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Leadership Matters: 6 Practices to Build a Motivated Workforce

October 2017: Vol 40 No 10
Joel Trammell
Remove these obstacles to increase employee performance and morale.

Leader helping to pull an obstacle being pushed up a hill by a team memberAs nice as it would be, it is unrealistic to expect your whole workforce to be motivated all the time. However, a few simple practices can help build an environment in your credit union where employees are most likely to be motivated over the long term.

The stakes are high: The overall cost of employee disengagement is estimated between $450 billion and $550 billion every year. Follow these six practices to ensure that you are not unknowingly draining the motivation from your employees. 

1. Build line of sight into your operating rhythm.

Line of sight, the linkage between “what I’m working on” and “what the company is trying to do,” is fundamental to nurturing motivation. If employees—including those on the front line, interacting with members every day—don’t understand how they’re helping the credit union achieve its goals, they will feel unimportant at best and actively disengaged at worst.

Create line of sight by (a) sharing a compelling vision for your credit union, (b) setting specific organizational goals each quarter, and (c) ensuring that each employee sets goals for the quarter that tie into the broader goals of the credit union.

2. Prioritize hiring and training of good managers.

If an employee has a “bad” manager, it’s unlikely he or she will be motivated. We all know this intuitively. Just think back to the last bad manager you had. Research shows it too: Gallup found that 70% of variance in employee engagement is directly related to managers.

Nevertheless, we often promote people to management without any thought as to whether they have the skills and training required for the specific job of managing people. In fact, Gallup also found that that companies fail to choose the managerial candidate with the right talent for the job 82 percent of the time

Does your credit union do an effective job of promoting people with adequate training to be managers? Do you empower your managers with tools and methods that enable them to succeed? If not, it’s likely you are going to have a widespread motivation problem.

3. Choose communication tools carefully. 

One study from Queens University of Charlotte found that 40 percent of millennials would pay out of pocket for social collaboration tools to improve productivity. Are your employees longing for you to get up to speed when it comes to communication tools? If they feel blocked in their ability to collaborate quickly and easily with each other, this will be a large contributor to demotivation.

Talk to employees about what they desire in collaboration tools. Then, choose one or two that best fit your credit union’s needs. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a better file-sharing service, a new enterprise goal-setting app or a more powerful chat tool.

4. Tell the difficult truth, always.

Our first core value at Khorus is “Be courageously transparent,” and that’s something I strive to live up to as a leader. Withholding key information from employees can easily result in demotivation. Tell people what they need to know, even if it’s bad news—a slow quarter, a product/service that’s underperforming, whatever it might be. They deserve that respect and will see you as a more credible leader. Ultimately, this will translate into deeper intrinsic motivation to contribute to organizational success.

5. Proactively praise and reward excellence.

Another often-discussed trait of millennials is their desire for feedback and praise. But isn’t everyone more motivated when they know that their successes will be recognized by leadership? And how demoralizing is it when you pull off a big win and your boss doesn’t even mention it?

Keep motivation high by calling out excellence when you see it. Bonus points for tailoring your delivery of praise to how that employee would like to receive it—in public, in private, etc.

6. Help employees grow.

Motivation expands when the interests of the organization and the interests of the employee overlap. You must answer each employee’s unspoken question: “What’s in it for me?”

“A paycheck” is the obvious answer, but we now know that compensation and motivation have a weaker link than previously thought. Engage employees with dialogue about where they want to go in their lives and careers. What’s important to them? What skills do they want to develop? What can you do to help them get there? Building this type of mutually beneficial relationship will help people engage more deeply with their work rather than simply slogging through the day.

Consistently removing these obstacles to employee motivation will go a long way in any credit union. You will end up not only increasing performance but giving your employees a more fulfilling and involved experience at work.

Joel Trammell is founder and CEO of Khorus, Austin, Texas, which provides an enterprise leadership platform that gives CEOs a central place for driving execution, managing talent, and building culture.

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