Alastair Barlow, founder of accountancy practice flinder and a former PwC partner, believes that inspiring and motivating people can be a tricky skill to master, especially for accountants.
“Accountants are generally technically very good at what they do,” he says. “We may be able to add into that skillset that we are good project managers; also, that we are good at client communication or relationships skills. This combination makes us sound professional, but adding into the mix being a good leader and motivating people is another skillset altogether.”
Barlow has led teams for over 15 years, including international teams of up to 50 with different cultural backgrounds and now owns his own business. Yet he says he is still very much a student of inspiring and motivating others.
What works and what doesn’t
“Having worked with many leaders I’ve taken a lot of insight into what works well and what doesn’t,” he says. “My original default approach was to apply what would motivate me. However, this would create bias to those that have similar motivations and styles to myself. I think the first step is to identify that there is a difference and work from there to understand the different motivators and work to their strengths.”
Indeed, it can be argued that people are already motivated, so managers would be better spent trying to understand what drives people to fully engage themselves at work, which will be different for every individual in a team.
The importance of your environment
“Successful management is about creating an environment in which your team is supported to do their best: that they are well trained, supported, educated, coached and can progress to achieve their career goals. Neatly, this encompasses the two forms of motivation: extrinsic – for example, pay and promotion – and intrinsic – for example, enjoying work challenges and having good relationships within your team,” says Phanella Mayall Fine, executive coach at The Executive Coaching Consultancy and author of Step Up: Confidence, Success and your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes A Day.
“What’s tricky for managers is that everyone is different and as such is driven by a different balance of motivators.”
Speak to your team
Ros Toynbee, director and lead coach of The Career Coach suggests, “rather than assuming what motivates, ask each member of your team, and then this is the important bit, use that information to delegate tasks to them and grow their confidence within their role. If someone tells you that ‘being recognised’ motivates them, ask them how they love to be recognised. What looks like recognition to you may not be the way that individual wants to be recognised, so put your assumptions aside and ask for the detail”.
Encouraging positive attitudes
So, while there may seem no easy fix, no one-size fits all approach to inspiring a team, there are universal truths managers should be aware of, says Fine. You can’t directly control intrinsic motivation, but you can remove the factors that hinder motivation and create an atmosphere in which people can thrive.
“This is in part driven by your management style. Are you authoritarian and assume staff need constant supervision or do you allow people to take responsibility for their own work and treat them with trust and respect? In other words, if you treat your team as if they are intrinsically motivated, you will, in turn, motivate them.”
Motivational management styles
And while micromanaging, the pitfall for many managers, especially those lacking experience, can show a lack of trust in your team and be a real motivation killer, conversely being too removed, allowing independence without support can also dent morale and lead to a team without a core or sense of identity.
Creating a sense of belonging can help to build a team, says Toynbee. “Many people do not know their colleagues outside of work, so create environments where people are allowed to bring all of themselves to work, embrace diversity of personalities, values, backgrounds and opinions. The more you can create the space for everyone to be heard and understood, even if their opinion is not yours, it is really important and creates safety and trust within a team.”
Set them up for success
A further key mechanism to maintaining a driven team is feedback, frequent one-to-one meetings being the way forward as compared to outdated annual review. “People who feel their manager genuinely cares about them as individuals and who supports them to realise their career goals will be an individual who will seek to stay with the organisation,” says Toynbee.
Additionally, in your feedback don’t allow praise to be obscured by focusing on what was done wrong. “Look for what your team do right and try to praise more than correct,” says Tonybee. “When you do correct, come from an attitude of care and tell your employee you believe in them and want them to succeed. Stick to facts, share the specific observable behaviours that need to change and explain clearly what ‘good’ looks like to set them up for success. Being told you’re ‘lazy’ or ‘useless’, interpretations that feel personal, of any kind kill motivation.”
Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.