Motivation: What Works?

Posted by Randy Harrod on Oct 15th, 2011

Let’s think more deeply about motivation and performance from our team members’ perspective. Self-motivation typically relies on the right employees accurately answering three basic questions:

  • “What’s my job?” Not always as simple and clear as we think.
  • “How am I doing?” Again, a simple request and basic management responsibility.
  • “Why is my work important to our success and how will I benefit by doing it well?” Well?

Your first reaction to these legitimate questions might be, “You’ve got to be kidding; everyone already knows these things.” Actually, very few companies handle these three simple questions in a winning way. Let’s consider the case of a professional football team to demonstrate.

Do you suppose that any pro football player doesn’t have a basic knowledge of the game and their position? The linemen know they’re supposed to block, tackle, or rush the passer. The running backs know that they’re supposed to carry and catch the ball and find the end zone. Punters know they’re to kick. Quarterbacks must be able to pass, and so on. As professionals, they know the game.

Yet not everyone wins consistently. During 2000-2010, the NFL teams with the worst winning percentage were the Lions (26%) and Browns (36%). Meanwhile, other teams always seemed to be Super Bowl candidates, led by the Colts (72%) and Patriots (70%). What’s going on? They’re all professionals in a league where everything is set-up to drive parity. The worst teams receive the first draft picks and everyone is subject to team salary caps. The system is rigged to ensure that every team will have their ‘day in the sun.’ The main difference between winners and losers isn’t player talent. There are too many examples of underperforming talent-laden teams and overachieving teams with less
talent. It’s coaching talent that produces winners. Somehow, certain coaches routinely succeed against comparably talented teams. The best-coached teams are those who do the basic things best: blocking, tackling, kicking, and passing. They rarely rely on trickery or innovative techniques to outperform their foes. During adverse conditions, like a snowy day in Pittsburgh, or a pressure-packed late-season game against a play-off rival, fads and trickery aren’t enough. Winning teams rely on performing the basics correctly.

Applying Coaching in the Workplace
How does this football story relate to us? The primary function of a coach isn’t to play all the positions he coaches but to ensure that all team members are taught the game and playbook well enough to understand what must be done to succeed. He transmits that knowledge to others who desire to do it and are willing to learn how. A coach must be able to clearly and precisely provide job descriptions for each player. Can you imagine the outcome if a coach merely told his guards, “just block hard,” or his receivers, “just go out for a pass!” Winning requires much more than that!

Successful coaches not only tell their players what to do, but also how to do it best within their overall system (i.e., business model), by either showing them or hiring specialized assistants who can. Even when a head coach delegates the coaching, he remains ultimately responsible for overall performance. Head coaches must also help their staff and players know how they’re doing. Performance is always measured. Even when the team is winning, each player’s performance is graded. Players whose grading is consistently substandard are given special attention. Those who don’t ultimately measure up after an adequate opportunity are traded or replaced. To keep them too long would hurt the team. Coaches don’t generally enjoy this part of their role, but it must be done for the good of the team.

Successful coaches impart an inherently high expectation vision of ‘what can be’ to their teams. The vision is constantly reinforced and referenced via signs, symbols, and day-to-day discussions. The players begin to sense the benefits of achieving the vision… professional accomplishment and a sense of pride related to being a champion. They begin to understand how their roles fit into the overall effort and why they’re important. Irrespective of their position, they see that the team suffers without top performance from them. Good coaches clearly explain the vital importance of each player’s performance and help them see the value to them in working to accomplish team objectives. Players who are privileged to play for great coaches are more likely to work out in the off-season, obey training rules, and strive to improve their stamina and skills. They develop new ways to help the team and more often become coaches themselves.

In many ways, business is a game, and winning this game requires an aligned effort on the part of all the players.

So Coach, what kind of a season are you having? Is your team focused on making it to the championship? Can you win with the players you have? Can you win if they keep playing as they are now? Are you preparing the next generation of leaders for your firm? What is winning for you?

If you’re not satisfied with any of these answers, who must lead the change?!