More and more people feel stuck at work and are looking for validation. Not only do they want to be heard, but more importantly they want to know that their contributions are being noticed and not taken for granted. Not for the sake of attention, but more so because they want to know that their skill sets are still relevant and useful and that they are making a difference to advance the organizations they serve. With professional development budget cut-backs in recent years, employees have had to start investing in themselves as concerns grow about where their capabilities best fit in their organizations and what their futures hold.
At the same time, leaders are trying to make their employees feel more secure in order to keep the ship afloat, aware that if too much disruption leaks out into the workplace, there is risk of losing top-talent which is difficult and costly to replace. In this ever changing workplace terrain, leaders need to think differently about how to keep their teams on track. They must become more intuitive; diverting from the traditional ways of leading that have become too predictable and uninspiring.
Many leaders are out of touch and disconnected from their employees, focusing solely on their own personal agendas. This is most evident in leaders that still try to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to earn trust, build loyalty and stimulate team and individual performance.
Leaders must understand that in today’s new workplace, there does not exist a single recipe to encourage employees to perform better. Rather, it’s about how to maximize the ingredients in order to create hundreds of recipes that are customized and authentic; that provide long-term continuity and impact. To get you started, here are ten ways to inspire teams to optimally perform.
Solving, Not Just Selling
Stop selling your employees about why they need to perform better. Explain why their contributions help solve problems and contribute to the company’s advancement. Employees are more inclined to step up their game when they know their work can add-value to the healthier whole.
For example, I would always show my team the outcome of their collected efforts. We would go to the manufacturing plant and watch a new product on the production line or to the stores to see new label designs on the shelves. Inspire performance by connecting the dots of your employees’ efforts.
It’s not only about what you are trying to sell, but also what the team is able to solve along the way.
Purpose, Not Just Profit
Employees are inspired by knowing that their hard work makes a difference beyond profitability. Employees want leaders who see beyond the obvious and look to create wider reaching impact that extends into the community and influences social causes.
Look what IKEA did in 1995, after they discovered that some of the factories that manufactured and sold carpets to IKEA were exploiting child labor. Founder Ingvar Kamprad and his IKEA executives immediately took action, addressing the problem from within and taking all steps necessary to ensure that an IKEA product never again would be created by manufacturers that exploited children. IKEA then solidified its commitment to eradicate the problem at its root. The company partnered with UNICEF to create a program to help prevent child labor by changing the conditions that lead to child labor in the first place, namely: poverty, hunger, and illiteracy. Today, this same program serves more than five hundred villages in India’s Carpet Belt, an area with a population in excess of 1.3 million.
Know the Ingredients, Not Just the Recipe
The secret recipe to inspiring employees is to know the “ingredients” of the people you are inspiring. People want to know that their leaders understand their tendencies, aptitudes and behaviors well-enough to best work with and motivate them. The best leaders and coaches always do.
When you spend time with your employees, make it matter. Don’t just expect your time and title to inspire them. Employees want a leader that pays attention and genuinely cares about them.
Great leaders take the time to know the ingredients before they can create the best recipe for success. Employees are most inspired when a leader takes the time to know them and show that they have their best interests at heart.
Leaders that know how to prepare thousands of recipes are those who continually make the ingredients better – and keep them from spoiling.
Learning, Not Just Lecturing
Employees are tired of being told what to do. They are eager to learn and remain relevant. But they find it difficult to be inspired by leaders who only inflict fear. In today’s fast-paced world, people don’t have time for lectures; they want continuous coaching and leaders that are paying attention. Eager to grow, they want objective feedback.
Simplify the process. Don’t exhaust your employees through complexity and buzz-words. People seek direction that is too the point. Remember, most people have mastered the art of execution. Let your employee do their jobs well by providing the right tools and support to make them better at carrying out their roles & responsibilities. Be a great teacher, but quickly shift into facilitator mode. People are inspired when given the opportunity to learn how to do new things. Stop lecturing and start teaching.
Innovation, Not Just Ideation
Employees want to create impact. Allow them to be part of the innovation-based projects in your company by letting them get their hands dirty. Ideation is important, but being part of implementing the ideas that come to life can be a more exciting and meaningful growth opportunity for your employees that will inspire them to perform.
