Not a Motivation, but Gratitude. How to Motivate Staff when the known motivation systems fail.

Hundreds of articles and books have been written about motivation. They often put forward quite opposing ideas. At the same time, there are enterprises where you see people whose eyes gleam with enjoyment that they get from work and there are those where you feel general oppression just the moment you walk in.

I roughly divide all publications on motivation into 2 groups:

According to the information provided in the first group of articles, people need to be motivated to work hard. This group includes all publications with tips on how to do it, starting from the description of various methods included in the so called “ropes courses” and ending with complex systems of motivation based on competitions, grades etc.

According to the second group of articles, people do not need to be motivated because it is useless. This group includes all articles that propagate that humans are lazy by nature and therefore one should concentrate on running them ragged. In other words, this is the point of view of those who are disappointed in humanity and have started to believe in sticks more than carrots.

At a certain point, I found myself believing in each to a certain degree.

I have 16 years of management experience. I made a good career in the civil service, I held top positions in advertising, retail, consulting and, finally, business education. I have been engaged in consulting and business education for about 10 years. I advise on issues of strategic management (enterprise strategy, corporate culture, and leadership), strategic marketing and quick response manufacturing (QRM). I work mainly with managers of medium-sized enterprises. Most often, I deal with real production and services.

During the time I managed people I took several steps - different approaches to staff motivation.

The steps were the following:

1. At first I believed in the strict discipline like in the army – this is what I experienced in the civil service. An order is an order and you will be severely punished for not fulfilling it.  A subordinate expresses their opinion with permission of their management. There should be no favorites because everyone should be equal and should know their place. That’s the way it is.

The first private company that I left for after the civil service was an advertising agency. The same approach demonstrated depressing results. People did perform their duties but they were dull and I had to delve into all the details and control everything. And since there were a lot of people, it was not easy for me. And I knew that people began to idle away their time as soon as I looked away.

Then I applied the same approach, when I was one of the top managers in a hypermarket. I felt the same there. I couldn’t help feeling that people there did not want to make an effort and simply pretended that they were working hard. It was confirmed when I found out that the hypermarket was trading with a loss for a week because of our programming specialists. They did not bother to check the software algorithm. Fortunately, my chief accountant was smart, otherwise, we could have traded like this for the next six months...

2. Then, upon returning to advertising, I changed my point of view on motivation dramatically. After reading various books and attending a range of seminars on motivation, I concluded that all people wanted and loved to work well. And if they do not work well, then their manager is at fault and not them. This idea seemed interesting to me, especially since I am prone to criticizing myself regularly. Reflections and self-analysis led me to a concept that is exactly the opposite to the one I applied earlier. I showed love, held regular team-building events, celebrated the birthdays of each employee, was interested in how the things are at home, what they were interested in, fond of, etc. And, of course, I was their friend – we didn’t use patronymics, we addressed each other like buddies, we came into each other’s offices at any time without knocking, we patted each other on the back, etc. I thought that if my subordinates saw me as their friend, they would see what a good guy I was and they would try to work well, at least for me. Friends do not fail each other, after all.

The result was quite surprising. At some point, I found that we were missing the deadlines on literally all projects with no exception, and no one considered it to be alarming. Dissatisfied clients were not considered a problem. To arrive at work on time was some kind of ill manners. But at the same time we were all “friends” and we took care of each other... I found something curious in this nightmare, however. I headhunted several employees from the advertising agency that I ran earlier. They joined me and considered themselves part of my team. And they were used to be subordinates. In their area of ​​responsibility, things were going better than in other divisions.

All in all, I got disillusioned about making friends with subordinates. Apparently, I was the only person who was a friend, because for others it was an excellent opportunity to walk all over me. It's a sin not to use the chance - why not do it if I literally asked for it. I would have done the same.

3. Afterwards I tried building various formal systems of motivation in business education, production and services: grades, ranks, competitions, bonuses and prizes etc. The effect was similar to the one described above – there was no effect at all, most often it was just a waste of my time. I did not see the overwhelming desire to work, which I expected to see after implementing the systems. Those who did not want to work still did not work – with or without these systems. At the same time, more and more often I started to notice that some employees, whom I considered to be really motivated, were like that not because of these systems, but sometimes even despite them. They were self-motivated. Some of them liked my plans concerning the development of the company and some of them liked me as the head of the company.

