Motivation – flat out for the common cause

In Productivity and motivation on January 31, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Dunkirk, England’s 1966 World Cup  win, the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in South East Asia are all examples of situations where a team or people are drawn together by a common cause and go on to make a remarkable effort to achieve a much needed (or desired ) result.  Contrast this with five men standing around the proverbial hole in the road whilst one man digs, or the postman who cannot be bothered to deliver all the mail so he stashes the rest in his home (as has happened).  In an organisation how can you establish common cause and achieve high levels of motivation that are both enjoyable AND sustainable?

It’s easy to see the link in a sporting team.  The more everyone works together, the more likely there is to be a good result.  The adrenalin rush of winning is almost sufficient reward on its own, let alone the other benefits.  As a lawyer, being on the winning team enhances your personal reputation – and that of your organisation.  And even if you lose – well you have still been paid and the case was an interesting intellectual challenge!  But what about the shelf stacker, the checkout assistant, the road sweeper or office cleaner?  Establishing common cause in these situations is much more difficult.  It is possible and the benefits are huge.  Of course money can be a great motivator, but this is not about money.  Indeed a number of studies have shown that money is not the great motivator it is cracked up to be.  Here are some thoughts from my own past.

Firstly the two Ps – PEOPLE and PROCESS.  You may call them staff, partners, employees, labour or anything.  BUT, every one of them is a human being, a person with a name, personality, history and a future.  Start calling your colleagues and subordinates by name. remember names, ask about them and their day.  When people are called by name and someone takes an interest in them they are lifted up, they start to feel good about themselves – work harder, be more efficient.  A little bit of recognition and relationship goes a long way.  This is more than a Hawthorne effect (look in Wikipedia), because you can keep this up.  All the best ‘bosses’ I have had in my career or seen at clients’ offices have done this.

The second P is PROCESS.  Hopefully everyone in an organisation is doing something that adds value and is therefore a relevant and important part of the process.  For example, no food stacking means no food on the shelves to sell.  Have you ever passed by an empty shelf and made your purchase of that item at another store? Empty shelves mean lower sales!  The key here is to explain the process and make sure everyone is aware of the importance of their role and that the role is recognised as such.  Supervisors – give recognition to the lowest role, it is still important.  Don’t demean your colleagues because they do not have a high profile role.  Do you wonder why the credits at the end of films are so long? Well the company is giving credit to all who helped put the film together, not just those who were in front of the camera!

The third big area for me is leadership.  Part of the role of a good leader is to establish common cause.  Don’t confuse this with vision.  Apple’s vision of an Apple on every desk is not going to motivate the microchip worker in a factory in China!  Leaders all through the organisation need to think about what their common cause is and how it can drive up performance for the whole.  Having created common cause, they then need to make sure that (by using the two Ps above) everyone understands the importance of their own contribution.

But what about those roles where it is hard to apply the two Ps or a leader cannot figure out something to generate common cause?  For example the solitary road sweeper (who is nevertheless part of a bigger team) or the late night office cleaner.  This is where we need to consider personal Interest, the topic of the next blog!


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