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The Power of Motivation

Discerning what utility employees consider important.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

assignments. This micro-managing style is especially devastating to those top performers who no longer feel comfortable making tough decisions, solving problems creatively or assuming leadership responsibilities. Essentially, they give up and start looking for other departments or companies that value their experience and reward their efforts. Leadership styles of collaboration, teaching, and coaching work best to eliminate the need for over-managing others.

Lack of Accountability: Personal responsibility for performance is an individual process determined by each employee’s motivation to succeed. However, demotivated work environments exist when employees aren’t consistently held accountable for their performance.

Union members and their leaders at the local level know which employees are meeting expectations and which are simply collecting a paycheck. As a plant IBEW president says, “Of course we have some members who don’t seem to care about themselves or others, but it’s management’s responsibility to hold them accountable.” Repeatedly, employees say they’re waiting for senior leaders to do something about employees who don’t share a commitment for working safely, functioning as part of team, or providing exceptional service. Even more frustrating, some supervisors and foremen say that even when they try to discipline employees, they don’t feel that management supports their efforts. So at some point, they just give up trying. Demoralized employees simply don’t perform at optimal levels.

Leadership actions to ensure accountability require collaboratively setting goals, communicating responsibilities, providing direct feedback and approving specific plans for improvement suggested by front line supervisors.

Valuing the Front Line

Building an organization of motivated employees might be the single most difficult responsibility of management, and it’s also the most important. Competitive advantage doesn’t begin with spreadsheets or mission statements that employees have no part in creating. What matters most is a focused and aligned senior management team that insists leaders, at every level, adopt more participative leadership styles. This means spending quality time with employees to find out what they consider to be most important, and taking action based on that feedback.

After three years of research, it’s clear that money alone doesn’t sustain the human spirit. What really motivates field, plant, and operation employees are opportunities to use their specialized sets of skills in ways that are meaningful. This suggests management has to continually examine what’s considered important by asking questions, observing performance, and building relationships that demonstrate respect for those closest to the customer.