Do You Know What Motivates Your Team?

Leading a high-performing team requires understanding how to motivate individual performers. When you know what motivates your team, you can better lead them to drive results. Even better, you will be able to help them lead themselves.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most people do not know what motivates them. If you ask one of your team members what motivates them, you will probably receive a vague answer (“money”, “family”, “praise”), if any answer. One reason is because they are trying to guess what you think is the right answer. No one wants to give the boss a bad answer. The other reason is because they legitimately do not know.

Few people spend the time to consider what drives them forward each day and what they want from life. They are moving too fast to consider it. Still, it does not hurt to ask. If you really want to know what motivates someone, though, the best way to find out is through observation. Pay attention to their interactions with other people. Notice what types of situations and conversations energize them and what challenges they shy away from or reluctantly accept.

I used to lead a sales team and I found 3 primary motivators among my employees. These 3 motivators extend beyond sales, so I thought I would share them with you, as I have seen them:

1. Motivated by Greed. Some people seem motivated by money–by financial goals. They want to make all the money they can and they will do whatever it takes to have more than the person next to them. Of course, money itself is not the motivator. The motivator is what they believe money brings–status, luxury, a reputation among their peers or family. They want to feel famous in their own world.

2. Motivated by Deed. Some people are motivated by winning. Money is nice but what they really want is to be the best. They enjoy recognition of their ability and they are not only “in it to win it” but they are also driven to perform as role-models. They take intentional, conscious action to learn, and work hard to do whatever they do better than everyone else. They love to see goals in front of them almost as much as they love blowing past those goals. They want to feel proud and accomplished. They are motivated by the action of perfection itself.

3. Motivated by Need. Some people just want to do right by others. They work in alignment with a moral code. They never want to be seen as a slick “car salesman”. They have to fill a need to be in service to others, volunteering for a greater charitable calling to help their church, or the environment, or local charities. Moreover, they need the people they serve to acknowledge their nobility or fortitude. They want to help people and they feel a need to have people know how much they sacrifice. They need to feel good about themselves.

 

By helping a team member or friend play to their strengths and motivations, I find they compel themselves to excel. Often, this is done by simply framing a conversation to align with their motivational view-point. For example, during a sales contest, I might frame a conversation like this for each motivator:

  1. Greed: Pat, if we finish number one in this sales contest, you will have an extra $1,000 in your pocket, which will make a nice first payment on that new Lexus you want. Just throwing it out there…
  2. Deed: Chris, you owe it to yourself to finish at the top. I know you can do it. You know you can do it. You have worked and practiced for this. Now let’s show everyone else why you are the best at what you do.
  3. Need: Sam, finishing number one in this contest means you could be a hero at the shelter. What a cool gift that would be to donate, and honestly, if Pat wins it, you know that money will not go to a charity. I want to see the look on your face when you write the check. Make me proud.

 

The important thing, of course, is to be authentic to yourself in these conversations. If you don’t care if Pat gets the Lexus, or Chris leads by example, or Sam gives the money to a charity, then don’t pretend to be on their side. If you are not motivated by them feeling motivated, then they won’t be motivated by you. Use a different tactic.

Either way, it is good to know what energizes the people around you so you can have conversations that energize you both. Whether your thing is Greed, Deed, or Need, knowing the prime motivators will help you succeed.

 

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Light Hearted Leadership

I attended Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop a couple weeks ago and “Rule 6” has been sticking with me. “Don’t forget Rule 6,” Seth admonished us attendees. Rule 6 is “Never take yourself too seriously.”

As an adolescent, I worked at my uncle’s restaurant, washing dishes. One day, I opened the faucet and the handle snapped, creating an instant water fountain in the kitchen. The cooks scrambled to save food. The bus boys scrambled to cover surfaces and keep things dry. The waitresses fled to keep their hair from getting wet. And the water kept gushing toward the ceiling. I was the only who didn’t move. I froze, panicked. I knew my uncle was going to kill me, I just knew it.

What I did not know, though, was my uncle had learned Rule 6. While I stared in awe and terror at the water-spout, my uncle grabbed a towel and forced the water down. “Mikey!” he said, snapping me to attention. I thought I was about to get fired… and then terminated. When I glanced up, though, my uncle looked like a dog who went swimming for the first time. He was soaking wet, hair in his face, and water dripping off every corner of his body but he had the biggest smile I had ever seen. Unbelievably, he started laughing. He said, “Guess we didn’t see that coming, huh?” I had no idea how much food we lost or what the clean-up was going to cost us but I knew it was a big hit financially that day, and it was somehow my fault, and my uncle was going to have to pay for it all and was about to fire me, and he was laughing?

