Motivation: What COVID has changed forever!

The holy grail of people management is a motivated and happy team.  I am of the belief that any business’ key asset its people, and you can read in my previous blog posts that I am fanatical about the crucial strategic role of HR in hiring and keeping good people.   Post COVID, keeping morale high in a small team predominantly working remotely, whilst the world at large feels as if it’s falling around your ears, is a real challenge.  

We’ve all had a nightmare boss modelling their management style on David Brent’s character from The Office.  Around 15 years ago, I once visited a workplace that proudly displayed an A1 poster declaring their employees should be fired with enthusiasm, unless they wanted to be fired with enthusiasm.  I’m not sure it had quite the effect he was hoping for!   

Thankfully, much work has been done in making organisations nicer places to work in recent years, not least due to some expensive tribunals for large organisations due to hostile working environment.   I inwardly wept for the employee of a London-based Russian bank, whom a tribunal ruled in 2015 had been subject to a campaign of harassment, victimisation and discrimination amounting to constructive dismissal.  Such was her distress, and subsequent mental collapse, that she was awarded £3.1 million in damages.  Heartbreakingly, she described the outcome as “Everyone loses out. What a waste of three years of my life, a waste of health, a waste of money.”  Toxic working environments, as anyone that has endured one will tell you, are in no way inspiring, and certainly over my career I have noticed a move towards more carrot, less stick.   And rightly so.

The dilemma remains, how do we get the best out of people?  Certainly, the move towards predominately home working helps with work/life balance.  Personally, I am often on calls at both extreme ends of the day, as I collaborate with those who are 11 hours ahead of me.  Whilst I am often working both early and late, I often take an extended lunch break to catch up fitness, life admin, or chores.  Overall the flexibility means that over the week I not only work longer hours than the traditional work day, and that I get much more done.  Frankly, a whole UK day with no incoming emails from Head Office as distractions is bliss!    

It also seems to me that motivating a team is quite a subtle blend.  Indeed “money” tends not to rank highly in factors that people consider makes their role enjoyable.  A research review in 2010 of 86 studies concluded that  ‘level of pay bears a positive, but quite modest, relationship to job and pay satisfaction.’   The check and balance here, of course, is that in a free market most employees will move to significantly greener grass if the opportunity arises, particularly in a sector where experienced hires are highly sort after – which is particularly true of tech industry right now. 

There are numerous ways of building a happy team: some of my favourites include share positive and detailed feedback, respect difference of opinion, be an honest and supportive manager, share long-term strategic aims, allow team members to contribute ideas regardless of function or hierarchy.  

I am also conscious that each individual has their own idea of motivation.  I recall once managing a large team of well paid sales professionals.  We were trying to encourage our customers to visit our head office, and the most efficient motivational tool for the high achievers in this regard was the reward of a much coveted Cadburys Cream Egg, which brought out some of the healthiest competitive behaviour I have ever seen in an organisation!   In fact it became a big inside joke, each Friday tally providing the setting for plenty of good-natured banter.   I hasten to add that the team was already handsomely remunerated, so a financial reward would have been gilding the lily.  As we provide more flexible working to employees, it strikes me that team members will be more easily able to express their motivations, whether it be more time with family, a lie in, or time on the golf course.   This can only be positive for the health and happiness of our team members, and ultimately the bottom line of our organisations.

Adventures of a unicorn is a business blog documenting the daily life of tech startup in hypergrowth.  Dacxi is a unique crypto business in the crowd lending space.  

All views expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now or will be affiliated.

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