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Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader


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Living Leader Learnings: Longer hours for less pay – How can I motivate my team?


The challenge 

The project team manager at a building refurbishment company asks:
“Motivating my team is really hard at the moment – their salaries have been frozen for the last two years and, because we have been unable to replace some staff members who left, everyone is working harder than ever. They all feel under pressure and under-rewarded. What can you suggest to help?”
The solution
The Living Leader replies:
If you are a regular reader of the Living Leader Learnings, you may remember something that I wrote a few months back about motivation – in reality, we cannot motivate others because motivation comes from within. 
This means that your role as a leader is to inspire people to motivate themselves. The reason that I believe this to be such an important distinction is because, if you think it is your role to motivate other people, the big challenge is: what happens when you’re not there?
So let go of thinking that it is down to you to motivate your team. Your key challenge here is that people are feeling highly pressured and are probably thinking that this isn’t what they signed up for.
It sounds as if you are looking for ways to make them feel better, but a more useful approach might be to sit down with the entire team and share openly and honestly how you perceive that they are feeling at this precise moment, along with your concerns and your understanding of how things are. 
Outline what they need to achieve and all of the deliverables that they are responsible for. Then ask them what changes each individual could make to support the others more effectively in order to make the job how they would like it to be, while at the same time offering them the necessary support to do so. 
The aim for your team is to take ownership of creating new ways of working.
A greater sense of control
We all tend to focus on doing things that are urgent rather than important so it is good to step back on a regular basis and ask ourselves whether some parts of our job couldn’t be done differently. 
For example, if you end up in a high number of meetings, perhaps it is time to challenge whether all of them are actually required, whether the format could be changed, if teleconferencing could be used to save on travel etc and the like. 
Ask yourself the questions: where might it be possible to free time up and how could we work together differently?
Rather than trying to answer all of these questions yourself, however, ask the team for their thoughts in order to involve them in the process. Give them responsibility for their generating own input, making their own decisions and putting them into practice. 
If this is a new approach, it may initially take time for them to develop new ideas. But as they begin to think more creatively, be sure to recognise the value of their efforts and input so that they understand how much you value the way in which they are starting to look at things differently. 
But the key to all of this is to let go of thinking that you have to do it for them. By enabling your team to take more responsibility, it will actually give individual members a greater sense of control over their time and, by finding new ways of working together, they will end up with a bigger sense of achievement. 
The reality is that, even though pay rises may not be forthcoming any time soon, if people feel that they are really making a difference and are personally valued by those around them, it has a major impact on their morale and feelings of self-worth.
Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership programme provider, The Living Leader.

One Response

  1. Tell the truth

    Warm fuzzy feelings of morale and self-worth are all well and good, but they’re not recognised as legal tender.  I might be totally self-motivated, but if all that happens is that my team leader keeps giving me more work, that motivation is only going to last so long before being replaced by the dreadful feeling that I am being taken advantage of.

    If wages have stayed frozen for two years, while inflation and everything else has not, then your employees are being paid less in real terms than they were two years ago.  You know it, they definitely know it, and there’s no way to sugar-coat it.

    If you have been unable to replace employees that have left, is this because there is a skill shortage in your area of expertise, and you received no suitable applicants, or is it because senior management have decided to see how much work they can squeeze out of the remaining employees by not hiring replacements?  If there’s genuinely no money to hire replacements, that would seem to be an indicator that the work isn’t coming in at the required level to keep the business running.  Your workforce will know the truth.

    There are few things more motivating than the truth.  If the company is doing poorly, then everyone needs to know. 

    So explain the wage freezes.  If paying a wage rise means the difference between staying in business and going out of business, then tell the staff.  Get them on side.  Explain that every penny you pay out that isn’t essential means less money at the end of the year for rises.  Ask them to find cost-cutting solutions, and be prepared to implement them.  Get buy-in from management that money saved in your department stays in your department, for wages, bonuses, or extra staff.

    Of course, if the reason there’s no money for wage rises is that the CEO just *had* to have a new BMW this year, make sure the staff know that as well.  I’m sure they’ll still be only too happy to help out.

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