“Hold this while I grab a wrench,” my uncle said, putting my hand on the towel holding back the water-spout. Seeing him laugh also eased the tension with everyone else in the kitchen. Within minutes, the cooks and bus boys were singing songs while they frantically cleaned up and sent orders out. Everyone was laughing and making jokes about what just happened.

After the water was mopped up and everything was put back together, I knew the yelling would come but it never did. I learned, over time, that my uncle had a light heart about the worst disasters. It was not that he did not respond or take appropriate action when bad things happened. It was that he did it while appreciating the absurdity of the unexpected. He knew things do not always go the way we want and when bad things happen, there was no point in reacting badly and making them worse.

Today, I lead with a light heart, too, and I appreciate Rule 6.

Problems are serious. Situations are serious. Strategy is serious. Emergencies are serious. But you don’t have to be. When problems arise, you do not have to be the type of person everyone expects to die from a stress-induced heart attack or brain aneurysm brought on by yelling so angrily you burst a blood vessel in your forehead.

Try being someone who understands life is not always perfect and knows the unexpected is the fun part. It’s okay to smile when bad things happen. It does not mean you do not recognize things have gone badly. It means you are committing to not making them worse. What good will lending a bad reaction to a bad situation do?

Life would be boring without the challenges, anyway.

Leading with a light heart during tough times endears your team to follow you and rise up, keeping light hearts as well (of course, some people will feel angry that you are not being “serious enough” for them–but that is their problem, isn’t it?). Think about it. If there was a disaster, which team would you want to be on?

The one singing and smiling while they continue to serve customers and get the job done, or… well… the other one?

You can choose to smile.

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If You Want To Change, You Have To Change

Each day I come up with a lesson learned in life and I share it. Here is today’s lesson.

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We fear change. I know I certainly do anyway. When something seems to be working (an old family tradition, a standardized training program, a ritual for good luck, a habit, etc.) we tend to cling to it, even when it has lost its effectiveness.

Smokers, for example, want to quit smoking, but do not want to change their habits. I would like to lose weight but I don’t want to change what or how or when I eat. Companies want better results but don’t want to change the way they train or communicate with people. It is natural to fear what is different. “Different” means “unpredictable”.

The problem is, if you do not change anything, then nothing will change.

We can not expect better results from old habits. It is true, sometimes we might falter, or even fail, but the difference between accepting “different” is that change brings knowledge, and knowledge brings enlightenment. When you embrace doing things differently, even your failures become foundations for learning how to succeed.

In other words, if you want to change, then you have to change.

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How To Have Nice Things

Every day I reflect on my life to figure out what lesson I learned that day. Then, I share that lesson with you.

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I have really nice things. I carry one of the best smartphones, all my clothes are expensive (compared to most big box/mall brands) and fit my exacting needs. I eat organic, healthy foods and I drive a nice car.

I am not bragging. Less than 10 years ago, I lost everything. I was living paycheck to paycheck, wondering how I was going to survive a divorce, a new career, and a new life in a new city on less than half my former salary. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I had no friends, no family nearby. It was just me and my misery for a long time.

I am not looking for kudos or empathy. I know you have probably been there, or at least felt like you have at times. Maybe you are in a tough spot now. I thought you might like to know how I rebuilt, and ended up with even nicer stuff, in 3 easy-sounding (but immensely difficult) steps:

     1.  I singled out the real, true essentials. I turned to a minimalist lifestyle. I threw out every thing I did not need. I mean everything from old year books to pots and pans to clothes to furniture to towels to books. If I did not use it, touch it, look at it, or notice it over the course of a year, then I decided it must not be as important to me as I thought. I tossed it, whatever it was. Soon, I only had what I truly needed, with very few exceptions.

     2. If I could not afford it, then I did not buy it. Money was tight. I might have wanted a new (blank) to replace my old (blank) but if I did not have the money in hand, I simply could not buy it, just like when I was a kid looking at the candy in a grocery store. Sure, I wanted it all but if I only had 50 cents, then all I could afford was a couple of suckers, and that was better than nothing. No credit, no borrowing, no creative financing. The fun ran out when the money did and that was that.

