Aug 15

Missing Out On Employees’ Motivational Drivers

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

I just came across a great article in The McKinsey Quarterly 2009, Number 2 titled “The irrational side of change management” where  authors Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller point out common pitfalls in change management. However, there is also a valuable lesson to be learned for leadership communication in general.

Many leaders seem to be unaware that what motivates them doesn’t necessarily motivate their employees. When those leaders communicate with their staff, they often mention only the positive impact or outcome for the company that an initiative would have. The legitimate question of the employee “What’s in it for me?” is more often than not ignored.

Since the message of most leaders is clearly focused on the outcome for the company, it misses out on about 80% of the workforce’s primary motivators!

Research has shown that when managers and employees are asked what motivates them the most in their work they are equally split among five forms of impact:

  • Impact on society (e.g. doing something for the community)
  • Impact on the customer (e.g. providing excellent customer service)
  • Impact on the company and its shareholders (e.g. sales and profit)
  • Impact on the working team (e.g. creating a caring environment)
  • Impact on “me” (the employee) personally (e.g. my development, my remuneration)

This finding has far-reaching implications for leaders. Since the message of most leaders is clearly focused on the outcome for the company, it misses out on about 80% of the workforce’s primary motivators!

At Merck Thailand, we were committed to the 4 stakeholders approach (care for employees, care for customers, care for shareholders and care for society). Therefore, we didn’t face the above problem. Our leadership communication addressed the needs of all stakeholders, not only the company and its shareholders.

Connecting with the followers is one of the most important topics for a leader. Therefore, let me share with you the advice from a book that has served me well over the years. “Generating Buy-In: Mastering the Language of Leadership” by Mark S. Walton is one of my favourite books. Walton describes in it the importance and the power of strategic stories. He gives the following recommendation:

  1. Develop and state a buy-in objective.
  2. Give your audience a picture of the positive future that will result if they follow your agenda.
  3. Break your story into three chapters, each of which addresses an important concern for your audience. Put the focus on your audience’s needs, not your own. Provide evidence and examples to make your promises credible.
  4. When you finish your story, explicitly ask for commitment, loyalty, cooperation and action from your audience.

Simple, but practical advice!

I am following this pattern since years, whenever I have a major idea, proposal, issue where I need to get the buy-in of my followers. The most prominent display is always during our Annual Corporate Take-Off – Meeting every year in January, where I am aiming to align the entire organization behind one goal.

An example:

  1. State a buy-in objective: Sales of x million Euro in 2009
  2. A positive future for all of us: We live the 4 stakeholders approach where everybody (employees, customers, shareholders, society) is well taken care of.
  3. Three-part story line: 1. You have the chance to achieve a life time dream while going to destination X (incentive trip); 2. You enhance your personal development while going for the x million Euro sales goal; 3. You are part of a larger story, a winning team, giving you a sense of achievement.
  4. A call to action: I am asking for your commitment, cooperation and action to turn our sales goal into reality.

Strategic stories are the language of leadership. The ability to inspire others – to get them to understand, make a commitment and actively support the defined cause or mission – is the most important leadership skill.

As a leader, you have to find the common ground between what you want and what your audience wants. And always remember that it is absolutely key that you address the needs and priorities of the audience, things that motivate your followers, not only what you care about.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 15th, 2009 at 11:51 and is filed under Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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