George Perry on maintaining an engaged and motivated work force

George Perry

George Perry

Every CEO would agree that a fully engaged and motivated work force translates to high company productivity and is more likely to quickly develop creative solutions to issues that threaten to derail a company’s progress toward its defined goals. It is also true that a disengaged or demotivated workforce can really put a damper on a company’s performance.

What are the keys to keeping a work force motivated and, on the flip side, to recognizing and avoiding behaviors and actions that might prove demotivating to employees?

In my experience, sensitive, compassionate, high integrity leadership virtually assures that a work force will remain highly motivated, even when times are tough. Such leaders routinely communicate both good and bad news to the organization in a timely manner, make sure that they are especially visible to employees and clearly in control during any company or industry crisis, and are careful to provide the rationale behind any business decision.

In many ways, the leadership practices I’ve just described are not only motivating because people feel informed and confident in their management but also head off one of the leading causes of discontent among employees — the spreading of rumors. It appears to be human nature that when people are uninformed they assume the worst, so frequent and honest communication is an important weapon in management’s arsenal.

Leaders earn the respect of subordinates when they consistently act in a way that serves these critical employee needs while failure to serve these needs is a sure way to destroy motivation. Note that I said “consistently act.”

I’ve learned that people interpret what you say by observing what you do. Modeling the behaviors that you say you value and are important to the company is the best definition I can come up with for “walking the talk.”

Any modern-day leader understands the importance of treating people with respect and can probably list the things that he or she does in that regard. But can he or she define “meaningful work” in the way that their subordinates would define the term? They would probably define it as job responsibilities that directly support the achievement of measureable team, or department goals that are aligned with the goals of the company. Employees feel valued when they are recognized for their contribution toward the achievement of those goals. Having mastered the methods and behaviors that serve these first-order critical needs, leaders can further engage and motivate employees in the following ways:

  • By providing education and training in problem solving and process improvement tools and methods at non-traditional levels of the organization, and
  • By encouraging and supporting risk-taking at levels of the organization below those where decisions are traditionally made.

In the first case, employees appreciate the investment in the development of their skills and view the investment as a validation of the value they bring to the organization. In the second case, empowering employees to take risks can unleash a level of creativity and employee commitment sufficient to enable an organization to outrun its competitors. There is a danger, however that these initiatives can backfire resulting in a workforce that becomes disenchanted and risk averse if the organization is not fully convinced of their benefits and fails to properly support their implementation.

It is the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that his or her management team models the behaviors that will result in a fully engaged and motivated work force. Although not every CEO is cut out to be a great communicator, he or she should be able to build an employee relations staff, as well as a communications department, to both keep his or her finger on the pulse of the organization and to assure that employee communication is timely, widespread and relevant. 

George Perry has more than 40 years of experience in engineering, operations and executive management. He retired as president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. in December 2009. Reach him at [email protected]