Additionally, provide your employees the resources to be innovative in their work. Stay close enough to your employees’ activities to know the 2 or 3 tools and/or resources that each would require to take their performance to the next level.
When given the right tools and resources, the best employees will instinctively challenge themselves to be more innovative in their work – and will perform better. That is why incentives inspire performance – but remember that money alone is not the sustainable answer. Focus on giving your employees the opportunities to elevate their individual value while serving the needs of the company.
Allow innovation to inspire performance.
Significance, Not Just Success
Helping your employees to be successful is important, but not inspiring enough in itself. People want much more out of their leaders and if you can activate the natural talents of your employees in ways that make them feel more responsible about their jobs, you will be inspiring something that is more significant – and has longer lasting impact.
The next time you conduct an employee performance review, evaluate each performance in two areas: success and significance. Let’s say that “sales” is a performance category – and your employee has performed at 90% of plan. That’s good. After you discuss what is required to reach 100% of plan, measure the significance of the sales generated. For example, perhaps reaching 90% of plan generated enough revenue to hire 5 more people or contributed to a particular community outreach plan as a result of a local market push. You never know the significance of someone’s performance until you measure it; and when you do, it’s an effective way to inspire even greater performance.
Ownership, Not Just Accountability
Enforcing accountability is a key component to sustaining performance momentum. However, when you can give your employees “ownership” in the process of defining how accountability is enforced – you inspire trust and a desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Giving your employees ownership means that you have shared and entrust them with your authority. You are now allowing your employees to “call the shots” based on what they believe is in the best interest of the team and the organization. For example, create a special project and allow an employee to take ownership of it. Outline your expectations for the end-result, but allow him or her to take charge of the project. Agree to meet once-a-week and observe the change in attitude and desire to perform. Use the results and what you learned along the way about the employee as a means to customize your approach to best inspire that employee’s performance long-term. Again, this is a great way to learn more about “the ingredients” as noted in point #3.
Respect, Not Just Recognition
Beyond appreciation and praise, show your respect and admiration for the work of your employees. While people want to know they are respected, you must establish the ground rules for how respect is earned.
There are too many recognition addicts in the workplace. In a world of fierce competition, we have come to believe we are our own best allies. We believe we must rely only on ourselves. We believe we can sell ourselves better than anyone else. But this attitude puts our long-term careers in danger.
Unfortunately, too many people want recognition because they forgot the significantly greater value of earning respect. Re-train your employees about the importance of respect and lead them in how to earn it. When they see the greater impact respect delivers, they will be inspired by your example.
Personal Growth, Not Just Responsibility
Historically, leaders have used “increased responsibility” to inspire performance. While this approach may still have merit, it is when a leader can help foster the professional growth and development of their employees that performance most flourishes. Leaders must take more time to mentor and / or guide their employee’s development and growth.
Encourage networking opportunities and performance development forums. If the budget gets cut,– put your money where your mouth is. For example, purchase copies of a book that you believe will help your employees advance and grow in their work.
Phil Jackson, former basketball coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, has won 11 NBA championships – the most in history. Jackson became known for giving each one of his players a specific book that would help the player be a better teammate, decision-maker, leader, etc. on the basketball court.
Trust, Not Just Transparency
Ultimately, it is a relationship based on trust that inspires employees to perform. When you are mindful of managing and concurrently implementing points #1 – #9 this will certainly jump-start your ability to earn trust with your employees and inspire their performance. When you trust someone, you believe in them. People are inspired when they know that their leaders believe in their capabilities to deliver.
As a young executive, I had a boss that I trusted, not only because he was transparent with me – but more importantly because he believed in me. He created an environment that helped me grow and prosper. For example, he assigned the most significant corporate growth strategies to my team and me. This level of trust inspired us to perform not only for the sake of seizing the unique opportunity that was given to us – but equally to prove to those above my boss that it was the right decision for the organization. We wanted our boss to earn respect and recognition for the bold decision he made to place such a significant amount of trust on the youngest leader and team in the organization – and not to let him down.
Inspiring employees to optimally perform requires a leader who can see beyond the obvious in people. Inspiration comes not from something that you turn on and off, but rather from constant behavior – triggered through multiple ways – that makes your employees feel that they matter and that you genuinely care.