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DO’s and DON’Ts of Motivational Management

DO’s and DON’Ts of Motivational Management

Practical tips for project team motivation and common pitfalls to avoid

By Vitaly Dubravin

Motivational management has been around for a quite some time, since slavery has proved its inefficiency and process management did everything to suppress initiative and creativity. What is motivational management? Here is a very simple case that explains it.

Imagine you are at the very end of a project, the acceptance day is approaching rapidly and your team is a few days behind the schedule. There are most common management behaviors shown in such case. The first is a childish questioning every team member “Are we there yet?” hourly to demonstrate that you are in control and ready to respond to “How we doing?” from the stakeholder instantaneously. And the second approach is where you have a short morning briefing with the team, once again reemphasize why the importance for “all of us” to catch up, checking who may need help and provide the most comfortable and non-stressful atmosphere for the team to continue cracking the challenge.

Guess which method is more productive? If your answer is “#1”, then you may skip the rest of this article. It is not for you. If you religiously believe in “#2”, then some suggestions below should help you to get even better in your management career.

There is a common misunderstanding that motivational management works well in the flat (team-of-peers) structure and is not applicable for the strong hierarchies or matrix organizations. It is not always true. Management style depends on the manager’s personality and is only influenced by the organizational structure, not defined by it. You may find authoritarian and impulsive managers in all organizational types, but they lose big to the managers driving by motivation, not whipping.

Key elements of motivational management are (DO’s):


1. SMART Goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Old but very effective method. You tell people what to achieve and when and let them decide how. Let’s say you have a presentation in New York @ 10am and two team members will join you. One will take a train from Boston, another will fly from Chicago. All you do for logistics is to send them client name, address of the place (don’t send driving directions, please! – there is a GPS for that in the 21st century), time to meet in the lobby – 9:30am and a contact person on the client side (just in case). You don’t explain people how to get to the airport or where to buy train tickets. They are smart enough to do it themselves. And you plan for emergencies (someone is late or cannot get there at all etc.) Use the same approach for managing project goals.

2. Feedback.
No one argues that the feedback is important, but many managers forget that both positive and negative feedback should be used to achieve the expected results faster. Try the following experiment: hide a coin in the room and ask your friend to find it. You may give him only positive feedback (getting closer), only negative (moving away) or both. You will be surprised how fast he will find the coin getting both types of feedback (usually 3-5 times faster in a large room). Same happens when you prove a feedback to the project team members – they progress much faster getting timely feedback information.

3. Trust.
Be confident in your team’s ability to be successful. Your confidence will inspire both the team and the client. If you don’t think the team has a right mix of skills, then add some fresh blood to it. But don’t ever demonstrate your concerns in public. You will project your negativity to others and the team will be doomed, even though it was your fault, not theirs. Nobody is perfect. It is a matter of presentation.

4. Information sharing.
There are a few cases when information flow should be restricted on the “need to know” basis. Though, many managers consider information restriction as a part of their job security strategy. Unfortunately it has an exact opposite effect. When the team and the client (internal or external) are isolated from each other, then the manager became the weakest link. Every failure will be considered his fault, no matter how good he plays politics. Also negative information is easier to address when delivered earlier. The team should be aware of this to assume responsibility. The bad news could only get worse over time and the good news is a success of the whole team.

5. Managing by leading.
Management role requires a lot of coaching and mentoring activities. Giving instructions and distributing work are not the only management activities to perform. You cannot show up in the middle of the day, intimidate everyone and disappear again. It is assumed that the manager plays a vital role in the daily routine and lives and breathes with the team. There are so many occasions when manager’s expertise (if there is any except politics) will become crucial and saves team’s time and energy. Taking ownership for some team activities substantially raises your credibility and respect inside your group.

6. Positive motivation.
Motivation contrary to the feedback is about the future. And the brighter the future is the more people are willing to sacrifice to get there. Marketing professionals will always tell you to demonstrate why your product is better, not why your competitors are worse. Same applies when you “sell” your idea to the team. Be as vivid and creative in your description as possible, but don’t lie. The team will follow you and every member will find his own reason for doing that. Apple advertising is a great example of positive motivation. They give you a positive example of what you can achieve having an iPhone and you will find several reasons why to stop eating and spend all you have on this shiny gadget.

