Career progress a top motivator

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Dec 2014

21 Dec 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Leaders at all levels

Making each person responsible for progress towards meeting their aspirations is a very powerful thing to do. Pulling the onus away from busy managers and within the hands of the individual can instantly motivate and drive people to work to their full potential. Easier said than done?

Many businesses have an outdated view of leadership. It’s is no longer just about the inspirational and visionary CEO. To those on the front-line, their manager is their leader – an individual who encompasses everything the organisation is about, promoting values day in, day out, and offering honest and clear communications.

This is why it’s vital to create leaders at all levels and not just at the very top. And it’s not just giving the responsibility but about understanding the impact of getting it right, every time. So, if hand on heart you cannot say your leaders (at all levels) are up to scratch, it’s time to take action.

Leadership breeds leadership

Firstly though remember – great leadership breeds great leadership. Make sure all senior types and business owners are consistently displaying role model behaviours and excellent leadership qualities to ensure managers, and the manager of the future, exert what the company needs. And if you need some help on defining the characteristics of good leaders in your organisation, Chapter 14 of Purple your People provides an extensive list.

Next, start developing your talent from the very beginning. Get rid of limiting ‘talent pools’ where leaders decide who will rise and who will not. Instead view everyone as part of the talent pipeline and give everyone opportunities to develop the sort of qualities they’ll need if they are in a position of leadership one day.

It’s not wasted effort – these are useful skills and attributes. Of course for this to work it’s important to be transparent and manage aspirations; treating this leadership development as part of everyone’s personal progress. And even if someone isn’t part of your big picture view, it’s always beneficial to invest time building leadership skills within all employees – it makes for a more efficient workforce where employees are able to communicate with each other as adults, getting the job done faster.

Getting stuff done

Most successful people and organisations set goals for themselves; write them down and then visualise what it would be like once they have achieved. And this is the key to getting stuff done – it’s a cliché but without a plan, you plan to fail.

When setting goals and objectives they must be:

  • Aligned to the big picture
  • Clear and understood, constantly communicating them
  • Self-generated – people are far more motivated to achieve goals they came up with
  • Inspiring
  • Monitored – against individual, team and company
  • SMARTER (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed, engaging and reviewed)

Monitoring and measuring progress is vital to achievement of these goals. Set clear milestones so things don’t go off track and continually ensure all fully understand the outcome. Make sure people self review rather than this always being something that’s ‘done’ to them.

Once people are pepped up and ready to get started, its time for them to become masters of self-management. Understanding and outlining priorities, splitting workload into manageable ‘chunks’, setting deadlines and organising resources. Only then can they ‘just do it’.

Time management

Time management is important here. There are lots of techniques for managing time; many of these can be found on the internet. One of the most important however is keeping a clear head. When everything is in one’s head, swirling around, it’s very hard to think about things, to know what is important and what is urgent. It also does not aid memory and can create a ‘knowledge = power’ culture which is outmoded and undesirable.

So instead, brain dump. Get everything onto a calendar or daily to-do list and then it’s possible to be clear about what needs to be done and when.

Team dynamics and having fun

If people feel happy and enjoying their work then they’ll be more motivated and productive – thus performing well and achieving better results for the organisation as a whole. So how much more efficient and profitable could your people be if they work well as a team?

For teams to work well together, they must understand each other and their individual motivations. The shortcut to achieving this is through psychometric testing. Some people don’t like this, often because they’ve had poor experiences themselves.

It’s important not to use it as a sift but as an aid to asking the right questions and probing the right areas at interview. As well as helping get to know a person in depth, it’s very useful for allowing teams to clearly understand personal values. For instance how their colleague likes to be managed, communicated with, their personality traits, similarities / differences and aspirations amongst many others. By doing it this way you quickly minimise any possible conflict and helps people to settle in and become productive much quicker. Used well, it’s possible to cut out that three month ‘getting to know you’ period.

Another major contributor to positive team dynamics is making sure people feel relaxed and enjoy themselves at work. That may be stating the obvious, unfortunately however there are still many deeply hierarchical organisations with inherent blame cultures, and little trust or respect that it’s almost impossible to create conducive environments. Fun is a top motivator so why do the opposite?

Creativity and innovation

James Dyson has the right attitude. Rather than blame when mistakes are made or admit failure, he celebrates and learns from each one. Taking this approach in your organisation can create an environment where creativity and innovation are encouraged. A stimulating environment where people are learning all the time, aren’t spending time making excuses or trying to cover stuff up and no one-feels scared of the consequences of getting something wrong. The only caveat is they shouldn’t continually be making the same mistake...

And when it comes to fun in the workplace, we aren’t suggesting you let your people run wild. Instead make a few improvements to enhance the organisation. Things like having lunch together, sharing books and even learning a new language from a bi-lingual team member are all cheap and easy things to start doing; yet can have a significant benefit to the bottom line.

Attitude, skills and knowledge

By now you should be well on your way to having the right people in the right roles and responsibilities, who fit your culture, are trusted, interested and inspired. They receive feedback, have fun and are thanked for their contribution. But they still need the tools to do the job and a big part of this includes having the right attitude, skills and knowledge.


Attitude is the responsibility of the individual and this should be made clear at interview and induction. Encourage people to ‘speak up’ if at any time they feel negative or something is preventing them from fulfilling their commitment to the organisation. Operating a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to negativity is recommended – one disengaged person with a poor attitude can cause a lot of damage.

Trust instincts and be aware of any unresolved conflict and/or observe any negative body language. Don’t ignore negativity. If the person hasn’t raised their lack of positivity with someone then tackle it head on. It doesn’t need a big deal though, an empathetic, exploratory conversation is often all that is needed.

Skills and knowledge

People learn in different ways, therefore it’s important to avoid ‘sheep-dipping’ people through the same skills-based development.  A much better approach is to audit the skills against the requirements of the role and then draw up a development plan for each individual. Then make it their responsibility to complete the plan – very important.

The days of managers chasing their people around to complete courses are long gone. People want to drive their own development and know what it is they wish to learn. Encourage this attitude and make sure resources are available to support.

While this may sound costly, designing individual plans, it doesn’t have to be. There are many low-cost or no-cost options, such as internet searches, in-house libraries of books and trade publications and mentoring, which may be preferable to traditional learning and development courses.

Managing aspirations and succession

Labour turnover is a terrifying cost for businesses and partly the reason why many organisations fail to calculate the cost of attrition. Some businesses take it as read that this is just an expected cost of doing business, however it doesn’t have to be. It wouldn’t be healthy to retain everyone within your organisation, and in fact we wouldn’t encourage it. We would however recommend that a clear succession plan is in place, ready for the time a role is required to be filled. Explain you don’t expect people to stay for every and encourage ongoing discussions so there are few surprises and in some cases help people to their next move even if it’s outside the organisation. There are great long term benefits, in particular when it comes to enhancing employer reputation.

There are lots of ways to plan for succession; we advocate the use of a nine-box grid. This tool can help map people according to their performance scores and their potential ratings for the next 12 months allowing businesses to quickly and easily see where support is required or who their rising stars of the future are.

Drilling down to this level of detail any further forward than a year or so is challenging these days because of content and rapid change and uncertainty; though people should always form the heart of further ranging strategic discussions.

It’s important to remember though that when planning for the future it’s so important to manage aspirations. This requires two-way communication; enabling people to share and for leaders to realistically manage those aspirations and support the individual as much as they can to make their dream a reality.

Podcast tips from Jane Sunley

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