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Motivating the troops

“My staff members are finding the going very tough at present with the uncertainty in the market having a negative impact on activity. I’m finding it hard to keep them motivated. Any ideas?” Julian O’Dell responds.

Julian O'Dell

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On one of our recent ‘Leading teams to success’ courses, the major topic was the need for and challenge of motivating staff – individually and collectively, when market conditions make their roles more difficult.

It is during these spells that the most effective managers really earn their corn. Motivation is best described as ‘getting someone to do something willingly and well’ and stretches way beyond promotion and pay rises.

Management theories

On my training and consultancy travels, I see two main styles of management applied by branch managers, loosely labelled ‘Theory X’ and ‘Theory Y’.

Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell

A ‘Theory X’ manager tends to be authoritarian in approach, regarding employees as underlings who don’t particularly like their jobs, who will only work if they are subject to a culture of being told what to do, a degree of coercion and perhaps even an element of punishment-type consequence for not getting the job done.

A ‘Theory Y’ manager sees their staff as enjoying their roles and being able to make key decisions for themselves, enjoying autonomy, responsibility and the freedom to think creatively and effectively.

There is no room for sub-standard staff performance, thus the role of the manager in successfully motivating the troops is crucial.

The latter style of management is much more appropriate for the modern day workplace, particularly given that high calibre employees today are not always easy to recruit and retain. The best staff will aim to develop, grow within their roles, tread a desired career path and reach their full potential. With fewer transactions, more and diverse competition, with fewer staff and downward pressure on fees, firms have to be more competitive than ever. There is no room for substandard staff performance, thus the role of the manager in successfully motivating the troops is crucial.

The psychologist’s view

Valuable lessons can by learnt by estate agency leaders from American psychologist and specialist in business management, Frederick Herzberg, who believed in a two-factor theory of motivation. He cited certain reasons for low job satisfaction which he called ‘hygiene factors’ – such as pay, working hours and conditions, levels of supervision – which can demotivate people if not present but do not actually motivate them to work harder. If they are present, a kind of neutral state of an absence of dissatisfaction exist: they are not enough to actually motivate employees.

The other factors were ‘motivators’ – which genuinely motivate people to work hard and well in their roles – these include responsibility, challenge, achievement, recognition, variety and so on.

Two main headline motivators were particularly important according to Herzberg – job enrichment and empowerment. The former means that there is a variety within the role, an element of challenge, the individual feels in control of their workload and is getting a sense of satisfaction from doing the job well. The latter involves giving the employees a degree of responsibility and autonomy for decisions within their role – a degree of trust, less close supervision.

This cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach as staff with less experience and knowledge require a different approach but once nurtured to a certain level of competence, the ‘motivating factors’ play a key part. It is vital to recognise that it is the employee’s line manager who will be instrumental in ensuring these motivating factors are present every day.

So, to motivate in tougher times is essential. But how can managers tick that critical box on their extensive list of key duties?

Consider injecting variety and responsibility into your staff’s workload. If you run a regular team meeting, vary the agenda’s sequence and allocate different elements to be led by different individuals now and then.

Interview your team members individually and identify areas where they would appreciate training and development. Ensure you recognise that each employee is different and needs to be motivated in different ways. The negotiator who is a first-time parent is likely to respond well to an early departure being granted to spend an extra couple of hours with their baby. The administrator who has a secret creative talent will enjoy the opportunity to get involved in designing a new marketing campaign. The sales negotiator who is keen to progress will be delighted to be booked on a course on how to become an effective valuer or an hour’s one to one coaching. And never forget to spot and show appreciation for a job well done.

The leader will enjoy numerous obvious benefits if they understand and apply the key elements of motivation. Those who don’t ought to be mindful of the recognised principle ‘People join companies but they leave managers’.

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May 17, 2019