“Motivating our People: How do we ensure that our people go that extra mile?” London Excellence CEO Forum – 10th January, 2012

What a topic to discuss! “How do we ensure that our people go that extra mile?” and as one delegate asked “ why is that we spend so much time puzzling over employee motivation, when leaders/managers know what to do?” “Why is it not consistently happening in both public and private organisations?”

I had the privilege of Chairing the Chief Executives’ Forum organised by London Excellence on 10th January, 2012, at Lloyd’s Register, London. We had four stimulating people on the panel –
Fiona Bowman, Head of Facilities, Lloyds Register
Michael Davis, Chief Executive, UK Commission for Employment and Skills
Alan Holcroft, Divisional Director, Mott MacDonald
Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Executive of Happy

The audience of 50+ people was a mix of CEOs, Directors and Managers from public, private, multi-national and SME organisations. The event was presented in the style of Question Time.

Key messages that came out from the session that I would like to share are itemised below.

The panel in their opening presentations highlighted –
– “Know yourself”. MD said that he didn’t like receiving praise and therefore didn’t used to give it. This had an adverse effect on individuals in his team. He has learnt to give praise to others.
– “Have a clear mission and sense of direction and share it”. This is part of being an ‘inspirational leader’ as stated by FB. Include everyone and keep them involved.
– “Make people happy”. This was shared by HS. He posed the question “what are some of the things that make us happy at work?” A few responses included being challenged, being able to get on with the job, and knowing the parameters of the job.
– “There is no single silver bullet; we work in different cultures, and we are each motivated by different things.” This was offered by AH. “It is enabling people to do challenging things and creating the space to allow this”.

A series of questions was put to the panel and discussion followed. This is summarised below.

a. ‘Does the panel have a view on why the lessons of Toyota are still so rarely absorbed, the skills of process management largely unappreciated and hence the creativity of individuals lost amongst the chaos of everyday operations?’ This stimulated discussion around the merits of ‘Lean’, having a clean line of site, having networks like this (London Excellence CEO Forum) to share ideas as they do in Germany, and how legislation, both UK and European, can be a barrier to progress.

b. It was agreed that communicating well with staff is an essential ingredient for achieving great performance. Even a tough message to staff needs to be communicated and not issued on a ‘need to know basis’. Examples were given of how even when communicating a difficult message, e.g. tough climate, having to make cuts or looking for opportunities, staff appreciated being told and being kept in the picture about it. The phrase ‘treat people as adults and they will respond as adults’ came to mind. It was also stated that there are ‘times to Broadcast and times to Communicate’. One member of the audience added that the word ‘communicate’ comes from the word Latin word ‘communicare’ which means community.

We were informed that one ‘global’ organisation checks on how well messages are communicated through Staff Surveys, and they have noticed how communication has improved over the previous twelve months.

HS reminded us that some people are promoted because they are good at their current job but not necessarily good at managing people. When it comes to promotion and to leading/managing people they may not necessarily be the best of communicators. People should be promoted because of their ability to communicate and to manage people, and not just because of their technical skills.

c. The panel was asked what they thought of the view that ‘some say motivation comes from within and as a result managers and leaders can only maintain the status quo or demotivate by their attitude and behaviours.’ Comments on this included how people are interviewed and how well their ‘attitude to work/people’ is assessed, whether they can create an environment where people are able to self motivate, being given guidelines and then allowed to get on with the job, and demonstrating to staff that they are valued. Examples – employee of the month (Oscars), sending birthday cards, a bottle of champagne to each member of staff at Christmas. This was also discussed in the next question.

d. The question was raised about ‘what non-financial incentive mechanisms other organisations use and what more our leaders can do personally to motivate our people to go the extra mile without feeling used?’ Examples in the previous point were raised, in addition to giving people the opportunity to learn and train, a simple ‘thank you’, small gifts, being associated with charities. It was however acknowledged that there would be severe scrutiny in some public sector bodies should they give bottles of champagne to staff or take them out for a meal, and possibly ending up in one of the tabloid papers.

e. The final question was ‘do performance management systems motivate our people?’ It was agreed that conversations about how people are performing are important. Most of the thoughts should come from the employee during the review, regular conversations not just annual reviews should be happening, and this should not be linked to financial reward.

Have a clear vision and focus for the future.
Keep people informed.
Give people clear guidelines and let them get on with the job.
Know yourself.
Acknowledge good work.
We know the answers, it is doing it consistently that is the challenge.