Executive motivates his team

It's common to feel unmotivated at work every now and then. With the help of a good leader, though, those days where we lack motivation can be few and far between.

So, how can executives keep their colleagues and team members motivated? Here's some helpful advice from leaders who know a thing or two about motivation.

​Chris Rankin, Marketing Leader

Woman motivates her team members


This year's family vacation was a road trip to the Grand Canyon. On the second day of driving, my eight-year-old put aside the iPad and announced he was bored. Like any great leader, I pulled out plan B, an activity book of word games, hidden pictures, stickers, and color-by-number mysteries. It was like Christmas morning; the kid was so excited. His reaction was better than I imagined, and when my husband complimented me, I made the mistake of comparing the "workbook" to homework, but for vacation. My son's joy evaporated, and the book was quickly dropped, never to be voluntarily touched again. It's amazing how powerful perception is to someone's motivation.

I learned something valuable that day that I later took to work. The teams had been working overtime and weekends to make an aggressive "supersized" product commitment. There was zero wiggle room for the delivery deadline. Employee burnout was a topic of robust conversations mid-level when word came from the top of a last-minute, must-have addition. We were already pegged past "11" with capacity planning and every shred of data painted grim probabilities of success. It was time to get creative.

We held a "hackathon." Anyone within the company from any skill set could elect to form teams to participate to win prizes. To be sensitive to employees already feeling overworked, the event was optional and anyone in the company could watch and participate in the judging via live stream. The user story was written as a "game play" scenario and the criteria became the grading rubric for a panel of celebrity judges. It worked! The weekend fun provided a much-needed stress reliever for developers. It also allowed employees the opportunity to be seen in new roles. The winning idea served 80% of the feature ask and came from an unlikely collaboration between a support rep that was finishing up a degree in computer science, a QA Analyst, and a UX developer from a different product team. It was a reminder that work and fun don't necessarily have to be different. It's all in the approach and perception.

Chris Rankin is a marketing executive who specializes in brand and digital strategy. Her specialty is in reimagining e-commerce to deliver digital branding experiences that augment a customer's real world. She believes social influencers are the content creators brands should partner with and enable to achieve better targeting and authenticity. She holds 20 years in marketing experience for health, technology, and fashion with an MFA from the Academy of Art University and a BA from Principia College. She believes learning from each other is the fastest path to growth and she welcomes anyone interested in swapping stories.

​Rosanne Mao, CFO/Finance Director

Man motivates his employees during a meeting


Being able to express ideas freely and feeling "a part of something more" is one of the most important factors in boosting team motivation. When all employees feel part of something bigger than the tasks performing every day, people are generally more inclined to put in the sweat and tears for that bigger idea with a sense of commitment. A performance bonus or a public recognition ceremony are important to let the employees know when they've done exceedingly well.

An absence of trust is the foundational dysfunction in team effectiveness. Trust is the critical component for a functional and collaborative workplace, which is especially important when team members are remote. Leaders can demonstrate trust in the workplace by giving staff the time to complete their work and continuing to delegate important responsibilities.

Employees with a high level of enthusiasm, confidence, and inspiration are five times more engaged than employees with negative tone and emotions. Finance executives need to balance the financial cost of engagement programs with the increased productivity, lower turnover, and other benefits of effectively engaging employees. Building a strong culture of engagement means everyone is committed to achieving the benefits of success. With a motivated finance team, the business is likely to have more cost efficiency and profitability optimization. Consider the following finance department specific motivations: incentives for proposing and implementing for cost and time savings and improved efficiencies; bonuses for minimal internal audit adjustments; bonuses for closing and issuing financials within deadline every month; percentage bonus for decreases in taxes, penalties and interest due; day off after intense periods of audits or year-end closings; company paid education, etc.

People like to work in places where they feel productive and stimulated. Make sure the office layout encourages collaboration and socializing. Equip the space with furniture and office supplies that are conducive to productivity. Emphasize natural light and reduce as much clutter as possible. An unorganized desk leads to unorganized thoughts. The office layout can play a huge role in creating a pleasant physical work environment and social atmosphere.

While interacting with employees virtually, executives can discuss the long-term roadmap of the company, and make the employees feel included in the brand ethos. By including employees in annual budgeting or strategic discussions, it creates a collaborative environment that encourages accountability and ownership. Employees are fully aware of the company's big picture and what part their role plays in the business strategies. When people feel truly connected to the company, they will give a little more when you need it.

The science of motivation reveals that rewarding employees for high performance, effort, and alignment to the company mission is a particularly effective way to boost engagement. Don't hold back on genuine praise, which can go a long way to lowering stress levels. Establish meaningful team goals for building staff satisfaction and a sense of shared achievement. Celebrate wins. Celebrate when the team or individuals achieve milestones.

Rosanne Mao is a CFO/finance director with more than 20 years of financial management experience in a multinational company. She's helped the company enhance cash flow, maximize corporate profitability, improve investor relationship, and reduce risk. Her leadership strategy has successfully driven company EBIT to increase by 15%. She has strategically led the enterprise digital transformation with 37% improvement in financial productivity.

​Steve Barriault, Global Technology Sales Leader

Executives motivate each other at work


How can executives keep their teams motivated? These are tough times that take a toll on everyone's morale, including direct and indirect reports.

Through all the gloom and doom, leaders should try to shine as bright a light as they humanely can. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this.

First, listen to team members. Ask them how they are doing. Acknowledge their pain and their apprehensions.

As much as we would want to segregate the crisis from our professional lives, the sad fact is that we cannot. Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Show real interest in the life of your team members. Above all, do not fake it.

And yes, acknowledge this is not easy for you either. No one is Superman, not even you, and no one is asking you to be either.

Then, inject a dose of high energy plasma into the team. Set up goals. Make sure everyone understands you intend to rough it right along with teammates and that you will stand defiant in front of these difficult circumstances.

Is business slow? Let us ALL think about how to turn this around! You may be an officer on this ship, but its survival is in the best interest of all crew members.

Giving them a voice gives them something precious in uncertain times: some control over their future. Right now, it is gold in bars.

Do the team members have more time on their hands? How about doing a few of these pet projects for which the organization never quite had time before? Will it only pay in the long run? No problem!

The idea here is that many people hate to be static. If they feel adrift, they are much more likely to focus on the negative side of the situation.

Besides getting more done and keeping people's morale up, note that this is also a great way to enable team members to gain new skills. Some may surprise you and demonstrate abilities that will be instrumental later when the economy turns around.

Don't underestimate the power of internal rituals and events. You may not be able to invite everyone to a restaurant, but perhaps an aperitif on a Zoom call will do instead. We may work hard, but we play hard too (in moderation, of course).

Keep relaying good news—marriages, babies, congrats. People's morale gets up when they have a sense of belonging. That is something that requires feeding from time to time.

And above all, make sure people understand you have their backs. Don't make promises you may not be able to keep; if you do, people will see through it. But you can promise that you will do everything in your power to see the ship through the storm.

Back it with deeds and transparency. Inspire your teammates through leading by example. Get your hands dirty and go in the trenches, too. Inspired teams can move mountains.

Time to be heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

Steve Barriault is a global technology sales executive with 18+ years of experience in business development on three continents. He is currently serving in a 3,000 employee-strong company providing embedded software testing solutions in multiple industries such as automotive, avionics, industrial systems, telecom, and others. Multilingual, he holds advanced degrees in business, science, and computer science.

​Bonnie Patrick-Mattalian, Multi-Unit Business Operations Executive

Female executives discuss motivation during a meeting


Create a Culture of Inclusion

Motivated and productive teams are the result of a positive and inclusive culture.

It starts at the very ground level for every interaction a team member has with the company and how it supports individual and team efforts.

Gauging Inclusivity

Questions to gauge your organization's level of inclusivity include:

  • Do employees have a sense of "belonging"?
  • Can they openly voice their opinion to impact success without fear of repercussion?
  • Do they have a career path and a clear future with this organization?

We have seen employee stress levels increase during the pandemic, no matter their level in an organization.

  • How organizations treat their employees (and downwind, also their customers) will be remembered far after the crisis is behind us.
  • Make decisions from a place of compassion, especially during these difficult times. Get to know your teams; how are they doing personally? Listen to their stories. Performance improves when an employee feels there is someone in the organization who cares about them.
  • Frustration comes from those things that we cannot control. Develop project teams to problem solve, especially process-related issues. Everyone wants to help, to be a part of the solution. An employee that feels heard will go to bat every time for an organization, despite any circumstance.
  • Pull together team meetings focused on communication, getting to know each other, and—yes—laughter! I participated in a team building exercise via Zoom with a brilliant facilitator (contact me for details!). The group loosely knew each other yet was a work team. The facilitator led us through multiple exercises to talk about ourselves and learn about each other in a jovial manner. A professionally facilitated meeting such as this is well worth the small investment for everyone.
  • Talk through career pathing strategies. We can become demotivated if they feel fearful or uncertain of where they may fall in their employer's line of sight for the future.