7. Managing expectations.
People are not good at judging themselves. Look at “American Idol” auditions. All those folks truly believe they should be on the stage. Some even sing while riding on the bus or walking down the street. And it is a real torture to listen to. Project team faces the same challenge. Only a small percentage of folks tend to underestimate their abilities and impact on the project. But the vast majority believes that they are perfect and do all the work. It leads to huge unjustifiable expectations of their input recognition. It may be the end of the project or just a milestone. It is always better to set expectations slightly lower and exceed them rather than set too high and miss.

Now let’s focus on the most common mistakes (DON’Ts):


1. Don’t change goals frequently.
Goals are strategic and strategy does not fluctuate every hour. Too many changes demonstrate your incompetence. Write them down for yourself, come back to it in a day (at least), think what you had missed, and share it with others only after that.

2. Don’t micromanage.
Micromanagement is very helpful for training and education, but is unacceptable for daily operations. There are many ways to achieve the same (or even better) results and your ways are not always the best. You double the amount of time spent for each task when micromanaging (counting time for both of you). Want to do everything your way? Do it yourself! Leave room for error and creativity for other people.

3. Don’t underestimate the efforts.
Never dictate your team how long you think the task should take. Listen to their opinion and rational behind it first. You may challenge it after that based on your understanding of the problem, but not before. Look at this from the team member side. Nothing frustrates more when your boss thinks this is a 15-minute task and you have to work the whole night to complete. You’re “killing” yourself for nothing – your boss will never recognize your efforts because he does not think there are any.

4. Don’t assume that the work stops when you leave the office.
Or starts when you walk in. Many good things happen while you were out. Team was in the middle of something when you came back from the golf course. Get to your office, try to understand what’s going on and do not demand instantaneous ad-hoc status reports.

5. Don’t delegate a role without the authority.
It is a guaranteed failure. If you let your group leaders define bonuses for their subordinates, then you should not discuss individual bonuses with each and every team member. Send them back to their group leader with all the complaints and have a meeting with him to go over the issue later. You have to support delegated decisions, not override them all the time. Otherwise you will continue doing everything yourself.

6. Don’t trust external sources more than your team.
External source may have great ideas but only the team understands how to use them for the project. Team may be conservative, but it does not make it wrong. External source is just yet another information feed, not a replacement for the team’s expertise. The grass is NOT always greener on the other side.

7. Don’t declare the state of emergency daily.
Most the events can be predicted and addressed in the systematic way. Many “emergencies” can wait until the next business day or more. Keep some reserves for the real crisis; otherwise your team will have no capacity to step in when it is really necessary. And remember that your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for others.

8. Don’t assume people know what you know.
Let’s say you were negotiating a new deal for a few days and have to leave early from the today’s call. It is a very bad idea to pull someone in at the last minute and tell him: “I have to go, continue negotiations and call me later with the update”. This person does not know the context, feels stupid and can do absolutely nothing useful in this situation.

9. Don’t expect people will do more every day.
People can get better and better under some pressure, but there is a limit. It is hard to expect much more once they reach top performance. It works somewhat like metal fatigue. Metal breaks, people quit. You think you’re such a great manager forcing everyone to work way beyond their capacity? No, you are the biggest looser. Now you have to find and train a replacement, and the new person will get to comparable performance levels in only 6-12 months!

10. Don’t rely on multitasking.
Most people can work on one task at a time. Switching to another task takes time (person has to get into context first). I saw cases when performance went down 30-40% when two tasks are executed in parallel by one person. Results are not that bad, when both tasks are similar in nature, but be ready to give up at least 1/5 of person’s performance. Your “quick” phone call or a surprise visit to someone’s cubicle has the same impact on person’s performance – you pulled him away from the task and now he has to spend some time to get back to it.

11. Don’t’ send actionable emails late at night expecting everyone to read it next morning.
People use smart phones and they see it the minute you click send. Use Delayed Delivery option in the mail system to schedule morning delivery. Give your team a break and a chance to have some private life.

12. Don’t take an authorship of every idea in the team.
Always mention the real author when presenting it to others. It proves that you have very talented people behind, confirms your team’s capability to address very sophisticated problems, and highlights your exceptional ability to manage a team of superstars.

These suggestions should help to improve your management style and avoid most common mistakes in running a team. Your people should want to work with your because they feel comfortable, not because they were assigned to be under your supervision.

(originally posted on CIO.com)

  1. Reza Khayatian
    May 24, 2011 at 02:11

    A great article, I agree with every point.
    Thank you

  2. April 18, 2013 at 18:16

    Everything is very open with a precise description of the issues.
    It was really informative. Your site is very useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

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