The Systems Thinker Blog

Business Leadership: Six Ways to Increase Worker Desire and Capability

Posted byRon Carroll

Are you a leader? Do you have enough “juice” to accomplish important things through other people?

Leadership is not about who we say we are. It’s not about who we want to be. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not about our position as owner or manager, or about the title on our business card. It’s none of these things.

“Leadership is . . . about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers. . . . Leadership is to derive power . . . not from your position but from your competence, effectiveness, relationships, excellence, innovation and ethics” (Robin S. Sharma, best-selling author on leadership).

Leadership is about creating a vision, influencing attitudes and behaviors, building capability, and moving people enthusiastically toward worthy goals.

In business, it’s all about our power to develop people, products, and processes that give customers what they want, retain the best employees, produce a healthy profit, and grow a lasting enterprise.

More specifically, our role is to establish clear, compelling and frequently measured objectives, identify the vital few (see 80-20 Rule) behaviors or processes that impact those objectives, and finally, bring about the desire and capability of people to achieve those objectives.

So, how do we do that? How do we systematically create immediate, effective, and lasting change?

Consider the following six ways to elevate the desire and capability of your workforce to carry out the vital behaviors and processes of your business.

Desire and Capability

Three Ways to Increase Desire or Motivation

  1. Make it About Them – What gets you motivated? Apply the Golden Rule and provide the kind of business culture YOU would thrive in. Make work—the vital behaviors and essential processes of your operation—pleasurable, rewarding and even fun. Turn work into a game and keep score.

    Replace control with choice—even the choice to say no. Replace orders and dictates with dialog and questions. (To ask is to teach, to tell is to preach.) Replace the blaming of people with finding the root cause of negative behavior or poor performance in faulty business systems. Develop your team by giving them the freedom to fail, and the chance to learn from the things they experience.

    Compensate fairly, but remember that people work harder and even sacrifice for a cause or a vision, when they feel they are making a difference, when the mind and the heart are engaged. Focus on the personal success of your employees—learning, skill development, and career growth. (“Help thy brother’s boat across the water, and lo, thine own has reached the shore” - Scottish proverb.)

  2. Provide Social Support and Example – How do you respond to praise or criticism, acceptance or rejection, approval or disapproval? Words count, including your approval or disapproval of managers and team members. Social influence—the desire to be recognized, valued, and connected to others—has an immense persuasive power.

    Here is the best part: it only takes the presence of one capable and exemplary person on a team to significantly affect how others will act. And if that individual is willing to sacrifice personally—proving how important the task or goal is—their credibility is even greater, and others will naturally raise their game. Find your opinion leaders or exemplary workers and get them onboard with the behavior or process you are trying to implement. Remember, the power of the message is determined by the power of the messenger.

    And one more thing: when people work together, they either encourage one another, try to impress one another, or even compete with one another, all of which improve performance. Once employees hold each other accountable for following vital behaviors or business processes, you’ve got incredible social support and a motivated team.

  3. Boost Enthusiasm with Incentives – Would well-deserved incentives, rewards, or recognition get you motivated? I think so. However, incentives are effective only after you have succeeded with personal motivation and social support (the first two above). Incentives do not work if people don’t want to do the work or don’t see the value of doing it. In addition, rewards don’t improve performance very much if people already like what they are doing and are doing it well (they are self-motivated).

    Tie rewards to the desired behaviors and results you want repeated. Make sure they are given quickly, and that they are appreciated. (Christmas bonuses are not a good way to reward people; if they are smaller than previous years, negative feelings often result.)

    Keep in mind that symbolic incentives or rewards are often more important than the actual face value (e.g., Employee-of-the-Month plaque; a personal note of appreciation).

    (I once got my young children to perform chores and other work tasks during the summer months by presenting them with colorful beads at a morning recognition ceremony for accomplishments the prior day. The coveted “good-deed bead” was given for performing a kind act. This amazing and highly effective reward system came from my experience with the Boy Scouts.)

    Reward effort and small improvements, not just big successes. Recognize behaviors that support valued processes, knowing that if you reward the actual steps people follow, results take care of themselves. And be generous with praise at all stages of progress.

