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Five actions to improve global business unit results using motivation

It’s the same old tipping points that bring up poor motivation: product defects, broken processes, customer complaints or key employee’s leaving. Acting out of fear, personal disappointment or pure desperation, managers look for a magic cure to boost workers’ motivation overnight and get performance back on track.

This is like suddenly deciding on Wednesday to run a marathon on Sunday, after you’ve spent the last six months sitting on the sofa, eating crisps and watching Netflix. It’s not going to happen.

Motivation takes time. The best managers know this and work for the long-term benefits. The business benefits of highly motivated workers are clear.
Take the statistics from Gallup. This is one of the largest global surveys. The statistics are consistent across international locations and industries. Compare highly-motivated workers with low-motivated workers and the benefits and costs are clear. For business units with highly-motivated workers:

  • Financials improve: profitability is 21% higher, sales 20% higher.
  • Customers are happier: customer satisfaction is 10% higher.
  • Productivity goes up: productivity is 17% higher; at the same time absenteeism is 41% lower and staff turnover as much as 59% lower.
  • Quality is better: quality problems are 40% lower.
  • Costs:  shrinkage is 28% lower.

Those are impressive figures!

It pays to take the long-term view on motivation. Here’s are five actions to turn the situation around:

#1 The executive team sets the primary example.
Do executives motivate their direct reports? If not, you have an uphill battle to turn the situation around. The best executives lead by example, encourage local and lower managers to do the same. They take two more crucial actions. They make sure local employees have time to familiarise themselves with the company’s key processes, systems and products. Secondly, they listen to workers’ feedback about barriers to engagement, e.g. broken processes or too much bureaucracy, and work to remove those barriers.

#2 Cascade responsibility for motivation to local countries.
People are most influenced by those they know, those they spend the most time with. Whilst it could be inspiring to listen to a senior executive, it is better to work on motivation at the local level. Get country managers and their team to lead the charge.

#3 Cascade accountability for business results, not accountability for motivation.
You can’t cascade accountability for motivation to distant managers. What are they going to report back? “Yes, I congratulated my team on a job well done.” How will you know whether they did it or how they did it? The effect of local managers' motivational efforts shows through in the business results. So measure the business outcomes – financial, customer, quality, productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover – and make local managers accountable for these.

#4 Connect with individuals not objects.
A team, a department, business unit... these are all abstract objects. You motivate individuals, not abstract objects. This means knowing what is important to each person. Connect with them beyond simply positional relationships. What do you know about the person you are trying to motivating? What’s happening in their life that is important right now? How does the way you design work processes help them achieve the most with their working hours and achieve the most outside of work?

#5 Understand the difference between commitment and compliance, and be wise enough to know when to use each one.
Commitment is when you “choose to” do something; compliance is you “have to” do it. Workers who commit will go the extra mile to be successful and make customers happy. They also have higher levels of individual responsibility for the outcomes of their work. There is less blaming, scapegoating and work avoidance. In general, commitment is better, but there are a few times when compliance is needed to get tasks done. It is a question of using both, not either-or.

Finally, remember that while you can start today, it takes time for the results to shine through.



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