4. Then I came across the books by Jack Welch (“Jack: Straight from the Gut” and “Winning”) and they gave me some ideas. I had the opportunity to test these thoughts in practice over the past few years in EMAS Business School with offices in Nizhny Novgorod and Minsk (and earlier in Kiev, too) which I now am the head of and in consulting projects on implementation of strategic management systems, which are run under my guidance in Russian and Belarusian medium-sized enterprises. A little later, working with federal companies, I saw that they started choosing similar approaches. It is difficult to judge how successful they are in this, however, because verifications in huge companies require a lot of time. Besides, it is not quite clear how real the implementation is. But the practice of the medium-sized business demonstrates very encouraging results. Apparently, the approach to the motivation that I came to in the end, works. Of course, I do not claim 100% authorship – like all concepts in management, this approach is a result of a collective reflection and experience of a lot of people. Welch also wrote about many of those things. And many of the readers, for sure, were doing this for a very long time even without the information in this article. I am just taking the liberty to formalize the concept and present it in the form of brief recommendations and theses.

In order to avoid confusion, I want to clarify the terms that will be used in this article. The incentive system is a system of material (most often financial) stimulation of the employee, which is designed to encourage him to achieve the best results performing his job duties. The motivation system is a system of non-material stimulation, which should encourage the employee to achieve the best results performing his job duties. You can find a lot of other definitions (like material and non-material incentives) on the Internet, but I prefer these ones.

It is known that the incentive system loses its effectiveness when a person ceases to be, let’s call it “hungry”, i.e. when he has enough money to meet his needs (even if he lives on credit). Accordingly, further increase in labor productivity requires a system of motivation, which is designed to supplement the incentive system. I do not consider it necessary to prove that the effectiveness of the incentive system decreases when a person ceases to be “hungry”, since I believe this is evident to any manager. Therefore, it is necessary to improve the system of motivation.

Here is some background information to the issue at hand.

First of all, I agree that it is impossible to create an effective motivation system that would really motivate all or at least most of the personnel and increase their productivity. At any rate, I have not met a single leader who has succeeded. I have failed too. However, increasing labor productivity in a company is the task that should be solved in any case. Apparently, this is one of the key problems in any business.

Thus, we have an obvious paradox as follows: it is necessary to motivate staff to increase their productivity, but it is clear that it is not possible to motivate all employees (or most of them).

If it is not possible, then it is not necessary. The key conclusion I arrived at is that motivation of all the staff is impossible. And, consequently, we don’t need such a system. Additionally, the real increase in the employee productivity in any business comes from changing the attitude to work of those who hold key positions, and not everyone.

When I read a course on strategic management for MBA and Executive MBA students in EMAS and other schools, as well as during corporate trainings, I always ask the students-managers one question. It is as follows: “Tell me how many devoted and like-minded people, people who are like your right and left hands, whom you could rely on, you need in order to confidently say that you will achieve fundamentally different results in your work, compared to the results you have now?”

Do you know what answer I get? This answer almost always ranges from 1 to 5, more often it is 2 – 3 people. As a business trainer and consultant, I have met thousands of top and middle-level managers and their answer seldom exceeded 5 people. Check it yourself, dear reader - ask yourself the same question!

It turns out that we are aware of the fact that in order to improve the state of affairs in our area of ​​responsibility (that is, the area of ​​responsibility of each particular leader) fundamentally, we do not need each and every subordinate to be motivated. We need only a few people who work with the same attention and zealousness as we do (and they should be competent, of course). And as leaders, we realize this. This is a very important intermediate conclusion, which I suggest you take a note of.

Let’s move on. When studying psychology, in particular Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I learned an extremely curious thing, which, while being well-known, when applied to the question of motivation, acquires a very important facet. The thesis is as follows: “A person cannot be forced to change his mind, we cannot bring him round if he is not ready for it himself”. If a person is solidly convinced that his judgment is true, he will deny other ideas. One can try to manipulate him in accepting other ideas, even if for a period of time, but this won’t be resultative. A chain of annoying factors (for example, difficulties and complexities in his workflow) will quickly get a person back to his original thoughts and convictions. You should keep this in mind too.

