05/07/11

By by Lucy George, Director Wordville, a London-based communications agency

The first thing I notice upon walking into an office is whether the people hunched over the keyboards, jabbering on the phones, or gabbing in the corridors want to be there or not. At Wordville, we’re often told our enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s my job as Director to make sure my staff are inspired, and want to come to work. Our attitude is apparent to our clients. Clients need to know we’re going to leave their business better off — and they’re going to enjoy the process of working with a motivated team. I wouldn’t hire someone who lacked energy and drive, and I wouldn’t expect my clients to either. The brilliant thing about enthusiasm is that it’s viral. It starts with you. I’m always excited about what I’m working on, and I always give all I can — if I didn’t I know the staff would feel it. Promoting a team environment is also key. We have a loud office and it’s rare for five minutes to go by in silence.

But I encourage this because bouncing ideas around and asking questions as a team almost always leads to a better result for the client.

I love to manage people. It inspires me and continually forces me to ‘up my game’. I’m in the lucky position as the owner of my own business to be totally responsible for the people I hire, which means I have been able to get the best there is — the most motivated, energised and talented group.

But even a self-motivated overachiever needs to be inspired. I see that as the most important thing I do in my job.
Here is what I think is important to motivate a team — I hope you find it helpful:

Share the vision — people are motivated if they know their actions have meaning, that their work is leading towards something, and their efforts will be recognised. A manager, whatever level, must have a vision for their business/project/service. Too many leaders expect the team to fill in the blanks and deliver what’s expected without communicating the bigger picture. It can be demotivating for anyone to feel like they’re a cog in a wheel, working without any specific purpose. It’s easier and more energising to work towards a shared goal rather than labour hour by hour for some loose promise of growth or expansion. Take time to consider your goals and articulate your vision for your team.

Don’t expect more from your team than you’re willing to give yourself — a career is made up of exciting activities, boring tasks, the occasional unpleasant duty, frightening challenges, fulfilling achievements and camaraderie. You can only inspire your team if they see you share it all. A team leader can’t expect something from a member of staff that they wouldn’t be seen dead doing themselves. A workplace has a hierarchy and needs to in order to work efficiently — but there is nothing more inspiring I think than a full team working together with equal determination and the boss with their sleeves rolled up. A manager must lead by example — and that relates to the effort put in, the quality and attention to detail of every piece of work, and the way people are treated.

Don’t micromanage - management is not parenting. It’s important that all staff feel supported but they also need time to find their own way of doing things, have their own inspiration and discoveries. I used to have a boss that openly told me I could make three bad decisions out of ten. He said that the seven great decisions would cancel out the mistakes and the freedom I had would help drive the company beyond his own ambitions. I hope I never did make three bad decisions out of every ten — I know I made a few — but I learned from those, and the freedom to dive in helped me deliver more than in any other role. We have very high standards in our business. But that cannot mean that each individual is watched to the point where all imagination and inspiration is smothered.

Involve the team in the best of the business — if there’s a chance to work on an exciting project, meet an inspirational member of your professional community, take on a challenge that could make someone’s career — then it’s important to share. Favouritism is demoralising. The best jobs, the excitement and the challenges have to be shared in order to motivate the whole team. As a manager there are some individuals who you have rock-solid faith in. It’s easier to hand over every new challenge to them because you know it’ll be in a safe pair of hands. That type of conveyor belt management does nothing to inspire people further down the assembly line. Take a risk with someone who might not have done a role before, help them step up. I like to see my team’s own experience grow to the point that their CVs are awash with achievements.

There’s no place for negativity — people say cash flow is the biggest risk to a new business — I disagree. It’s a challenge every growing business faces but for me it bears nothing like the night-terror fear that comes when an individual on a project starts to turn things sour. It’s easy to say ‘no’, to snipe at new ideas, to sow seeds of doubt when the ambitions seem too far a stretch. Work involves risk and it’s vital to assess and prepare. But if the risk review turns to naysaying, step in quick. There’s nothing that’s going to impact your hard-working inspired team more than someone doubting at every turn. Speak to the individual about how their negative behaviour is affecting morale. And if things don’t change you might need to rethink their involvement in your team. I’m no Pollyanna — but a good idea, a good vibe, a great working atmosphere is the most inspirational thing there is and I protect that whenever I can.

It is not the manager’s job to provide the sole source of inspiration for a team. Each individual needs to motivate themselves too — and seek out inspiration from their peers, their clients, their competition, their family and wherever they find it. It’s my belief that if it was easy to motivate a team, all businesses would succeed. But it’s not easy. It’s not prescriptive. But it’s the most important job the managers have.