You could monitor your team, or you could motivate them
by Tobias van Schneider
Given the past few months, it’s no wonder everyone’s feeling tired, distracted and unproductive. Employees and managers are doing their best to navigate uncharted waters. And those waters are choppy.
Companies, concerned about their employees’ productivity and with little experience managing remote teams, are turning to micromanagement. Technology is even being developed to monitor employees’ performance, going so far as to record screen behavior and users’ keystrokes. When I talk to friends accustomed to working in an office environment, they say they’re having more meetings than ever. When do they get their actual work done? Apparently, late at night after the Zoom calls are finally over.
I suspect the insecurity from the top is doing little to motivate employees and instead having the opposite effect. After managing a fully dispersed team for the last six or so years, I’ve learned what keeps my team’s spirits up, and unsurprisingly, it’s not surveillance technology or constant check-in meetings.
Our industry’s obsession with productivity was in question long before this year, so let me first state that this isn’t about squeezing more work from your employees. It’s about maintaining excitement about the work you’re doing together, and enabling your team to do their best.
Self-management over micro-management
If you’re constantly breathing down your employees’ necks, reminding them of their deadlines, checking their work, redoing their work and picking up after them, they will learn to lean on that. They’ll wait for you to check on a task instead of running with it on their own. They’ll look to you to make a decision instead of owning it themselves. They will do the work exactly as you tell them and nothing more.
Instead, set an expectation of personal responsibility. Make it known that you expect your team to manage themselves. Show you trust them and leave it in their hands. Of course, you are still here to support and lead. But when your team knows they are personally responsible for the success or failure of a project, they will own it more.
If you try to control every aspect of your team’s workday, they will eventually throw their hands up and let you have it. If you trust them to manage themselves, they will feel more invested in the work they do and feel ownership for the finished product.
Remember one management technique doesn’t apply to all
This is why so many creative companies today have their potential hires take a personality test during the application process. It may seem a bit hokey and pointless, and sometimes it is. But when managers understand how their individual employees think and work – what drives them, what discourages them and how they fit into a team – it makes a difference.
I don’t force my team to take a personality test, but I do pay keen attention to who they are and what they need from me as their manager. Some of them are social types. They need a sense of teamwork and camaraderie to stay motivated and feel connected to what they do. Others prefer to work silently alone. Others are right in the middle. They like to work independently but still need frequent one-on-ones to stay on track and feel excited about what they do.
There’s a balance for all types, but what may work for one person can completely demotivate the other. Learn their personality and working styles and try your best, within the context of your company and process, to make it work for them.
Recognize and celebrate even small achievements
Some people need this more than others. But everyone likes positivity and recognition of hard work, especially if they’re working behind the scenes. Aim to not only celebrate your team, but encourage them to celebrate each other.
My customer support team is always sharing positive feedback on Slack from our users. Our developer is building our product every day but doesn’t interact with our community like some of us do. A screenshot from a customer that says “Semplice is the best” can make his day and shows how his work is meaningful.
It takes little effort to screenshot an email and share it with the team, or give a shoutout in a group channel to someone who did particularly good work that day. These little gestures show your team that you’re paying attention and see value in even the small stuff they’re doing.
Challenge your team without breaking them
If someone doesn’t feel challenged, they will quickly lose motivation. But if you constantly throw them in the deep end where they feel like they’re just trying to keep their head above water, they will quickly fizzle out.
Find the balance. Give people space and support to own what they do, but challenge them along the way. They should feel like they are constantly learning and having opportunities to grow. The minute you or your team feels comfortable, you know something is wrong. If they are continually learning something new and pushing themselves, you’re on the right path.
That said, it’s easy to take those with a strong work ethic for granted. The people who, with or without validation, consistently show up, put in the hours and pay attention to the details. It’s these people you feel like you “don’t need to worry about.” They always do the work, they seem fine and you have other people you actually need to manage.
While we should expect everyone’s best work, it’s rare to find the person who is steady and self-motivated on their own. Don’t take these people for granted. If you value them, try to always give them opportunities to move forward, take on new responsibilities and feel fresh in their work.