     3. When I did buy it, I bought the best one I could afford. I needed jeans for a long time but I did not buy a pair until I had saved enough to buy the only pair I wanted–the vegan friendly Prana Axiom jeans with gusseted inseams and rugged stretch fabric. They were (and still are) the gold standard to me and the funny thing is, they were worth every penny. They still look like new and fit like a charm, plus I can sit cross-legged in them without any worry of tearing the fabric. I bought one pair. It was another year before I could buy a second pair. The same went for every product I now own. Until I could afford the one I wanted, I either bought nothing or the absolute cheapest piece of junk that would help me get by.

 

I still live small but everything I own is the thing I chose. I went from zero to luxury in less than a decade and you can, too. I had no idea how little I actually need and how much better I can live, when I think small, live without owing, and pay the most I can afford for the best I can afford.

For me, it is the tale of two worlds, and frankly, I like the world I live in now better.

 

 

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Don’t Hire Me!

The secret to hiring well is, well, not hiring.

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I would not say I am a “recruitment whisperer” but I have a good track record of hiring great teams. In a group training session, a new hire asked, “How did you know everyone in this room would work so well together? We all have such different personalities, yet we all seem to gel. What’s your secret?”

I said, “The truth is, as I interviewed each of you, I was never looking for a reason to bring you on board. I was trying to find any reason not to hire you.”

He looked stunned. I continued, “I think many hiring managers miss that point. I talked to each of you several times but every one of my questions was designed to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Everyone in this room is truly the best of the best I interviewed. You are here because I could not think of a single reason for you not to be here. So, pat yourselves on the back and thanks for making my job easy!”

Leaders (in whatever field) are leaders, I think, because they often move forward by going the opposite direction of everyone else.

 

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Who Are They Talking To?

Today’s Lesson: Your team talks about you and it is not all pleasant. Get over it.

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After overcoming a hefty amount of fear (and continuing to overcome it), I introduced a group chat tool to a team of remote workers. There was some hesitation from the executive team (who “grew up”, so to speak, in the traditional work environment) and I give them credit for embracing their fears and moving forward anyway.

They said…

“…But these people don’t talk to each other now. What if they start talking to each other and finding out some of them are paid differently or have special exceptions made?”  They already assume not everyone is paid exactly the same and life is not always perfectly fair. As leaders, we are thrusting our heads into the sand and pretending the world does not exist if we really think our employees never talk to each other. (After I enrolled the employees, it turns out a few of them were already using the app anyway!)

“…But what if they say bad stuff about the company? Can we shut them down?”  They already say bad stuff about the company (some of them). The difference is, you have no insight at all into what they are saying now. By being involved in the conversation, you might have a chance to correct misinformation or bad attitudes, or prevent both altogether.

“…But what if somebody posts something inappropriate or uses bad language?” How do you handle that now, if someone does the same thing in an email or at a meeting in front of everyone? Why would you do anything different here?

“But… but… but…” But it is time to stop pretending we work in 1950. People will talk, collaborate, and occasionally misbehave whether or not you are watching. At least now, you might have some input. Even if you do not, you are naive to think your people can not lambaste you or your company now on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or their own blogs, or just by texting or emailing their friends. You are plain crazy to think you can isolate them from a world of mass communication. Your choice here is to embrace technology and leverage it to become a better leader/ team/ company or sit idly while your people and your competitors embrace it.

Your people are already talking. The question is, if they are not talking to you, then who are they talking to?

 

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3 Ways Leaders Sabotage Companies

Today’s Lesson: Know what you want. Know how you will get there. Treat your best people best.

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There are 3 ways I see leaders sabotage the success of their company:

1. Leaders want results, but do not know what “results” are (and do not have a legitimate path or plan to achieve them). Every company I know of has a goal, that trickles down as a never-ending demand, to “increase profits”. There is nothing wrong with making more profit except “make more profits” is a wish, not a goal. Cutting expenses, for example, would seem to help increase profit for a company but if the line-items being shaved are at the expense of employee morale, saving those pennies can actually undermine the goal of  profitability.

I once worked for a company that required a request form be completed when employees wanted office supplies, including standard disposable pens. Employees, of course, began bringing their own pens and other supplies to avoid the rigamarole. The policy worked. The company did save a few bucks, but also many employees eventually left for better companies that valued team members more than they valued disposable pens. No one cited the request form as a reason for leaving but former employees still bring the story up when they get together.

Results drive profitability; pens do not.

Leaders can fail at understanding which results are being driven or even how to identify a result. A result, I say, is the outcome (positive or negative) of actions taken to reach an objective. Knowing the results a company or team is striving to bring to life helps your team know if they are winning the game. So the first rule to defining a result is, there must be an end in sight or a way to know the game is over.

