Category Archives: Motivating Employees

Hands Up For Volunteering

volunteeringA recent study conducted by Macquarie Graduate School of Management showed that Corporate volunteering improves employee satisfaction, retention and engagement.

Corporate volunteers were very satisfied with their volunteering experience (83% satisfied), very likely to continue (87%), and very likely to recommend it to their friends (75%). The most common barriers were ‘not being asked’ (38%), ‘being too busy (36%), preferring to volunteer privately (31%), and preferring to donate money than to volunteer (21%).

I presume “I don’t care” and “I can’t be bothered” weren’t provided as options. Therein lies yet another failing of surveys and prompted responses.

Engagement + Alignment >

blue pill

This recent Forbes post is short and snappy and makes the excellent point that engagement by itself doesn’t lead to productivity, revenue growth and profitability. That mass of keen people you’ve motivated need to be performing in alignment with your organisation’s overall strategy – moving with all that new energy towards the same goals. Kind of obvious I know, but well worth specifying and repeating. I’m guilty of not saying that enough myself. Engagement is not, by itself, some magic blue pill. Always be wary of those who try and sell you a magic bullet which is ‘the answer.’

The post, wisely, recommends always getting people to keep in mind the ‘why’ of what they’re doing. Yes, engaging employees is a good idea – but why? The ‘5 whys’ technique is a classic problem-solving approach but here it is, unintentionally demonstrated by one of my favourite comedians Louis CK. WHY?!

Secrets Of Building Winning Teams


Successful organisms and groups in nature rely on diversity as a defence mechanism and to provide tools to deal with a wide range of situations – business is no different. Here’s the rest of that thought, expressed in my lead article from the Careers section of The NZ Herald on 20th July 2013. To save me re-typing it, here it is in image form with a link back to the Herald’s original online article.

Herald Jobs Article Terry Williams The Brain-Based Boss 20July2013 Entire

Sad Superman – Anyone Can Become Disengaged In A Negative Workplace

sad superman

This Harvard Business Review blog post is a great encapsulation on what to do about disengaged employees. So many bosses try and attract pre-engaged employees without putting much effort into the latent and potential talent they already have. Or might have. Trying to buy engagement from outside may not necessarily be a bad idea but engagement tends to be contextual. Just because someone is engaged at a point in time in a particular place doesn’t mean that they are perpetually engaged anywhere and everywhere. Throw Superman into a negative enough environment, even he will become increasingly negative. (Terry makes mental note to himself to draft a graphic novel using this premis…)

Hiring ‘A’ players, those transitory and mercenary talents, is a zero-sum game. If they come to you because you dangle more money (if that’s all you do) you will merely attract those people that will be equally attracted away by someone dangling a bigger carrot and there’s always a bigger carrot. Just like lowering your products’ prices, it may work today and solve a problem in the short term, but someone else can do the same or better and you’ll lose that game even if you win it.

The numbers vary and I prefer to use three categories rather than ‘engaged’ and disengaged.’ I have a middle group I call ‘present.’ The engaged do more than they have to because they choose to. The disengaged are toxic, stealing time and resources, badmouthing you while they use your PC to look for work elsewhere. The ‘present’ show up, clock on, do their jobs and no more, consume oxygen and clock off. Contractually there isn’t a problem but neither you nor they are optimising potential here. This group offers the greatest opportunity for enhancing the overall engagement and thus productivity of your team. Love the engaged and lose the disengaged.

Here’s what the blog post says about what to do about the others – the ‘present’:

  1. Understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research
  2. Find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s
  3. Encourage grassroots engagement
  4. Recognize engagement as a moving target, and check back often

That’s enough blogging today. I’m off to work on my ‘Negative Superman’ graphic novel. Or maybe screenplay?! Does anyone have Zach Snyder’s phone number or know how to spell his name?

Which Workplace Perks Enhance Employee Engagement?

perksNo potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.

“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”

“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”

One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.

“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”

Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.

Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.

Why Are So Many Employees Disengaged?


This ‘Psychology Today’ article is grrrrrr8. Not just because it declares the obvious – that most employees are disengaged. Your first question should be, Why?” The answer is:

“The number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was ‘relationship with immediate supervisor.'”

The article also addresses the second question that doesn’t get asked that often – WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE IMMEDIATE SUPERVISORS?!

Often shouted by bosses is the phrase, “Recruit attitude; Train skill.” That makes sense. BUT most don’t do it although they do say it. It’s even more true of recruiting frontline leaders – the ones whose relationships are the most critical for the business. And what should those attitude qualities being recruited look like. Psychology Today says:

“the qualities companies traditionally look for when selecting and developing managers and executives are often not conducive to building positive, productive, engaged employee relationships.”

The problem is that employers are recruiting for skill not attitude, despite many saying the opposite. They’re hiring or promoting people into leadership roles because “they’re good at their jobs” or “they deserve a promotion” and leadership roles are the only promotions available. Other options might be better for those people. They deserve something but not to be given a role for which they’re not suited. It doesn’t help them or those they end up leading poorly.

So, a primary focus for Brain-Based Bosses should be redesigning your recruitment processes to attract and snare frontline leaders who have a demonstrated track record of repeatedly being inherently good at building (and maintaining) positive, productive, engaged employee relationships. Then ensuring they’re developed as leaders as soon as practicable, with emphasis on those relationship skills. (Professional relationships – not relationships as Fonzie would have seen them. If you don’t know who Fonzie is, Google him…)

What Motivates Us At Work


I recommend this blog post from Jessica Gross summarising a TED talk from Dan Ariely. It’s a succinct capture of his key points about internal motivation and how we can tap into that (or at least avoid conflicting with that.) There’s some evidence that cute internet kitten photos can actually enhance your sense of focus on a proximate task and I’m definitely going to try the hand-washing motivation technique with my family!

