Digging Deep To Boost Employee Productivity

Motivating employees to give their best is the cornerstone of high-performance, high-growth organisations. Organisational culture expert Siphiwe Moyo shows you how to boost employee morale.

learn more about Nadine von Moltke-Todd

By Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Mike Turner Photography

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Vital Stats

  • Player: Siphiwe Moyo
  • What he does: Expert in organisational effectiveness and organisational behaviour, part-time lecturer at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), and a professional speaker.
  • Visit: www.siphiwemoyo.co.za

What is the biggest influencer or detractor of productivity in the work place?

Ultimately, it all comes down to whether an individual is in the correct job, position and department. There must be a job and culture fit. In my experience, organisations often don't look closely enough at culture. They look at the right skill sets when hiring, but don't consider the individual.

You can have the same person, with the same skills, in the same position, thriving in one organisation and a disaster in another. If someone isn't performing optimally, start by asking if there's a culture fit, or a mismatch.

If there's a mismatch, consider moving the individual to a different department. They might excel in a different role. I've had personal experience with this. As a star performer, I was promoted into a middle management role. On paper it looked great — a better title, more responsibility and a salary increase.

Once I started the role, I realised it was the wrong fit for me. I went from being a star performer to mediocre at best. Because I was able to have an open and honest discussion with the organisation, I was able to move into a different role, and ended up being awarded employee of the year again.

As an organisation, keep lines of communication open, and allow employees the space to feel safe enough to voice these concerns. People are often too scared to speak up, and so remain stuck in a role they hate, and aren't performing in. It's a waste of time and resources for everyone.

What if someone has the right skills, and is in the right role. How do you keep them motivated and productive?

Ultimately individuals need to be held personally accountable for their own success. Individual effectiveness leads to organisational effectiveness. People make organisations a success, not the other way around. This means you want to create an environment where personal accountability is expected and rewarded.

Fostering accountability begins with fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship within the organisation, also known as intrapreneurship. We recommend giving your team work as if they're consultants. Each project should have a start and a finish date; one person should see it through from beginning to end, even if additional team members need to be involved; that individual is held accountable for the ultimate success of the task. This creates an owner/manager culture.

For it to work, you need to give your team members autonomy. Be very clear about the objectives and expectations, what they are accountable for, and that the ultimate profit or loss of the project rests with them.

It's very difficult to do this with someone who takes no accountability — but on the flip side, within this culture you quickly see who doesn't fit, and you generally part ways reasonably quickly. Just as you don't want an individual on your team who doesn't take responsibility for their own success, so too do these individuals generally not want to be under that level of pressure.

What happens if an employee needs to be micro-managed because they aren't delivering on the agreed-on tasks?

Always be transparent. These are tough conversations, we know that, but they have to happen. Generally the employee will complain about being micro-managed, so be frank about why it's happening.

Tell them that no one trusts they will deliver, and as a result they need to be managed closely. Explain that you'd love to give them more space, but that it must be earned. Start with something small, and then build on it.

Remind them that credibility is not immediate. It needs to be built up over time. Colleagues and managers need to see people deliver before they start to trust their ideas.

It's an incredible thing to achieve though, because once you've built that credibility up, people say yes to you. Not your proposals or ideas — to you, the individual. Remind them about that end goal and why it's to their benefit to achieve credibility.

For employees who simply do not develop a sense of accountability, you need to have the really tough conversation. You need to remind them that the organisation owes them nothing. They aren't doing you a favour by coming in each day and not delivering. You are paying them to perform a role that they aren't fulfilling.

What role do performance reviews play in keeping employees motivated?

Managing human capital requires performance management systems. You can't run an organisation effectively without systems and processes in place. However, the role of reviews has changed over the years.

Most organisations used to have two performance reviews a year. It didn't work. It became a punitive exercise, pointing out problems long after the fact, instead of using a review system to improve the organisation in real time.

Today, most high-growth organisations favour daily, weekly and monthly interventions. An effective manager handles issues as they arrive. Reviews shouldn't be punitive. They should be a management tool to get the best from your team.

Effective employees require instant feedback. Otherwise what happens in a team? The accountable employee gets all the work. This overloads the star performer and demoralises everyone else. And remember this: Star performers are motivated when they're surrounded by other star performers — you need to raise the bar for everyone, or the team spirals out of control.

Again, it's about the uncomfortable conversation: "You aren't rising to the occasion'. It needs to be said so that it can be dealt with, or the behaviour is unlikely to improve.

Should all promotions come from your star performers?

Absolutely not. There's a perception that a star performer will make a good manager, and this simply isn't true. Often people are promoted because the organisation feels they've earned that promotion, with the end result that they get pushed into a position that doesn't suit them. Many star performers don't actually want to be managers — and they're not good at it. They want to get on with doing what they're good at.

Okay, but what's the solution?

Steven Drotten developed a leadership principal that advises two pipelines. One is the traditional management route, and one a specialist route, where you can progress up the ladder without managing people.

These individuals head up projects, budgets, mandates and so on at a senior level — but they aren't managers. Similarly, if you really get to know your team, you should be able to identify individuals who aren't necessarily star performers, but who understand the business, their departments and people — in other words, who would be great managers.

Remember, managing is all about getting results through other people. And with a star performer, you might change the job and title, but many just end up doing it themselves anyway, because it's quicker and easier than managing other people.

It feels normal and natural to a star performer — but it's the wrong way. If as a manager you aren't doing what you should be doing, your boss is probably doing your job. There will be a pile-up somewhere. You're clogging your leadership pipeline.

Is there an effective way to motivate employees?

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes. You can try your best to match them to the place where they can be excited, create a culture of accountability and support them, but ultimately motivation is an inside job.

It's internal. The level of an individual's intrinsic support determines how motivated they will be in their role. No one will ever be completely motivated by external factors.

So, what can you do? First, hire the right people. Then, link your needs to their purpose, skill-set and motivation — in other words, understand your people, have one-on-ones with them and create safe spaces where they can voice their needs.

Effective managers find a way to tap into their team members' passions and purpose. They trigger their intrinsic motivations, and link them to the organisation's goals.

Finally, understand how hygiene factors influence motivation. A hygiene factor won't increase motivation, but it can play a large role in killing motivation across an organisation.

You wouldn't believe what a big role hygiene factors can play, and yet they are so often dismissed as unimportant. This isn't unimportant stuff. It can boil over and cause serious organisation-wide demotivators, and yet they're relatively simple to fix if you look into them. Hygiene factors include lighting, the look and feel of a building, and available parking spaces.

I consulted for a large organisation that had serious demotivational issues. After interviewing everyone, from management down, we realised that all non-management staff were unified in their hatred for powdered milk — not only that, but managers got fresh milk, and that upset them to an almost unbelievable degree.

It was a massive organisational problem, and yet the solution was so simple that at first the client didn't believe us. Give everyone fresh milk. That's it.

The improvement in employee morale was dramatic. We were looking for a serious issue, and yet this was the fix. Never discount hygiene factors.

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: Entrepreneur.com South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.

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