Many books and seminars use as a basis the following statement: leaders explain a goal to subordinates which they will be interested in. Perhaps, nowadays this is the most popular idea when it comes to staff motivation. If a person is interested in a corporate goal, then, probably, he will work more or harder than when the goal does not interest him or when a goal is not explained to him at all.

It is hard to argue with this. However, a recommendation on how to explain such a goal exactly is much more controversial. Generally speaking, most often this recommendation sounds as follows: “A leader must learn the inner world of his employee, find out his inner motives, values, hopes and desires and set a goal based on it”. Thus, we set a motivating goal based on the inner motives of the subordinates. We do not impose our goals (the employee will not be motivated for the reasons described in the previous paragraph), but we explain them the goals that correspond with their inner values.

Well, let’s test this theory in practice. Imagine that we are running a factory with 1,000 employees. We are responsible for the entire factory. How can a director of a factory like that learn the inner world of each employee and explain a common motivating goal to each of them? This is absolutely impossible. They often say that he must do this through his deputies - but this is a completely different situation, because in this case we have not one leader but multiple…

Let’s simplify the task. The company employs 100 people. Will the head of a company like that get to understand the inner world of his employees, learn about their real values, motives and desires? Again, the answer is no.

50 people – the answer is no. 30 people – unlikely.

We will simplify this even further. Imagine a small company or just a department which includes 5 people apart from the manager. Will you get to understand their inner world? Yes, you will! It is quite possible in small teams!

However, in my experience, the next thing which is going to happen is that the manager will find out that what one employee desires the most is to lie on the couch doing nothing, while another one wants to gain experience and then leave and start his own business. Yet another employee wants to get married and she is too occupied with her personal life to work. The fourth is a young mother, a good employee, who likes the work, but her children get sick regularly and then that’s the only thing she can think of. And the fifth employee wants to become the head of this department, but the current one, sitting in his cozy chair, stands in his way.

How can we explain one common motivating goal to all these employees in such a situation? Or at least a system of goals that do not contradict, but supplement each other?

It’s impossible. Sometimes it seems that those who advise building personnel motivation systems based on explaining the goals that are suitable for people’s inner motives, hopes and desires, have never worked in real business or led people. Because these tips do not work, we cannot create a single system for the whole enterprise, having so many different employees, each of whom has their own motives and interests. An attempt to adapt to each one is absurd – in most cases this is impossible (if the team is large) or it is pointless (many desires are counterproductive in the context of business). Additionally, it is simply impossible to adjust the goals to the wishes of some employees (for example, what motivating goal should be explained to an employee who dreams to lie on the couch doing nothing?).

It is impossible to have a motivating goal that is not based on people’s inner desires. Psychology has clearly explained this point to us – no one can be convinced of anything unless he is ready to be convinced (this is explained above).

Based on all this, I arrived at the following conclusions.

Trying to motivate someone, i.e. to seek a specific goal for him, learn about his inner world in an effort to rely on his hidden internal motives, values ​​and desires is a pointless waste of time. This approach does not allow creating a wholesome system of motivation at the company level.

If this is impossible, then it is not necessary! Let's try something different.

The starting point here will be the answer to the question I have already talked about above – how many motivated people does a leader need to achieve fundamentally better results in his area of ​​responsibility? I will remind you that the answers are almost always in the range from 1 to 5. Not more. And usually they say it’s 2 - 3. This is crucial and it should form the basis of the company’s motivation system: a leader does not need to try to motivate everyone – it’s impossible. Instead, we need to find only a few motivated people, like-minded people, let’s call them “associates”, with whose help we will ensure that the goals set for the company are achieved.

In general, the approach is as follows. If it is impossible to motivate (interest) someone – it means it is not necessary. Instead, the manager must create a system that pulls to him self-motivated people, i.e. people who do not need to be forcibly motivated and made interested in good work because they are already willing to work. At the same time, we remember that we do not need all our employees to be like that – it’s impossible. Instead, we need to find only a few people and rely on them letting others work with the results that we are minimally satisfied with (meaning the minimum level of performance which lets you keep the employee in the company). I think, dear reader, that this may seem to be the most controversial thesis in the article. But do not let it confuse you. I mean that as a leader, knowing that a particular employee cannot be motivated, I will still keep him in the company if he shows results that can satisfy me. If he does not show such results – of course, I’ll fire him. This is the principle of “minimum is enough” – if I do not have the best (in this case, the best worker), then I have to live with what I have. The motivation system in this case will be a system of gratitude for self-motivation – it will be based on clear criteria for selecting self-motivated employees and include providing them with significant privileges, unlike all the rest.