A desired result must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal. Imagine if marathon runners were told to run faster and faster (the desired result being to reach the finish line) but were never told where the finish line is or what path to take. They would lose steam quickly, not knowing when to tap their energy reserves to push forward. Some would run the wrong direction. Some would stop too often while others would never know if they should ever take a break. Many would quit after a short time. Team members need to know how to win, and what winning looks like.

A result must also be actionable. Running a marathon is obviously actionable. You strap your shoes on and run. But what about selling more widgets? The obvious action is not always present. A good leader reduces the workload and narrows the vision of the goal until the next action is so clear it seems stupid to do anything else. Telling your marathoners to “run that way really fast until I tell you to stop” is not clear. Pointing out the fastest, most direct route to the finish line, noting where a team should be at what point in the race, and encouraging them to move forward when they are tired (keeping updates on where the goal is, how far they have come, and how close they are) creates an actionable map to success.

The criteria for a result, then, is: it must have an end; it must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal, and you must be able to take clear action to achieve it.

What kind of map does your organization provide when asking for (or demanding) results?

 

2. Leaders have goals that are not actually goals. I have yet to come across a high-performing team that has met its primary objective. As my ROWE friends will tell you, many leaders and business owners operate under an archaic notion that the appropriate reward for work done well… is more work.

If you do not have a resting spot or reward zone for your high performers when they achieve results (which presumes the results are defined, reachable, and actionable), then your team is in jeopardy. Your true goal as a leader at that point has become simply to burn out your best people–to drain every ounce of effort from your top team members until they finally give up (and become middle or bottom performers), move up (being promoted so they can start the cycle over) or move on (to another career altogether). If that is where you are headed, then that is a goal worth re-thinking.

Many leaders I meet believe that “More” is itself a goal. “Our goal this year,” they say, “is to do even More sales than last year”. I challenge this by asking, “When is ‘more’… ‘enough’?”. Rather than create a goal for your team of “increase profit and reduce expenses”, define the terms. Set a profit goal of 30 million dollars and provide regular updates on which team members are helping most and how close you are to the goal as a team. Even better, add a clear incentive: “If we reach 30 million dollars in revenue by September 1st, the top 10% of our employees as judged by (X metric–widget sales, maybe, or customer return rate, etc.) will receive a one-time bonus check of $4,080 (or a two dollar-per-hour raise paid out in October if the goal is hit by September 1st). Does your team know what the stakes are and what the payoff for winning is? Perhaps most importantly, are the stakes and payoff commensurate to the effort you are asking of your team?

 

3. Leaders force top performers to work in the same cookie-cutter rule set as bottom performers, but continue to expect top performance. One of the biggest fallacies in work culture is that everything has to be fair. All workers have to follow the same rules, the same way, or you will be making exceptions all the time. The problem with this should be blatantly obvious, yet nearly every company institutes this erroneous idea to a fault. If every employee were the same and every work rule and practice were always the same, then results would always be the same… but they never are. Some weeks or months are more profitable than others; some employees are better at some tasks than others.

Leaders often refuse to acknowledge the reason “fair” does not work is because some employees are better than others. Go ahead and pick your cup off the floor–I said it and it is true. Some employees are better than others. If you prefer more politically correct phrasing, you can trade that for, “some employees provide greater value to the organization”.

I remember my first day working for a consulting firm that hired me for my innovative ideas on how to achieve the company’s vision and bring their mission statement and values to life. I watched the leaders of the company give a 3-hour power-point presentation to a large group. Afterwards they asked what I thought. I said, “I would get rid of the Power-point presentation or reduce the number of slides to 10 or less and remove most of the bullet points in favor of eye-catching pictures.” I was told the power-point has to stay as it is and I needed to learn their way instead of create my own. Although I gained invaluable experience, I did not last long with that employer because I was not a good fit for their cookie-cutter role. Within only a few months, they realized they did not know what to do with me. In the end, I lost a great team and they lost one of their greatest advocates and a committed employee… that might have become a great employee.

Effective leaders, I think, are effective because they know the distinction between a goal, a result, and a wish (a result, as stated previously, must exist in time and space–that is, a result is the measurable end of a cause/effect relationship in reality). A goal, on the other hand, is the desired end sum of results. It is what the results amount to. Great leaders understand that “More, Better, Different” are not goals (if your goal starts with any variation of those terms–“We need to make more widgets this year… we need better materials… we need a different approach…”, then you can stop there because you do not have a goal).

