EXCLUSIVE: Paralympic athlete Marc Woods says pay cannot be sole reason why employees do their jobs

marc woods

Employee Benefits Live 2018: Paralympic gold medallist, BBC commentator and author Marc Woods (pictured) explained that pay cannot be the sole motivator for employees to do their jobs, in his closing keynote address at Employee Benefits Live 2018 on Wednesday 3 October.

“The gold medal might be a little bit like salaries; of course it’s the reason [employees] do [their] job, but it can’t be the only reason why [they] do [their] job, otherwise sometimes the wheels will fall off,” Woods said. “When I have anything difficult to do, I try and have as many reasons to do it as possible. Hopefully those reasons are robust enough to keep me on track.”

In his keynote session, entitled ‘Unleashing your inner HR superstar’, Woods highlighted that many employees, as well as leaders, do not take the time to identify or label what motivates them personally to complete their work. For Woods, having a variety of motivators is vital, because if one fails, another can work in its stead. For example, when seeking motivation to get up early to attend swimming training sessions, Woods had five clear motivators that would help him adhere to his schedule. These included the camaraderie of his teammates, respect for maintaining appointments with his coach, enjoying the athletic lifestyle and keeping fit and well, and the aspiration to win the gold medal.

He said: “When [HR professionals] try and incentivise people and think about how to get them motivated, it’s got to be real for them. It can’t be too far in the distance.”

Woods further linked this to the engagement and motivation of an employee’s broader team; he explained that everyone performing at their best therefore produces the best possible results, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential the role. “Everybody’s doing their job as well as they possible can to give [me] the best chance of winning another gold medal,” he explained. “So, that was what we focused on over the next four years, to engage with our broader team. Could they all do their job as well as they possibly could every single day? Could they all be 1% better? We figured the accumulative effect of everybody being 1% better would have a greater impact.”

During Woods’ career, target setting was important, but he noted that targets could also be problematic if they did not align to the end goal or mission, because many individuals are too tempted to simply pace themselves to their target rather than see the correlation to the wider purpose. He said: “I ended up hitting my target, but missing my goal. People do this all the time, they don’t line up their targets to their end destination. [They] hit the target, hit the target, hit the target, but still miss what [they] were trying to achieve. It’s a critical thing.”

Furthermore, these targets and end goals need to be aligned with the expectations, targets and missions of others within an employee’s team. A lack of communication and poor leadership can lead to individuals within the same team having different objectives and expectations, which can also then have a knock-on effect on overall motivation and fulfilling the team’s ambitions. “We didn’t all agree on what success looked like,” Woods said.

Part of completing this is also understanding and knowing team members as individuals; for example, what their goals and fears are, and how leaders can support them in these areas.

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Woods also noted a correlation between an athlete’s mindset and requirement for feedback and that of millennials in the workforce. “The first thing [athletes] are really good at is listening to feedback. Whether we win or we lose, we always want to figure out how to improve. Millennials and post-millennials work like that [too]. They want to know right now. By 2030, 75% of the workforce will be millennials and post-millennials. If leaders aren’t communicating to them in the right way, giving them feedback, [they have] a challenge ahead of [them].”

One of Woods’ main takeaways for delegates attending the event was that disability is relative to the task: “We are all good at something and we’re all not so good, or ‘disabled’, at other things. Don’t judge people by the one thing that they can’t do, judge them by the thousand things that they can do.”