Staff motivation: Holding deeper conversations can help drive motivation

Most would agree that good relationships in the workplace between and among managers and staff should improve performance and productivity. Sukhwant Bal believes coaching-like conversations are key to this process.

Too many managers are much too busy. This may be an understandable response to the immense pressure they are under, but it’s unacceptable. Why? Because the biggest single factor in delivering improved performance lies in managers paying more attention to the relationships they have with their direct reports and when managers are too busy they start to compromise the time, energy and attention they give to their people.

Some people have started to call this ’emotional economics’. The whole tenor of such an argument may have the hard rationalists spitting teeth, but here’s the truth: there is money to be made in emotion – and leading businesses are waking up to the fact.

At the investment and pension company, Skandia, they have been testing just how much of a difference it makes when managers pay more attention to this human dimension of their role and the results are impressive.

After a year-long programme, Skandia has tracked and measured a 50% average increase in motivation in those teams where managers have focused specifically on building relationships with their people. For those who are always looking for proof that investment in the soft stuff makes any difference, this is pretty compelling data.

So what has Skandia been doing that has made such a difference? The answer is that it has been training managers to have very different sorts of conversations with their staff. The defining characteristic of such conversations is that managers don’t start by focusing on the result that is required but rather on how the team member concerned can be switched on so that they take pride in their job and feel inspired about their work.

Of course, most managers know that successful business depends to a great extent on the motivation of their staff to perform, and what this approach supplies is a framework that helps them tap into people’s engagement. The way this works is that managers learn first of all how to have an in-depth conversation that focuses on what their people care about and what they are trying to achieve.

Once the manager and the team member have identified what this is, then a second phase conversation identifies what support, coaching and development the employee needs to help them reach their goals. In this way, individuals get excited about their own future, identify exactly what they have to work on, bring more energy to work and move up the performance curve.

This approach is vastly different from the usual ‘information exchange’ or ‘communicate and tell’ mode that managers typically adopt with staff.

In the coaching conversation, the breakthrough results are achieved not by the manager setting hugely ambitious goals, but rather by ensuring there is a big emotional connection from the person to the target or goal they are trying to deliver. That’s what helps the individual concerned own both their performance and drive their performance.

This isn’t a conversation that managers typically know how to have. They need training that helps them with essential coaching skills, such as questioning, listening and giving feedback, as well as learning how to provide genuine support to their people. In addition, they need to learn how to open up to their people, how to talk about the relationship they need, and how to challenge current performance levels. This is all very different from managers simply telling their employees what to do.

The power of this approach, however, is that it provides managers with a fast and sustainable way of building motivation into their team.

Sukhwant Bal is managing director of 100 Watt Coaching and the author of The Power to Inspire High Performance

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