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Ed O'Malley

Ed O'Malley

A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed O’Malley is President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, a first-of-its-kind training center charged with fostering large-scale civic leadership for healthier communities. He tweets at eomalley.

Grown-up rewards

Motivating people is easier when cash is rolling in, year-end bonuses are handed out and a new cappuccino machine was just installed in the break room. Take away the cash and perks and the work of motivation becomes substantially more difficult.

How can you motivate people in organizations that, because of the economy, have fewer employees required to do more with less? Here are three atypical approaches that should be part of your strategy:

Speak to their loss.
Typically, authority figures (and everyone else) pretend everything is rosy, even when the reverse is so obvious. People go to great lengths to not actually talk about the losses.

Grown-ups can handle the truth. People are experiencing loss on many levels - loss of coworkers, loss of free-time that must now be spent making up slack due to fewer employees and loss of comfort because everyone is on edge. Speak to the loss. Acknowledge it. Surface it. Get others talking about it. It provides a better understanding of what everyone is going through. It is counter-intuitive, but speaking to the loss actually contributes to energizing others. It is not dwelling on the negative. It is acknowledging what everyone is already thinking and discussing it openly in a constructive and empathetic way.

Engage them. Typically, authority figures (and everyone else) place the responsibility for motivating others solely on their shoulders. This is a trap. It makes the authority figure feel important and removes culpability from everyone else. This rarely leads to authentic motivation. What to do instead?

Don't assume that as an authority figure you alone shoulder the responsibility for motivating people during this difficult time. Ask your people what motivates them. Be prepared for surprising answers.

And if all this fails, follow my wife's advice and give them chocolate!

Read more responses to this week's On Leadership question: This has been a tough year for many organizations, wtih fewer employees required to do more with less. 2010 looks to be more of the same. How can leaders iof such organizations motivate their people as they head into 2010?

By Ed O'Malley

 |  January 7, 2010; 10:49 AM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The engaged leader | Next: Five 'musts' for leaders


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If I were in a private company which disclosed its position of profit/loss to its employees (at least in general terms), and it was clear that all levels of the company were sharing in the pain of those lost profits, I would be inclined to work hard to try to regain the previous position of profitability. However, if I believed that my company management were fat, dumb and happy, and taking it out of my hide so that they could continue their own personal profitability uninterrupted by the downturn in business, I would be inclined to perform as little as I thought I could get away with while I looked hard for another job. Unfortunately, what one sees now in American style management, versus European or Japanese style management, is much of the latter and very little of the former.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | January 8, 2010 6:42 PM
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I think we can estimate the value of Mr. O’Malley management advice by his many years of front line management experience.

Posted by: bestbobleonard | January 8, 2010 3:31 PM
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Actually say "thank you" and "we appreciate what you do." I had two supervisors tell me this recently and it made a huge difference to the way I felt about my job. They know I'm overworked and while they can't hire someone to help me, they recognize what I do. It also helps that they were specific in their praise - so they actually do see what I do and its not just a blanket comment.

Posted by: puppiesandkitties | January 8, 2010 12:28 PM
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I have to echo the earlier comments. On the one hand, you say grownups can handle the truth. On the other, you sugar coat it with chocolate. Most people I know at work are trying desperately to avoid the bad food at work, though other kinds of incentives (let them have their say as to what) are usually appreciated!

Posted by: sarahabc | January 8, 2010 11:32 AM
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In this day and age, I am getting tired of this constant idea of giving people high-calorie, high-fat food that will either come across as intended (warm, friendly hug equivalent) or as completely undermining their fight -- not a fun one -- to control their weight and diet.

My solution is to think about options. At the office birthday party, have that luscious chocolate layer cake but also a paper plate full of apples or other "easy" no-preparation alternatives, maybe some sliced up carrots or just some cherry tomatoes. Don't reduce everyone to the healthy food police but provide options. The White House has shifted from M & Ms in dishes everywhere to M & Ms in dishes everywhere plus apples everywhere. Big improvement for hungry people at meetings who will eat whatever is nearby and would like a choice.

I realize the author thinks he is talking about something bigger, but the "chocolate" notion brings up life and death issues for many of us -- people are often dieting because of concerns about heart health, and yes, that means they're scared of a heart attack down the line -- and it shouldn't be seen as such a good default any more.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 8, 2010 10:45 AM
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My first major job was with "Corp X". I was part of the "Corp X Family". There were unofficial benefits, such as the old-timers taking the time to fill in the new guys on company history, inform us of industry quirks, different departments would car pool together and you'd get an idea of what the company was all about.

Then, the greed years began, we became the "Corp X Team", and individuals were disposable, the older, more experienced ones especially. And yes, it was acknowledged that we went from being treated like family to being treated like serfs.

Now, a former politician writes an article suggesting that employees/serfs can be motivated by non-monetary rewards. He is silent as to specifics, but he WAS a politician, what do you expect? Ignoring that offering and implementing changes like flex time, comp time, company car, etc. cost time and money, the social contract still remains unchanged. If you're considered part of "the team", you should be paid what you're worth, in dollars.

Too many of these "opinion pieces" have the same theme - that the authority figure merely needs to pay the writer for advice, implement same, and the serfs will pick more potatos for less money. I'm surprised at this - note in todays' WaPo headlines, another 85,000 jobs lost. Free advice - just hand the surviving employees a copy of that article and they will do what they must to continue to receive a paycheck - no box of chocolates needed.

Posted by: shadowmagician | January 8, 2010 10:36 AM
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