruption. I guarantee you’ll discover things you never knew before.

Where are people’s priorities in life? What is important to one person, that maybe of less value to another? How can we best support each one of them to take on new challenges? When you begin to understand the answers to these questions, as a leader, you’re ability to inspire and increase the motivation of your team will move beyond what money can reach.

These are the behaviours that outstanding leaders embrace (authentic listening, supportive coaching, empowering questions) that actually develop leaders around them. When we begin to behave in this way others will see the impact on the team or organisation and this will begin to create organic, cultural change throughout the business.

Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader – Leadership Training

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