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Christina Lattimer

People Discovery

Director And Owner

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Christina’s Counsel: What can we do to motivate disaffected middle managers?

Hello and welcome to this month’s dilemma:
The challenge
This month, an employer asked for advice on how to motivate a group of middle managers. These managers had provided feedback indicating that they were demotivated due to a lack of control as they felt that the senior management team had all of the decision-making power. In a fairly large organisation, the impact was significant.
My response:
Sometimes just allowing managers to be heard and feel that their views are respected is enough to spur them on to initiate changes themselves. Most managers are in that position because they are self-motivated and will take the initiative. 
However, if things have gone so far that they feel helpless and unable to make vital change themselves, more drastic action may be required. 
It’s always difficult to wrest control from senior managers if they have a directive rather than collaborative management style and are particularly keen to keep a tight grip on decision-making. But things don’t have to stay the same nonetheless and, with the right approach, a motivation to succeed can be encouraged to return.
Whenever a group of employees are out of sync, it is rarely just about them. As a result, an holistic solution should be considered. Here are some generic actions that any organisation can take to help motivate staff at all levels: 
1. Harness the support of the chief executive or head of the organisation: If they are the problem, then the HR director or another trusted advisor will have to divulge some hard facts around the cost of their behaviour such as loss of productivity, absence and the like.
2. Test the temperature across the whole organisation: People work best when they:
  1. Have some control
  2. Feel Valued
  3. Feel Safe
  4. Have invested emotionally in something or feel like they belong.
Evaluate whether your organisational structure supports these four basic needs. If there is a control imbalance, consider if there are clear:
  • Boundaries around roles
  • Accountability/responsibility for activities
  • Parameters around risk management.
  • Requirements for a hierarchal structure –would alternative flatter structures be equally or more effective instead?
3. Develop an internal customer service culture: Thinking of business relationships in this way helps employees to better understand how their role fits in with that of others.
4. Ensure that workers have a common purpose: People will work more effectively towards a desired outcome if they are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Everyone should know ‘what’s in it for them’ based on their contribution as well as any rewards, otherwise they will not buy in.
5. Make certain that all communications are open and transparent: Encourage particularly demotivated groups to get proactively involved in identifying and finding solutions to their own problems. Match their findings with concrete action to maintain motivation. Be honest about any challenges and emphasise the organisation’s commitment to improving the situation. 
6. Get regular feedback from staff: Stay on top of people’s preoccupations and concerns so that you are aware of how to keep them engaged and productive. 
Christina Lattimer is director and owner of HR and leadership development consultancy, People Discovery.
If you have an HR problem and don’t know what to do, send her an email to Christina’[email protected]. All problems will be treated in the strictest confidence and, if published, will be made suitably anonymous.

One Response

  1. Creating a ‘Motivational’ Environment

    Your first two suggestions particularly struck a chord with me.  Our experience is that senior leaders frequently invest huge amounts of time and resources attempting to change the behaviours of their managers, whilst omitting to look at their own.  When it comes to informing them of the impact they may be having, I think you need considerable evidence and it’s essential that it relates to very specific behaviours, so that they can see precisely what needs to change, how to change it and the potential benefits, otherwise why would they risk it – after all, from their perspective, what they have been doing has brought them considerable success to date!  Our leadership programmes demonstrate how by making small changes and being consistent, we can have a huge impact – participants are frequently stunned by the impact on performance and relationships of what appear to be very tiny shifts in behaviour.

    To your second point, I agree, people do work at their best when they are involved in what is going on, feel that their contribution is valued, when there is an opening, trusting environment, in which they feel safe to speak out.  However, creating this environment is not simply about making a decision that this is what you want and telling everyone this is how it’s going to be.  Every single behaviour, particularly from senior people, will determine the environment, so saying that we value our people, but never taking time to tell them how and why your feel they make a difference, or never making time to listen to them will send a completely different message. 

    Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

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Christina Lattimer

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