Line managers have vital role in motivation

If you read nothing else, read this…

Line managers’ role in motivating staff should begin with developing a personal link between the manager and their employees.

Informal recognition, such as a simple thank-you, can be more effective than formalised, organisation-wide recognition schemes.

The effectiveness of peer-to-peer recognition can also be effective, but can depend on individual employees’ personal career agendas.

Case study: Sodexo gives thank-you points

Sodexo Remote Sites Scotland operates a points-based recognition scheme for its 1,000 UK staff. This includes longservice awards, thankyou cards, an award for great ideas, and a site of the month.

Line managers and peers can send postcards thanking someone for going the extra mile. It is part of an instant online reward scheme that adds points to the recipient’s reward account every time they receive a postcard. Staff
pre-select rewards from an online catalogue that includes merchandise, travel and vouchers.

In addition, its ‘Why don’t we’ innovations award gives points for the submission and implementation of a great
idea. Peter McMahon, former HR director at the facilities management firm, who was involved in implementing the scheme, says: “We increased the engagement scores of our staff by 12% and managers by 17% in our last employee engagement survey. We now have a group made up of managers and employees who work on what benefits people are looking for and we continue to expand.”

Line managers are ideally placed to recognise and motivate employees, says Jennifer Paterson

Line managers play a fundamental role in employees’ motivation, engagement and commitment to their employer. The saying that an employee does not leave a job, but leaves a manager, often holds true.

According to the Working through a difficult economy survey published by behavioural and ability assessment firm SHL Group last November, only 56% of staff felt motivated in the workplace. Sean Howard, vice-president of solutions marketing at SHL, says: “Praise and recognition is the cheapest form of motivation, but it just does not happen very often.”

Line managers are ideally placed to counter this. Many organisations offer individual incentives, rewards and online recognition schemes to build motivation and engagement, but this form of acknowledgment has more impact if a line manager creates a personal link with their staff, has the right communication skills, and uses recognition as an impromptu reward tool rather than on a more formalised basis.

Dr Stephen Harding, director of organisational surveys and insights at Towers Watson, says: “The manager is the person who executes on the leadership vision of the organisation. The net effect is only as good as the ability of the manager to be able to deal with that and translate it into something meaningful for employees. Feedback from a line manager is among the things that can be done to ensure staff feel there is a sense of reciprocity between giving and taking.”

Personal link with employees

A line manager’s role in motivating staff should begin with developing a personal link with their employees. Colin Hodgson, sales director at Edenred, says: “Good managers should have an insight into their team, their roles, motivations and hobbies, so the recognition event and reward can be tailored and personalised. A motivation procedure that is specific to the target staff will deliver more impact.”

SHL’s Howard refers to such personalised reward as identifying workers’ sweet spots. For instance, an employee who is a football fan may be more motivated by tickets to a match than by a cash bonus. “[Employers] need to identify what that sweet spot is,” he says. “If they can reward [staff] around that main thing in their life, that would have a greater impact. With engagement, [managers] have to deal with the individual. [Employees] leave their manager, not their job, so the manager has a huge influence.”

A 2009 report, The engaging manager by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), identified 25 line managers known to be effective at motivating and engaging their teams. Among their qualities was the interest they took in their staff, as well as in their families and interests outside work. Dilys Robinson, principal research fellow at the IES, says: “The managers were also quite good at informal recognition. If the team had been working very hard, they would buy flowers, biscuits or chocolate – little things that actually meant quite a lot.”

The connection between the line manager and their staff, along with such informal recognition, is often more effective than formal rewards, says Steffi Gande, co-head of research at behaviour and organisational development consultancy Krauthammer. “Managers often delay giving feedback until formal moments [such as] a presentation, a thank-you note or a six-month appraisal,” she adds. “Feedback has to be given on a regular, but not predictable, basis.”

Since the recession, there has been a trend towards formalising recognition schemes because a voucher or an award presentation costs much less than a pay rise. But line managers play a key role in offering informal feedback. Stuart Hyland, UK head of reward consulting at Hay Group, says: “Research points to the fact that sustained motivation is best delivered by offering employees an on-the-spot or impromptu award. Even where [recognition schemes] are structured, the manager should be the one who delivers the message or presents the feedback.”

However, some line managers are not properly equipped with the skills to communicate and engage well with staff.

Employers can train these managers, encouraging them to allocate time for one-to-one sessions to discuss issues with staff. Hodgson says: “The focus of communication is often restricted to posters and emails, but the potential of face-to-face when it comes to motivation and engagement is underestimated.”

Value of a simple ‘thank-you’

The merits of a simple ‘thank-you’ should also be instilled in line managers, says Hyland. “It is not always about the line manager coming up with a voucher in their hand. It is that the managers have made the effort to say ‘thank you’. It is helping staff feel their effort and contributions are appreciated.”

Employees can also be motivated by recognition from their peers. Some online schemes formalise this, enabling staff to praise their peers who have gone the extra mile. Iain McMath, chief executive officer of Sodexo Motivation Solutions, says: “When [staff] are given the authority to acknowledge and reward their peer group, they take it much more seriously because they know how they would feel if they were being valued. The idea of peer-to-peer reviews is that staff are rewarding each other for good behaviour. It is far more meaningful to encourage other people than if it is a note from the employer.”

But the success of peer-to-peer recognition depends on an personal agenda. “What incentivises one person will be different to what incentivises another,” says McMath. “Managers need to make sure there is a suite of rewards that are appropriate for all staff.”

Being told they are doing a great job by their peers will appear to certain types of employee, but they may also want others to hear it. Hyland says: “If someone is ambitious and focused on moving up, it is great [peers] think highly of them, but they want that message to get back to their manager.”

McMath concludes: “Incentives and recognition are purely to get employees’ commitment and contribution to the business. Line managers have to make sure that when they are rewarding staff for good behaviour, it is behaviour that is helping the company reach its goals.”

Read more on motivation