The algorithm of building a system of motivation, based on the principles listed above, is as follows.

Step 1. Top manager (General Director, “current owner” etc.) formulates the goal of the company

This goal becomes the cornerstone of the motivation system in a company and is the basis for selecting self-motivated employees. In strategic management such a goal is called the “Vision” and in Russia this concept is already discredited, as it often happens, as, allegedly, purely theoretical tool that does not work. However, this is absolutely unjustified and caused by the domestic managers’ and professors’ illiteracy – improper application of the tool causes disappointment in it. In fact, the Vision is a powerful management tool that ensures that the company’s employee are motivated.

To put it simply, the Vision is the most important goal of the company. This is a description of what the company should become as a result of implementing its strategy in a given period (not to be confused with the sales plan). The vision must be of importance to the first person in the company, i.e. the person who influences the decision-making process in the company, he must personally desire the achievement of the Vision. This is extremely important – I repeat, the Vision should be desired by first person in this company. He (she) must want to achieve this Vision, must want to build a company like the one described in the Vision. In other words, the Vision should motivate the top manager himself, he himself must passionately desire to achieve it. And this desire should be “noticeable” to others; his eyes should gleam with excitement. That is why the Vision should not be formulated to just tick a box. If a leader puts forward such a Vision, i.e. formulates the main goal of the company to just tick a box, only because it is necessary and yet he does not really want to achieve it – it will never work. A Vision like that will not become the basis of the company’s motivation system, quite the opposite, it will start to push smart people away from a manager. Unless he truly wants to achieve the Vision, if he declares such a desire only on paper and pretends to be interested – he will not be able to hide it. People immediately notice this insincerity, and you can give up the idea of creating a motivation system in this company. This is how the idea of the corporate Vision was discredited in Russia – it has happened because of this kind of approach and insincere attitude towards the idea.

Step 2. Explaining the Vision to deputies and other key employees, search for self-motivated associates

You remember that it is impossible to convince anyone of anything if they don’t want to – this idea has already been discussed above. Hence, it follows that the leader should not impose the Vision, he should not prove its fairness and his right to such a Vision. This does not mean, however, that a leader should not justify why he has such a Vision and justify its rationality and attainability. He should. Employees have the right to assure themselves of the soundness of the goals set for their companies. Nevertheless, a leader does not have to convince anyone of his right to this Vision, to “beg” anyone to share his Vision with him.

The Vision, which motivates the leader himself, shows him which deputies and other key employees are his associates. Associates are those employees who are also interested in the achievement of the Vision, i.e. the transformation of the company into the one described in the Vision. It is important to note that in this case we are talking about self-motivation, i.e. when like-minded people themselves want to achieve the Vision and there is no need to convince them and impose the Vision. They are self-motivated because of the Vision, either because of their life experience, or because of some inner convictions. A leader does not adapt to others when formulating the Vision and does not formulate it in such a way as to interest anyone. A top level leader formulates the Vision in such a way as to interest himself in the first place – and this is key!

When choosing like-minded people, it is important to strive for an unattainable result, which is one of the key concepts in strategic management. It reads as follows. Imagine the Olympic Games. Runners stand ready on the athletic track. A flare gun is about to go off. Everyone will run and in less than a minute, someone will become a new Olympic champion, setting a new record. At the same time, each of the athletes, ready to start and wishing to win here and now, knows that the next Olympic Games will be held in 4 years and there will also be a start of runners. Someone else will win those Games, setting a new record, which, in many respects, will devalue the record of these Games. However, this knowledge does not stop any of the athletes, does not reduce their desire to set a record today, to become an Olympic champion now. It is like that in business – none of us are given the opportunity to build an ideal company. But the very attempt is what is important! Constant desire to build an ideal company allows us to be ahead of our competitors who consider this impossible and therefore do not even try. As a result, we create a company that is not ideal, but is more effective than the ones created by those managers who do not even try to approach the ideal.

