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How to motivate junior managers to change.

When you talk to a group of junior managers, you have a unique opportunity to connect with and motivate them. It’s a big chance to cut through the middle management “information filter” and communicate your message to the people at the front-end of your company.

A typical scenario is an Executive Exchange, also called a Fireside Chat. I have sat through hundreds these informal discussions. Most sessions run for about two hours. Some sessions are awful, like watching paint dry – extremely boring. Most are useful. A few sessions are simply fantastic.  

What makes a Board member or executive interesting? How do you become worth listening too? What moves managers most to implement changes now?

This is what has been proven to work through hands-on experience.

#1 Be informal, it helps them to relax and avoids silly behaviour.
For many junior managers, particularly in large companies, it’s their first meeting with a Board member in such an intimate group. Some managers are a little excited and a little nervous. Their nerves can make those people do silly things. You can easily identify it: the questions are “soft”, the discussion is unchallenging. The solution: when you are relaxed and open from the start, they will be too. The questions become more challenging, which is positive because the discussions more robust and positive. Everyone benefits.

#2 Talk about the sensitive issues.
A Board member came in two days before an announcement on the future of his division and with a lot of jobs at risk. He put all the issues on the table and talked honestly. The managers picked up on that honesty and reacted positively. Of course, the risk of not talking openly is “doing an Elvis” – leaving people with suspicious minds. Then confusion, fear and mistrust are sure to spread like an uncontrollable virus.

#3 Share your experience, but make it relevant to your key points and actual business.
For managers, it’s great to hear what you did when you were at their level. But make it relevant. One Chief Strategy Officer spent an hour sharing his personal experience of being a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. But this company did less than 5% of its business in America and it wasn’t owned by venture capitalists. After a long hour the managers were shifting in their seats, bored.  The executive could have been more relevant if he had connected his experience to a key business theme, like internal innovation.

#4 Connect high-level strategy to daily actions at their level.
Give specific examples of actions they can take in line with your strategy. Take this example from an excellent session in 2009. Head office in the States dictated that the EMEA region had to keep profit margins above 10%. Competition in the European market was increasing. The financial crisis was in full swing.  None of the mid-level European managers believed this strategy made sense. (And if they think that, you can guess what they tell the employees!) The EMEA Finance Director came to talk to the group. He opened the session with two real, clear, current examples of how Production was improving its processes and linked these to higher profit margins. The European managers had changed their opinions, without exception. It was the specific steps that gave them the clarity and motivation they needed.

#5 Motivation increases when you make it meaningful.
The story in the point above is a great example of making it meaningful. The more it means to managers at their level, the more motivated they are.

Be yourself. Use the power of your gravitas and personal presence. Combine these with three things: your experience, your knowledge of the business and your view of the opportunities in the market.

Finish with a focus on customers. At the end the meeting focus on what your company should be doing: serving customers better. Give the managers three priorities/actions that will make the company serve customers better.

And finally, all of the above is relevant, regardless of your industry, profession, nationality or age.

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You have brought a direct positive impact on our sales… because people work more customer-oriented. Our efficiency levels... are continuously growing.

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Leading this product launch has taught me to be effective doing what I find naturally easiest – using trust and supporting people each step of the way. It augments my chances of making sure future product launches are as successful as this one.

MN Vice Director - Medical Marketing Europe

This process allowed people to re-appraise how this [senior team of managers] group was functioning or, rather, not functioning correctly. The tendency for each member of our group to see himself as an isolated beacon of excellence – which acted against the vital need for cooperation between members – were eased and communication is already becoming more 'normalised'.

RS Senior Director

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