Three Ways to Increase Capability

  1. Build Personal Skill and Proficiency – Do your people have the ability to do what you ask? Motivational tactics—like those described above—are futile and even cause resentment if people are not capable of performing or getting the results you expect. They must have the will and the skill. Goals have to be realistic and achievable, or you are doomed from the outset.

    The repetition of behavior or processes—with frequent feedback—builds capability and confidence. Rather than focusing on results, concentrate on developing skills and creating effective business systems and processes.

    You can help people become more skillful and productive by making complex tasks simpler, breaking big processes into several smaller processes (the Box Theory™ Way), turning vague direction into clear and specific instructions, and making distasteful or boring tasks pleasant. These strategies will cause quality and efficiency to go up, and costs to go down.

    Telling people to “suck it up," and "try harder” doesn’t work. Change the process so that people will naturally do better, and success is inevitable.

  2. Create Synergy with Teamwork – Do you believe teamwork is essential in any great business endeavor? Diverse intellects, talents, experience, and capabilities often enable a group of people to work smarter and perform better than any one person within the group. Ideas and resources are shared, and workers collaborate to help one another accomplish common goals. As in sports, put each person on the team in a position where they can add the most value. For example, the higher-skilled and more expensive accountant is probably not the right person to process accounts payable.

    As mentioned earlier, when people work together and talk about how to reach goals, improve performance, and solve problems, and when they offer encouragement and hold each other accountable, just step back and smile. You’ve got an extraordinary team that will become incrementally stronger with each passing day.

    Put capable teams into first-rate business systems and processes, and you will create a culture of excellence, where people perform to their best ability even when you’re not around.

  3. Supercharge Your Business Environment with Effective Systems and Processes – Do you provide a workplace that is conducive to high-quality and efficient work? Are you more likely to find fault with people before taking a close look at the environment or process they are working in?

    It is much easier to change business processes than it is to change people. Start looking at your work layout, distance people walk, tools, machinery and equipment, clutter, distractions, unnecessary movement, complexity, downtime and start-stop workflow (system busters). Find ways to change the physical world to support the behavior you want. For example, move the printer or buy another printer so people don’t have to walk as far. Clean up your operation and get organized so it doesn’t take as long to find things (see Lean 5S).

    Don’t merely make good behavior desirable; make it certain with well-designed business systems and processes. Ordinary people put into exceptional systems will produce extraordinary results, and at a much lower cost. With Box Theory™ Software, an $8-10/hour college student can do work worth $100 per hour, and that’s no baloney!

    Look and listen. Take notice of the physical surroundings, but also listen carefully. From a factory office I once worked in, I could accurately predict the day's production level by the pace of repeated sounds made by people and equipment. When the sound of staple guns going off or the whir of a wood moulder slowed, I walked out to take a look. Because money was coming out of my pocket, I quickly noticed when there was a disruption to productivity.

    Provide visual cues, examples, checklists, quality materials and supplies, the best tools, safety guards, and so forth. Make it not only easy to do the right thing, but almost impossible to do the wrong thing (see Poka Yoke). Put people who work on the same team in close proximity. Replace employee discretion and vague procedures with clear policies and supporting business systems. Change the subtle features within your work environment that are causing misbehavior, sputtering processes, and diminished results.

You Now Have the Juice to Make It Happen

There are a lot of ideas described above to increase employee motivation and capability. Start with what makes sense for your business—what would have the greatest impact and be the easiest to implement.

Apply as many of the six major strategies above as possible, experimenting to discover what works best within each. Diagnose the root cause of your problems carefully before prescribing a remedy (see 5-Whys Analysis). Ask what process weakness or perverse incentive is causing negative behavior or barriers to success. Observe and measure the impact or your changes, learn from the results, and keep refining to make things better.

Remember: making good things happen requires personal desire and capability. Be bold. Start applying these principles today and you will soon have the “juice” to elevate your company by providing greater value to stakeholders, customers, and employees.

 

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Tags: People, Improvement, Culture