His key points were:

  1. Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
  2. The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it
  3. The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
  4. Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
  5. The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
  6. Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
  7. Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus

Call Me Loyal: How To Build Customer Loyalty By Focusing On Employee Loyalty

building-customer-loyaltyWhat does customer loyalty even mean? It’s more than customer satisfaction. Over two-thirds of customers reporting themselves as ‘satisfied’ will take their business elsewhere for a cheaper price or shinier distractions. The past decade has seen a re-focusing by business leaders on customer loyalty. A common and practical perspective is that a loyal customer is one who, when asked how likely it is that they’d recommend your business to friends or family, would reply with a score of 9 out of 10 or better. Anything less is a neutral customer or a detractor. (A useful follow-up question, regardless of their score, would be, “Why?”)

This shouldn’t be confused with the increasingly ubiquitous ‘loyalty programmes’ with varied effectiveness, ranging from cardboard coffee shop cards where a 10th stamp means a free coffee to national points-earning systems plugged into databases like Neo was plugged into the matrix (with much the same intent.) I’ll often ask audiences to raise their hand if they have a coffee shop loyalty card. Then I’ll ask who has more than one. Then I’ll ask what the word loyalty means…

These programmes occur narrowly at the touch points with customers – the phone, the store, the website – but a lot of what drives customer loyalty comes from non-customer facing processes such as billing or delivery. Programmes involve significant expended energy and expense, yet the research indicates a wiser investment might be to generate employee loyalty which drives a much greater and quicker positive impact on customer loyalty. Businesses need customers who will advocate for them on their behalf. Apple has tons of them for example (or had tons of them. Check again tomorrow, they might be back.)

The Harvard Business School’s research in the 90s established the service profit chain showing the flow-on effect to profits from loyal employees. Subsequent studies have further validated this. These committed souls are far more likely to be engaged, applying discretionary effort – doing more than they have to because they want to. They are far more likely to stay and form productive relationships within the business. They are far more likely to create an impression of perceived value in the mind of the customer and perceived value is the primary driver of customer loyalty. If you want to research further yourself, Frederick F. Reichheld is the guru on this topic, with his ‘loyalty effect’.

So if loyal employees drive customer loyalty (or conversely, disloyal or neutral employees suck out the lifeblood of loyalty like a vampire’s bedbug), what can employers do to generate and maintain employee loyalty? Try frequent and genuine recognition, career growth and / or personal development opportunities. Try giving them some autonomy wherever possible. Try paying them more than the least you have to. Try catering to reasonable work-life balance requests. Get to know them. (People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.) Keep them informed and involved in developing processes that affect them.

Remember those questions at the start of this article we were asking customers to assess their loyalty? Ask your employees those same questions. Get it done independently. After all, what are they going to say to your face? Would they recommend your products or services to their friends or family? Why? Why not? What would be the first thing they’d do if the business was theirs? And, after all, your name might be on the paperwork but, really, the business is theirs.

[First published in The NZ Herald 9th March 2013]

Congratulations On Your Engagement


Today’s business section in the Herald runs my latest column on employee engagement.

Q: I want to be a great leader. What’s this thing called “employee engagement” I’ve been hearing about? Is it just consultants coming up with some new term to sell me their services, or what? I’m hoping it’s real. Economic times are tough. I need something to get more out of the team I lead.Bewildered of Birkenhead

A: Dear Bewildered of Birkenhead,

The phrase “employee engagement” might be new and it certainly is flavour of the month in leadership literature, but the underlying concept is true and timeless human nature.

Employee engagement is not “morale” or “satisfaction” or “happiness”. Plenty of unhappy people are highly productive and plenty of deliriously happy folk are fine with showing up, punching a clock, getting paid and going home regardless of whether anything productive happens. Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee chooses to apply discretionary effort. It’s doing more than you have to because you choose to.

So, there are engaged employees doing more than they have to, present employees who do only what they have to, and disengaged employees who are reading this careers section at work to find a new job with anyone who isn’t you.

The numbers vary a little across time, industry and geography, but they’re remarkably consistent: 26 per cent are engaged, 28 per cent are disengaged and 46 per cent are present.

These are averages. What are the proportions in your workplace?

Click here for more…

What Really Motivates Employees?

People rarely work for free. Some do. Why? My book has some answers on that, as does this infographic highlighting the limitations of money as a motivator and some of the other needs that are met by work. Take what you want out of it. You will anyway. Just thought I’d say it.

I might write something about infographics soon. I’m in no position to criticise, having the artistic skills of a drunk spider on rollerskates BUT, to me, the best infographics are clever and succinct, not just a list with pictures. Or even worse, a series of lists with pictures. I love the info in this infographic but it seems to me to be just 7 PowerPoint slides stuck together. Some of the best ones have lots of info, are holistic and the imagery itself conveys much of the information not just provides eye candy for the text.

The entire concept of infographics is premised on the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ (Don’t know why I specified it was an old adage. Are there any new adages? An adage is a short but memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people, or that has gained some credibility through its long use. Maybe my quip  “the artistic skills of a drunk spider on rollerskates” will take off and become an adage in time? It certainly has legs…)


%d bloggers like this: