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Motivation Is All About the Managers...Duh!

Employee Attitudes Rule When Managers Understand Motivation

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Beautiful black woman working in a red sweater

Your Manager's Attitude Can Make or Break Your Day

Bruce Laurance/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

The keys to financial success and a profitable business are not the strategies or the systems of the firm. The character and skill of individual managers, who practice what they preach, and recognize the manager's role in coaching employees and employee motivation, are what count.

"It's about character and courage," and according to David Maister, who consults to professional service firms, "it's very, very scarce." The manager's role in motivation is the key to employee motivation.

In a recent survey, Maister determined that successful organizations score better on virtually every aspect of employee attitudes. In fact, employee attitudes cause financial results and not the other way around.

If a business wants its people to make a lot of money for them, then it must set high standards and give employees something they can get excited about. These employees must be managed by someone who is trustworthy, cares about people as well as the business, and acts with integrity.

Maister, a former faculty member at the Harvard Business School and a best-selling author, surveyed 139 professional service firm offices worldwide. His study results from 5,589 respondents were analyzed to determine which of the 74 survey questions were most predictive of the positive financial performance of the business. Maister’s results are truly eye-opening.

The Key Truths for Employees and Profitability

Maister found that nine of the survey questions explained over 50% of all variation in profit performance from company to company. This held true despite the country, the size of the practice and the line of business. These are the nine statements, for the sake of your profitability, with which you want your employees to agree.

  • Client satisfaction is a top priority at our firm.

  • We have no room for those who put their personal agenda ahead of the interests of the clients or the office.

  • Those who contribute most to the overall success of the office are the most highly rewarded.

  • Management gets the best work out of everybody in the office.

  • Around here, you are required, not just encouraged, to learn and develop new skills.

  • We invest a significant amount of time in things that will pay off in the future.

  • People within our office always treat others with respect.

  • The quality of supervision on client projects is uniformly high.

  • The quality of the professionals in our office is as high as can be expected

In Maister’s book, Practice What You Preach: What Managers Must Do to Create a High Achievement Culture (Compare Prices), he emphasizes that managers who believe their job is to ensure that a strategy, vision, or mission is developed are sadly mistaken.

Instead, the manager's most important value-added is to make sure the strategy is implemented. They ensure implementation by others when they walk the talk and lead by example. Organization staff members do hold managers to a higher level of commitment, integrity, and doing the right thing. The most successful managers know this. The manager's role in motivation is key.

I am so excited about Maister's books, thoughts, and research that I asked him to participate in an email interview. Following is our discussion.

Interviw With David Maister

In my questions to David Maister, I asked for practical application information. While theory is important for concept understanding, my readers seek hands-on information. David is a master at responding with practical tips and ideas.

Susan Heathfield: How do you recommend that managers best demonstrate commitment, enthusiasm, and respect to inspire motivation?

David Maister: Managers should act as if they are part of the team, not just the boss of it. They should minimize the trappings of office, and reduce the emotional distance between themselves and the rest of the workforce. People need to feel that management is part of "us," not "them."

Dig in, routinely help with the work, be readily available to anyone who has a problem, whether work-related or personal. Wash your own cup. Above all, ensure that you stand for something, have uncompromising principles and stick to them.

Q: How do you recommend that managers generate commitment and loyalty?

A: It's as simple as "give to get." Dale Carnegie once said that you'll have more fun and success by helping other people achieve their goals than you will by focusing on your own goals. The job of a manager is to actively help other people succeed.

Focus on giving your people exciting, challenging assignments, and help them succeed at them, and they will want to stick around. People want careers, not jobs, and that means they want to learn and develop. Anything that gets in the way of this will be demotivating.

Q: How do you recommend that managers excite and motivate people?

A: Managers should not do anything special, but do exactly the same things that would excite and motivate them as individuals. It's about "us" not "them". When I ask people, around the world, at all levels, about the best manager they ever had, I always get similar results.

Great managers give lots of responsibility early, are available to help, set and enforce high standards (on things other than just financial results), don't tolerate non-participation by other team members, and set a high personal example. Yes, I know this sounds simplistic, but that doesn't mean it's wrong, or that it's common.

Q: How can the human resources professional assist managers to do these things well? How can the HR person demonstrate these behaviors in his or her own work?

A: Lots of managers, even those with advanced business degrees, are never taught how to manage. How many of us are taught how to win trust and respect? How do we convince those we lead that we care about their development. It ain't about systems, and it ain't about processes. It's about interpersonal skill, emotional intelligence and social interactions.

A lot of us need a lot of help in that area if we are to improve. This is as true for HR professionals as it is for the rest of us. In my (coauthored) book, The Trusted Advisor (Compare Prices), I wrote about how to win trust, confidence and influence from your "clients."

HR professionals have to do this every day of the week, and again, it ain't about systems, processes or logic. It's about learning how to influence another human being, and we don't spend enough time thinking about it at that level.

Apply these useful tips about the manager's role in employee motivation in your organization and celebrate as you experience strong performance results. Bonus? You'll capture the engagement of employees, inspire confidence and commitment, and retain the employees who add value and attain success for your organization's mission.

More About Managers and Motivation

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David H. Maister is widely acknowledged as the world’s leading authority on the management of professional service firms. He spends 40% of his time in North America, 30% in western Europe, and 30% in the rest of the world. His degrees are from the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics. He holds a doctorate from the Harvard Business School.

Maister taught how to manage professional service firms and how to manage production operations at Harvard from 1979-1985. He lives in Boston with his wife and coach, Kathy, whom he claims has tons of Emotional Intelligence, something he says he himself lacks. He is an avid collector of popular music, owning more than 12,000 CDs, that range from Al Jolson to the Spice Girls.

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