The same is true for selecting like-minded people. Practice shows that a leader will always be lacking like-minded people, there will always be less of them than we would like it to be. However, if a leader declares the Vision and determines who is not interested in it will lead to a leader having more like-minded people than does a leader who does not do this (more precisely, the latter will not have any like-minded people, because like-minded people need the goal to share).

Step 3. Approval of the Vision with the associates

This is not a contradiction with what was written in the previous step. This is not about the top-level manager adjusting his Vision to the like-minded people. Not in the least. Instead, he adds to his Vision what the like-minded people would like to get by working in this company, what they would like to acquire personally for themselves in case the company fulfils the Vision. In practice, you need to conduct individual meetings/conversations with deputies and key employees in order to discuss their personal interests such as what exactly they will get if they do the work, if they work to the fullest and lead the company to fulfil the Vision together with the leader. Most often people talk about the salary growth, additional bonuses, concessional loans, better social packages, paid training, career growth etc. Of course, such arrangements are individual, only the manager (owners), associates, and, if the company has such a position, the HR-business partner know about them. However, when declaring the Vision, top manager should let all the employees in the company know that in case of achieving the Vision they are likely to get higher salaries, better social packages etc.

A lot more should be written about the process of formulating the Vision, but this requires a separate article dedicated to the art of goal-setting.

Step 4. Making decisions concerning non-associates

As soon as the leader declares the Vision, he can quickly determine who are his associates among his deputies and other key employees. This raises the question as what he should do concerning the non-associates. There are only two options. If a non-associate performs acceptably and this suits the leader – he stays. At least, until he is replaced by an associate. The last point is important in the context of the overall philosophy of the system – employees in the company should know that if they are not like-minded people, then they are not guaranteed a place in this company. As soon as a like-minded person is found, such a non-self-motivated employee will have to leave. If a non-associate shows depressing results in his work– the replacement should be sought immediately.

Step 5. Based on the Vision of the company like-minded people formulate their own Visions for those business units (divisions) that are in their area of responsibility

This approach is similar to the one described above. The most important fact is that the Visions of the business units and divisions correspond with the Vision of the company as a whole. Similarly, the prerequisite that the head of the unit should sincerely desire to achieve the Vision of this division, remains in force. This Vision should become the basis of the motivation system in the relevant business unit or division and, therefore, the relevant leader should wish to achieve it himself.

Steps 6 - 7. Like-minded managers of business units and divisions explain their Visions to their subordinates, select their own like-minded people and get their approval of the Visions

The process here is similar to the process described above (applicable to the Vision of the company as a whole and the top manager of the company). The only detail that needs to be taken into account in this case is that the middle-level managers often do not have all the power to provide some special rewards to individual employees (like-minded people). This can be rectified by the middle-level manager when he confirms the rewards with the top-level manager, or by the top manager granting this right to the managers of business units (divisions).

That is how the Vision of the company is communicated from top to bottom and the interconnected system of motivations (yes, motivations - not motivation!) is formed in the company.

What does the system look like at the bottom - at the level of the low-level management and members of staff? In general, everything is the same here. Although here we rely more on a strict discipline rather than on the search for the associates by a linear manager. I do not want to offend anyone, but the practice shows that the members of the staff rarely possess ambitions or willingness to work hard for the sake of some idea. Most often people at this level are interested only in earning money without extra efforts. This fact is neither positive nor negative - each of us has the right to live our lives as we want. However, the manager must keep it in mind and avoid having harmful illusions. Therefore, at the level of the members of the staff we mostly rely on strict discipline rather than on motivation. The system of discipline in this case includes the following mandatory aspects:

1.      Clearly defined business processes at the level of each employee, including the performed operations, information input - output etc. The map of the company’s business processes is a necessary element here because it will help identify the staff member at fault in case of failures in operation.

2.      Simple and clear KPI system at the level of every unit and also at the level of each employee. KPIs for employees are taken from the Vision of their unit.

3.      Wages are fair and linked to the KPIs.

4.      Clear responsibility for not achieving the KPIs, as well as the unavoidable disciplinary action for disciplinary offenses.

