First-class Coach: Motivating your team

Should you be helping your team feel good about themselves or should they be happy with what they've got?

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Q: My boss ridicules my efforts to make my team happier. He says they should be glad to have a job and if they're not happy they can take their chances elsewhere. Am I right to believe happier people work harder?

A: It's no coincidence that the Government is committed to measuring national happiness and seeking to improve it. Happier people are more successful generally - getting more from our jobs encourages giving more. And a new study has demonstrated that unhappy people are less productive, on average only using 40% of available time to focus on their tasks, compared with 80% with their more contented colleagues. In other words, the least happy people are in effect working only two days of their five-day week.

The study was clear on the sources of happiness at work: major factors were feeling goals are being achieved, having a positive impact and being recognised for making a contribution.

So you are right, but your boss also has a point: creature comforts such as a cappuccino maker or gym membership might initially be appreciated but would soon be taken for granted. Your challenge is to manage your team so that their job satisfaction increases alongside their productivity.

The ways of doing this are well known and, although they do require management time, they don't necessarily require cash outlay. Foremost is to create a sense of shared purpose. This involves setting a goal that is inspiring, and connecting each person's output to its achievement. As the saying goes: 'We all have to mix concrete from time to time, but it helps to know we're building a cathedral.' Choosing a purpose in purely financial terms is unlikely to be enough. Competition with rivals can be very motivating, as Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, discovered in the early days of his business. He made it the company mission 'to beat Dixons' as the favoured supplier of mobiles and contracts.

It was a tangible goal all employees could relate to and it also related to the firm's quality of customer service and range of products, not just cash generation.

Gaining external recognition - an award, for example - can also be encouraging, particularly when it is closely linked to individuals' performance. Clients of mine decided to work towards inclusion on the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list. They achieved their goal, improving their people practices and staff retention, and created a sense of enthusiasm and energy.

Recognition of achievement is another powerful motivator. Your boss may say people 'were only doing the job they're paid to do', but if the task was particularly tricky or they have worked especially hard, or if its achievement represents a step outside their comfort zone, then they deserve to receive praise and thanks.

If you have a system of bonuses and rewards, make sure that at least part of it relates to behaviour that contributes to the general wellbeing of the people in the business. I was impressed to learn that when Pret a Manger promotes junior sandwich-makers it gives them some high street gift vouchers, not for themselves but to distribute to those people who helped them attain their promotion. This seemed an excellent (and cheap) way of positively reinforcing company values, while giving pleasure to both givers and receivers.

Another method for increasing job satisfaction is to pay attention to your team's development. Make sure that at least once a year, separate from salary discussions, you have a one-to-one conversation with each team member to establish what they think they have learned in the past 12 months and what their goals are. That way you can identify what their development needs are. If there is a gap between their ambitions and their current capabilities you can help them get a grasp of what will be required to reach the next step and suggest how they can set about doing it. Again, development doesn't need to be costly - new responsibilities; a change in job role or mentoring from a more experienced colleague could be the answer.

If you find that your efforts to increase your team's happiness still evoke scorn from your boss, it may be worth pointing out that the real cost of unhappy people taking up his suggestion and quitting could be substantial, requiring time and money to recruit replacements, not to mention the lag between joining the company and really finding form. And it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact of disgruntled ex-employees in the marketplace, souring the perceptions of potential recruits, too.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email:

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