Goals set the end-point of results just as the finish line sets the end point of a marathon. The reward for meeting results and achieving goals should not be a never-ending raising of the bar. Top performers want a moment to enjoy their victory and look proudly over their kingdom–they need rest and a comfortable spot from which to observe their achievements once in a while.

Finally, great leaders throw out the cookie-cutter. Just because a company has done something the same way for 40 years is no justification to keep doing things the same way (“old” does not mean “effective”). Allowing your team the freedom to experiment and fail, and rewarding top-performers by treating them differently, with ever more freedom to do things their way, is a sure path to victory. Even if it seems crazy and no other person or team is doing it like your top performer… if he or she is producing the agreed-upon results and moving you toward your goal, don’t knock it; find a way to leverage it and improve it. Not forcing others to follow suit creates a little chaos, but it is exactly the right recipe for growth and innovation.

But don’t take my word for any of this. Ask your top performers what they think. Then listen, and step to the side of these 3 pitfalls.

Define results. Remember, the sum of defined results should lead to a goal. Reward your top performers with more freedom instead of more assignments.

 

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Why Did You Start Here?

Why did you take that job?

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There is a popular saying among leaders: “People do not quit their jobs. They quit their managers.” When I look back at the jobs I have left, most of the time that was true for me.

Today, I learned the adverse is also true. Before I decided to move out-of-state, I hired a new manager for my team. Between the time I extended the offer and her first day working for me, I made the decision to leave the company. I sat down with her today and explained the situation, assuring her she would be in good hands and laying out the details of her next few weeks. It was important to me, to make sure she felt supported and knew she has been set-up for success regardless of my departure.

After our conversation, she said, “I am really excited for you but I am also sad to see you go. We didn’t get to work together and one of the biggest reasons I decided to jump ship was because I wanted to come here and work for you.”

I was humbled and a bit awe-struck by the statement, though in retrospect, it seems obvious. She chose to work at this company based on conversations with me and the experiences I shared during our initial interview. She chose to work here because she trusts me, not necessarily because of what she read on our website.

When I thought about that, I realized that I also made many of my job choices because I liked, trusted, or recognized I could learn a lot from the person who interviewed me. In fact, the person representing the company was probably the biggest factor in my deciding to work for a company.

I was surprised to realize I was on the other side of that equation today.

 

Today’s Lesson: People do not quit their jobs. They quit their bosses. But also, people do not choose their jobs. They choose their leaders. 

 

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Am I Angry At You?

Words are powerful. It is fun to take a close look at how we use them.

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I find it interesting that we say things like, “I am angry at you!” AT you? We feel angry at a person or towards something. We are in love with somebody.

Our relationship to emotions is curious. We expel them from our bodies as if they are projectiles that we can throw at other people like baseballs. I am mad at you! The thing is, we let emotions live in our language in such a way that we are absolved of our responsibility for feeling them. We never say, “I am Anger now!”. Yet, curiously, we do say, “I am happy.” Perhaps we find it easier to accept we are present and in sync with a positive feeling but negative emotions happen to us.

Either way, think about how you use language to convey both the feelings you expel to others and accept from them, and listen to the language you use when defining your own emotions.

 

Today’s lesson: It is okay to feel emotions. Do not let yourself off the hook, however, for feeling them. Be conscious of the words you use to share your feelings. The onus is on you to take responsibility for who you are, not on others to accept you for who you feel like being.

 

 

 

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What Makes You a Leader?

Who died and made you boss?

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The managers on our team and I have a round table discussion each week. The topics range from sales figures and strategies to what the word “premium” means (as in “premium retailer”). This week, the question was thrown out there, “How long did it take you to feel comfortable in your role as leader?”

I pointed out that when someone is promoted to manager, nothing magical happens. There is no one who knights you or gives you a ring endowed with magic manager powers. In fact, nothing looks different from the day before. Nor should it. “Manager” (or “leader”, “executive”, “director”, etc.) is not an elected position. That was the first piece of advice I was given when I landed my first management position. My boss at the time (and one of the best leaders I have ever worked with to this day) explained that “manager” is no better than “janitor” in an organization. It is just a different set of responsibilities.

This realization would impact the rest of my career and provide one of my greatest strengths as a leader (in my opinion)… I never look down on the people I employ. I treat them as partners in the organization, only with a different set of responsibilities from mine. I believe this single, simple principle has brought forth dynamic change anywhere I have worked with oversight of a team.

 

Today’s lesson: When you take on a leadership role, don’t let it go to your head. You were not elected to the position and you hold your authority by the grace of the people willing to let you lead them.

 

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