The Rules of engagement

Bob Arnold looks at how line managers can be coached to win the hearts and minds of an organisation by employing simple motivational techniques

Ensuring that employees are fully engaged and motivated at work is vital to the success and longevity of any business. Recent research shows that 78 per cent of people in the UK are considering quitting their jobs to become self-employed in 2004. Two-thirds state that they would like to use their skills and talents in new ways, suggesting that UK employers still have a lot to learn about motivation.

Most chief executives and senior managers are well versed in the theory of motivation and are familiar with its link to staff retention and productivity rates. However, motivation is often driven by those people who interact with employees on a day-to-day basis, who are more likely to be line managers than a member of the senior management team.


How can we train people who have the responsibility for motivating or demotivating their colleagues every morning to understand what they can do to bring out the best in them? There are two fundamental steps and, although they sound relatively simple, they often require a major review of the way in which staff, line managers and senior management work and communicate with each other.

The starting point is to recognise that everyone is motivated by different things; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to motivation. There is no training available at this diagnostic stage and no psychometric or assessment tool will give an answer to what motivates each individual person.

Typically, managers focus on functional areas such as compensation and benefits, recruitment and learning and development, rather than on what drives the employees themselves.

The first step then is to identify what motivates staff and make sure those things are consistent with the company’s values as an employer.

For some employees, financial rewards and incentives may be enough to maintain commitment. For others, financial rewards, though important, may be meaningless without policies that help them achieve a good work-life balance or an investment in their development through coaching and mentoring.

A good manager can change his or her management style to bring out the best from each employee. For example, in a sales environment, praise and recognition is good. If an employee comes into the office saying he has won a new piece of business it would be fruitless of the manager to simply say “now go get me another one”. This approach would probably totally demotivate the employee concerned as the manager has failed to recognise his achievement.


The second step is to communicate everything the organisation offers its employees so that they recognise the value of what they receive and have access to. This is where the real challenge for line managers lies. Most managers solve motivational issues by negotiating remuneration packages. In other words, throwing money at the problem. How good, though, is the typical line manager at communicating benefits beyond salaries? How good are they at articulating career opportunities to their teams?

It is not enough to know what motivates employees and put corresponding policies and benefits in place. An organisation needs to articulate what it offers individual employees on a daily basis. It is the line managers that are best placed to offer this positive reinforcement through day-to-day coaching of their staff. The importance of the line manager as coach and mentor should not be underestimated and they need to be trained accordingly. This is the key to improving staff motivation and ultimately retention. A lesson in motivation is, therefore, really a lesson in effective communication.

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