As a consultant, I hear many complaints from employees about their co-workers. But a lack of teamwork is the most common complaint. For many reasons, some people just don’t work well as part of the team. They might be too territorially focused, they might feel threatened, or they might be more comfortable working independently. But for many people, they just don‘t understand what is expected of them.
Whatever the reason, we all have to work with people every day. Most people I talk with tell me that they would like to come to the office, do their work and not have to deal with other people’s moods, personal problems and attitudes. Doing their jobs and dealing with their personal lives is stressful enough without having to come into the office and getting involved with other people’s problems.
But how can managers motivate their employees to be team players? Admittedly, it is difficult and it will require a change in how we have been managing for the past 30 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the focus was on our employees’ technical competence. We perfected performance appraisals and evaluation systems, we provided in-house training, we provided the funding for our employees to attend programmes and earn further degrees and qualifications. Our goal as managers was to make sure our employees could do their jobs technically well.
In the 1990s, we discovered this wasn’t enough. Business studies conducted at that time revealed 80% of business in service industries was lost because of employees’ indifferent attitudes towards their customers.
In response, we began to focus on improving employee performance in the area of customer relations. The philosophy was that it was not enough to do our jobs well, we had to make customers happy. Studies showed us that most customers were willing to put up with problems with the merchandise, but only if the service was good.
These philosophies are important, but they overlooked one thing – the employee. Our management philosophy has not demanded that people treat their coworkers with respect. The saying, “the customer is number one”, should be changed to, “our people are number one”.
You can’t treat your customers well while you mistreat your employees and co-workers, and expect to have productive employees and a successful business. Provide quality service and treat others with dignity should be the mission statement for every organisation. If it were, everyone would work as a team. It is a simple concept and, if put in force, all our employees would feel good about their own jobs and about the people they work with.
There are people who are just plain difficult to get along with and dealing with them can require extra attention. One group of people which often draws complaints are the complainers. These people feel they have no control over their lives. People who feel they have some control over what happens are problem-solvers, but when you feel powerless you don‘t even attempt to solve the problem and instead abdicate the problem to someone else.
What managers do wrong with complainers is they avoid or ignore them. Complainers often do have something good to say but we usually don’t listen. Rather than turning them away, there is something we can do to help: listen. Do not accept responsibility for fixing the problem, delegate it back to the complainer and help them work it out for themselves. Encourage them to find out how other departments or organisations have responded to a similar problem. Make them come up with options for solving the problem – they will feel better and feel like more a part of the team. They need to learn from their manager that they do have something to contribute and they can be part of the solution.
Motivation isn’t just about people. Employees must feel satisfied with their work and be motivated to do better. Here are seven of the most common comments people have told me they want from their jobs:
- More than just more pay or benefits, people desire work that is interesting. In this day of high technology, people get bored more easily than they used to. They need work that challenges them. Managers should try to make the work exciting even if the task is boring. Employees should have opportunities to try a creative approach to their work.
- Most employees are motivated until they learn the job. Once they have mastered it, boredom sets in. Managers usually have to spend time with employees when they are learning, but back away once the employee has become an expert. They should teach employees more about the organisation, and encourage training and activities that will keep them sharp.
- Employees also need to know where they fit into the scheme of things and how their job fits into the organisation’s objectives. Our employee’s jobs are often so specialised, they don’t fully understand how their work fits into the big picture.
- Managers should compliment their workers. A lot of us spend much time correcting our workers, but only seconds telling them when they do a good job. We need to reverse this and spend more time giving them praise and support. Limit the criticism.
- Employees also need to believe their manager is an advocate for them. They need to know that if they have a good idea, their boss will make sure it is heard by the right people.
- Never reprimand an employee in front of anyone else. Set high expectations and discipline or counsel an employee in private. If a manager gets mad at a person in front of others, naturally others will hide things as they won’t want the same thing to happen to them.
- An employee will only be as good as a manager expects and behaves themselves. Managers need to be punctual at work and at meetings. They should never discuss another employee or manager in front of their workers. Managers must also be very confidential with what employees tell them, and they must be consistent in setting policies and sticking with them.
Most importantly, managers must have self-esteem which means they feel good about themselves; they account for their own actions and they treat others with respect.
A good manager creates responsible professionals who can work productively on their own and with their team.
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