5.      Clear system of career development (vertical or horizontal).

6.      Positon Profiles and the Model of Corporate Competences (advisable).

7.      Intra-corporate training, assistance in and encouragement of professional development. This aspect will be also mentioned below.

As you can see, in this case we rely on staff discipline and transparent business processes in our aim to increase staff productivity. The search for like-minded people at the level of the staff, in my opinion, does not make much sense. However, this is absolutely true for top- and middle-level managers. There may be some exceptions, though.

It is important to understand that the idea about clearly defined business processes, KPIs, salary linked to KPI, responsibility for disciplinary offences etc. is fair not only at the level of the members of staff. Of course, this applies to everyone in the company, from top to bottom. A like-minded person is not just a “yes-man” who always votes for all the ideas of the top manager during meetings. It’s also someone who achieves his KPIs. Thus, we may understand why the manager can be disappointed in the like-minded person, even though the latter sincerely supports the Vision. If he is stupid and doesn’t achieve his KPIs – he will be fired anyway.

Now let’s consider other important issues which you may encounter while implementing the system of motivation described.

First, the difference in status between the like-minded people (associates) and everyone else. It should be significant – and everyone in the company should see this difference in status. The difference between the associates and non-associates should apply to all levels in the company. The former should receive the main part of the benefits and bonuses from working in the company: social benefit packages, privileges, respect from others, special events organized for them specifically etc. It is an acknowledgement of the self-motivation of those who has made a decision to help the leader in achieving the Vision. Such treatment and the reasons for it should be visible – all employees in the company should understand why the manager treats the like-minded people the way he does and why other employees do not receive special benefits and bonuses. Of course, these benefits and bonuses should not be excessive - if an associate does not meet expectations (in particular, does not achieve the KPIs) - he quickly loses them. And if someone who was previously considered a non-associate begins to do excellent work and commitment to the achievement of the Vision - he becomes an associate and receives additional benefits and bonuses. You should be reasonable and careful in this matter. You should know that you can easily ruin any reasonable idea by using it wrong, so you should not over-extend the privileges for like-minded people. And they should not humiliate all other staff members by any means. Granting like-minded people special benefits and bonuses have a solid economic sense. Being an associate of a leader should be attractive for an employee, it should bring company certain results. Ambitious and smart people who always aim for something should see the positive examples set by their colleagues – in this case they will also want to support the leader and join the associates who are eager to achieve the Vision.

Second, the incorporation of the motivation system into the system of strategic planning. I want to emphasize that the described system of motivation cannot be considered in isolation from the system of strategic planning in the company. It is an integral part of it and it will not work as a separate independent system!

The described system of motivation is based on the Vision – the main goal that a top-level manager sets for the company. The Vision is an integral part of the strategic planning; strictly speaking, the strategy of the company is a strategic plan, a market position and a list of activities required to achieve the Vision. Therefore, we are not just talking about some abstract like-minded people, but about the like-minded people who want to implement the strategy to fulfil the Vision. Changing the strategy, as well as changing the Vision, can lead to changing the circle of like-minded people.

Third, recommendations of individual like-minded people (associates) within the framework of the Visions at all hierarchical levels of the company should be regularly discussed among the leaders and associates according to the established procedure (practice shows that it is better to make it an annual meeting). However, the leader view of the Vision (i.e. which company / business unit or structural unit he wants to establish) remains, i.e. it should not change. He can change it only if absolutely necessary, as changing the Vision by the top manager demotivates the team. It’s quite easy to understand: from the subordinates’ point of view, this shows that the leader does not know what he wants, and all the efforts of the staff to achieve the Vision are meaningless.

Regular discussions of individual recommendations brought up by the like-minded people is necessary in order to keep the Vision and, accordingly, motivation of the like-minded people pertinent. Associates can leave and be replaced by new ones, people can change their interests etc. – and the manager must hold his finger on the pulse of the people’s interests. That’s why, as a rule, the Vision covers a period of 3 to 5 years (the period for which the strategy is developed), it is naive to believe that during such a period the list of the like-minded people will remain unchanged and their interests will remain the same. Thus we also have feedback channels between employees and the manager.

Fourth, it is important to take the possible skepticism of the associates into consideration. Who said that after achieving the Vision the manager will keep his promise and the associates will receive what they are entitled to.

