This is the story of how I did it wrong. I was a Program Manager and Business Developer, selling engineering projects right and left, choosing Task Managers and task teams, and having kick-off meetings. I opened kick-off meetings explaining the project and its importance to the client. I thought that motivated my team members.
You Can’t Motivate That Way
I also thought they were motivated by the same thing I was, namely, the business of our business: find and develop clients, develop and sell projects, do high-quality work, provide high-quality solutions, make profits, grow the company and its teams, everyone gets promoted and paid. Repeat. I thought they knew that as intimately as I did and that it motivated them, as it did me. But I don’t know for sure that it motivated them; I never asked them.
It Gets Worse
What I was doing was insufficient for motivating my team. Journal articles told me I was doing a bad job, but work was coming in so fast, times were so exciting, that I hoped time and the amount of work would make everyone happy and would cure everything. Or that I would figure it out later, when there was more time.
Lessons Learned About Motivating
I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you what I have learned, what I know now for sure.
#1 – I should have asked them individually what would motivate them to do their best work. I couldn’t guarantee I would deliver everything they wanted in every project, but my record with them would have been a lot better than it was.
#2 – On any individual project, may I recommend that you tailor the project work so that it delivers one or more of the following benefits to your task team members. Be sure and express the project work in the terms below. In broad strokes then, and in order from “probably not that motivating to me as a person, but it’s sort of cool” to “very motivating to me”, explain at the kick-off meeting how their work on the project:
- Solves a crucial problem for the client
- Provides them job security if that’s what they wish; profitable work secures their job and allows them to be promoted
- Solves a problem that hasn’t been solved before
- Solves a problem that is so difficult it will require their very, very best work; it will seriously stretch them
- Gives them the chance to lead task-level work now, and lead large programs sooner
- Gives them the chance to work one-on-one with you, in a mentor-mentee relationship
- Creates new, portable, resume-building knowledge and accomplishments for them
- Provides them collaboration they’ll enjoy and learn from
- Allows them to be part of something larger than they are, that they can be proud of, and that they could not have produced on their own
Motivate Them By What’s In It For Them
We know now that generational differences dictate some of what motivates our teammates, and my list reflects some generational differences you can choose from. After your interviews with your individual teammates, you can point out to them what other benefits to them the project offers. Look at Item 2 and Items 4 – 9; unlike in decades past, we are motivating some employees entirely by what’s in it for them. There’s nothing wrong with that; the motivation still brings out their best work and leads to successful project outcomes.
On Their Own Terms
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to engage our teammates on their own terms. I don’t have to tell you that most of them are undaunted by the prospect of finding work at other firms if you fail to engage them.
Engaging them on their own terms, especially when it’s exciting material like Items 4 – 9 in the list above, is exciting for us too. A lot more exciting than the boring stuff I used to try that didn’t work anyway.
Communicate On Their Own Terms Too
Engage your teammates on their own terms, and have conversations with them on their own terms too. I have my friend L.L. to thank for tutoring me to not mind it when I only see the tops of my colleagues’ heads when I speak with them. She reminds me that people now find it correct and efficient, not rude, to interrupt me to answer my question from their phone data before I finish speaking. She says I should welcome the answers, and I’ve decided to.
Have you decided to motivate and communicate with your team only in ways meaningful to them, even if the style is very different from your own?
What’s your best tip about motivating or communicating with your teammates?
Please comment above and tell the rest of us. We can sure use the help!