Fair, aligned direction will ignite any spark. Measure success and give consistent feedback, leaning heavily on positive progress during these times.

Consider frequent informal surveys to get a pulse check on how your teams are doing from the front lines, through the ever-important middle managers to your top executives. And most importantly, thank them for their feedback, listen, engage, and act accordingly towards a more harmonious workplace.

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian builds high-performing teams and businesses in both the private and not-for-profit sectors. An engaging and collaborative leader of multi-unit operations, Mattalian has improved EBITDA by 3-12% annually with proven solutions for customer experience delivery success, financial profitability analytics, strategic planning, and team leadership development. She has facilitated the successful launch of more than 60 businesses throughout her career, turnarounds for another 20 locations, and was most recently responsible for a book of business for a global company of more than $25M in revenues and 1200+ employees.

​Dr. Jan Urbahn, Automotive & Shared Mobility Executive

Team members motivate each other at work


Motivating your team is especially important and challenging in the current situation, where still many team members are working from home. The situation is especially difficult for everyone because we are constantly exposed to significant external stressors, yet the perceived monotony of working from home is wearing out. Nevertheless, executives have to produce results, keeping team members motivated in these adverse circumstances.

A structured approach to operating in this situation is using the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument. When you communicate with your team as a whole or with individual team members, be aware about the mode you are choosing. The model is distinguishing between Avoiding, Accommodating, Comprising, Competing, and Collaborating modes. Choose Collaboration to motivate your team members. Your team members may need a tailored approach to involve them collaboratively. Be sensitive to the different needs of extroverts and introverts on your team and adjust your communication style accordingly.

Your team will gain the biggest motivation from producing results. When your team is producing results, your team can get a sense of feeling "we're great," tapping into the potential of "Tribal Leadership." Make it a habit to recognize your teams' successes in your regular meetings. Recognition is a strong source of motivation.

Dr. Jan Urbahn is an automotive executive with 20+ years of experience in product development, safety engineering, and operations in automotive and shared mobility business. He helped launch 3 new businesses with up to 1,500 shared cars in fleet size. His most recent leadership position is within the shared mobility space, where he helped develop a new EV battery and guided the coronavirus response.

​​Karen Doerr, Business Development And Healthcare Sales Leader

Leader motivates a work colleague


Keeping teams motivated and engaged can be challenging—even without a pandemic to deal with.

Most of us have never experienced the degree of utter disruption, devastation, and turmoil that has been created by the pandemic, civil unrest, and this election. Our "normal" has been completely shattered and in its wake is uncertainty, frustration, and instability. So, the task of keeping yourself and your teams motivated in this crushing uncertainty can be daunting.

Start with why.

I have always strongly identified with Simon Sinek's groundbreaking book. Cultural fit is imperative for me as I speak with potential employers. When I think about keeping a team engaged, I "start with why." Think back about the company you work for now and what attracted you to apply for a position. What kept you energized during the hiring process? What did you hear from potential co-workers that got you hooked on the company mission, vision, and values? And how closely do those values align with your personal belief system?

People remain motivated and supportive of one another in uncertain times when:

  • They see themselves as a part of something greater than just themselves.
  • They believe that their teammates have their back and will support them.
  • They believe they are doing purposeful work that makes a positive, sustainable impact for customers, patients, and society.
  • They feel valued and safe.

Simon reminds us that, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

A good practice to help connect with your "why" is to look at your calendar or to-do list and see how many activities or meetings directly tie back to your "why." Be protective of your time and challenge your priorities to make certain they align with "why."

Discover the "why" for each person on your team and ask how you can best support it. Schedule time during your weekly sales call to have members reflect on the past week and share a brief story about a customer encounter or collaboration with a teammate that reminded them of their personal "why." Keep your team motivated by connecting their "why" with one another. Translate their "why" so they understand how that is important to your customers. Ask for their help in trying to solve problems so they feel valued and appreciated. People who feel connected in their work and share a commitment to a higher calling or "why" are self-motivated and succeed more often. Now more than ever, create an environment of stability and trust and your team will motivate itself.

Karen Doerr is a business development and healthcare sales leader who enjoys introducing new tools and services to payers and providers that increase patient access and eliminate waste in healthcare delivery. Karen has helped start-ups and medium-size companies establish national brand awareness and accelerate revenues exploiting gaps in the complicated healthcare ecosystem. In her last leadership role, she led sales and marketing efforts for a digital healthcare start-up targeting chronic disease and is most impactful at the intersection of primary care, technology, and care management.

As an executive, motivating your team should be one of your biggest priorities. So, live up to your leadership title today and put your motivation skills to the test.

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