In order to reduce the skepticism, the process of achieving the Vision must be broken down into specific successive stages, preferably annual ones (this, again, brings us back to the question of whether there is a strategic planning system is implemented in the company). After reaching each stage the leader should partially fulfil the promises he made to individual associates at the stage of formulating the Vision. Accordingly, the promises that he made to the entire team in the company should also be partly implemented.

Fifth, in relation to goal-setting, you need to remember that the work of the manager has two main elements. The first element includes formulating the Vision and developing a strategy for achieving it. The second element includes something that is called the “Vision Propaganda”. It is not enough to develop and approve the Vision and the strategy for achieving it. It is just the beginning of the manager’s work. Then he should propagate the Vision by making sure that the staff believe that the Vision is right and its achievement is possible. This is a continuous process which should take place throughout the period of the strategy implementation – you need to keep your employees believing that the Vision is sound and attainable, despite all the difficulties and setbacks that may occur along the way.

Sixth, the formal side of the issue is very important. The process of developing the Vision of the company, as well as the process of developing the strategy for achieving it, should look like a collective effort. We create a working team, which includes all the key employees in the company (in big companies – the key employees of the highest rank). This team develops a strategy of the company step by step starting from the market analysis and ending with strategic activities. The team shares their ideas, expresses their doubts and initiatives. When it comes to developing the Vision, the members of the team share suggestions about how the Vision of the organization might look like, i.e. what the main goal of the company is, and what the strategy for its achievement is. The top-level manager forms the Vision taking these suggestions into account (but he is not obligated to consider them all!). This procedure for formulating the Vision lets the top manager increase the involvement of key employees and increase their chances of becoming associates. Unilateral, behind-the-scenes development of the Vision and strategy, followed by their communication to the employees, will cause the opposite effect – their rejection. The principle of “he consulted with us” is extremely important here.

Seventh, the above motivation system with an emphasis on the Vision must be supplemented by a developed HR system, a clear system of career development and internal corporate training for the employees who deserve it. If there is a self-motivated well-disciplined employee with excellent KPI performance at the very bottom of the hierarchical ladder of the organization, he should be aware of the opportunities for career development that are open for him – including the conditions, necessary steps etc. He should be encouraged and offered the chance and assistance to receive corporate education and improve his qualifications. Today a number of federal companies have already started implementing such systems, which is very good news.

Eighth, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between managing the staff motivation (motivation system) and managing the corporate culture with an emphasis on encouraging initiative and responsibility. Despite their interconnection those are quite different things! The present article is about the system of motivation and does not cover the issues of corporate culture management. EMAS conducted its own preliminary studies in this area, particularly, we investigated the online system for corporate culture monitoring called “EMAS - a Heptahedron of the Corporate Culture Health”, but this system requires a separate article. Of course, there are good books available on this topic.

And, finally, we must not forget that in addition to interesting goals, people are motivated by something, or rather someone, else. In particular, people are motivated by people, namely the very personality of their leader. Therefore, the company should create a system which helps develop leadership skills in managers at all levels; managers should develop their leadership skills.

The system of motivation described here is based on the thesis that it is impossible to motivate anyone unless they want to be motivated and therefore, it is unnecessary to motivate everyone. The system described here is built on the idea that people can motivate themselves and includes the process of selecting associates and thanking them for self-motivation. This is very similar to the system of loyalty, with the only difference is that the focus is on commitment to the goals/Vision, and not just to the personality of the leader. If the system is implemented correctly, it attracts smart, ambitious and enthusiastic employees, because, firstly, it provides them with the opportunity for self-realization, secondly, it gives visible status advantages and, thirdly, it provides clear specific indicators of how they are expected to conduct themselves.

About the author:

Andrey KOLYADA (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)

Rector of EMAS Business School

Business Trainer and consultant in Strategic Management (Corporate Strategy, Motivation, Leadership, Strategic Marketing, Organizational Culture) and Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM).

Best Business Trainer in 2014 according to the annual HR Awards “Employer of the Year”, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

One of Top 3 Business Marketing Trainers in 2011 according to Belarusian Marketing Experts Association, 2011

Author of 2 books on Strategic Management & Marketing