What’s the best way to keep employees motivated?
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I first set up my business in 1992. As far as I’m concerned, the most important function of a leader should be to create an environment where everyone does their job with enthusiasm. Ordering people around, dishing out penalties, and holding back on rewards has never inspired anybody. People must be self-motivated.
But that doesn’t mean a leader can’t help them get there. Evolving from a good leader to a great leader starts with facilitating open communication. And I’ve found the forum method is a great way to help develop your leadership communication skills at the same time.
How the Forum Method Builds Effective Leadership Communication Skills
I discovered the secret to inspiring self-motivation through the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), an organization for executives and entrepreneurs from around the world. The YPO’s most popular program is something called the Founders Forum.
Each Founders Forum consists of around ten business leaders who get together to share the challenges and problems they face, provide each other with suggestions for dealing with those problems, and (hopefully) grow their leadership communication skills as a result.
As a member of the YPO, I take part in four three-day forum retreats every year (one per quarter) which bring together eight leaders from Asia and Australia.
The forums have four clear principles to facilitate open communication:
Emotion trumps logic.
While logical thinking is an important critical thinking skill, words and body language have a special power of their own. Keeping an open posture and maintaining eye contact can help build trust. Showing empathy (even non-verbally) is all-important for good communication.
Avoid making judgments.
Why are so many people resistant to constructive criticism? Sometimes, it’s because we’re not being as constructive as we think.
Personal criticism is an absolute no-no. An effective leader needs to be open minded. Focus on the feelings of your team members and withhold judgment.
Never impose your opinions on others.
Never say, “You should do such-and-such” because, no matter how well you listen, you’ll never be able to fully put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Instead, make it clear you’re speaking from your own experience: “When I was in a similar situation, I did such-and-such. Have you tried that?” In this way, you can offer suggestions while leaving it entirely up to the other person to take your advice (or not).
Observe the confidentiality rule.
An environment where secrets are 100% safe makes people far more comfortable about sharing their anxieties and problems. Without that psychological safety, you’re doomed to a company culture of poor communication.
A Culture of Open Communication at GLOBIS
The forum method absolutely works outside of the YPO forums. I apply these principles in day-to-day interactions with my staff at GLOBIS for better workplace communication. Here’s how it looks in practice:
Communicating in the Face of Failure
When something’s gone wrong, I remind myself not to blame the person or give them a hard time for screwing things up. My starting point is to think about how they must be feeling and to make an effort to empathize and encourage.
Delegating without Commanding
I also never order anyone to do anything. Instead, I try to take a Socratic approach, asking my employees what they think we should do. Following that third principle from the forum method, I share my own experiences and volunteer the occasional indirect suggestion: “Well, if it were me, I’d probably do this.”
This combination of questions and suggestions balances what the individual wants to do with the overall vector of the company.
Great Communication at Work, Home, and School
I actually use these same methods at home with my five sons, as well. To communicate effectively as a leader, you need to be sensitive to personalities, discuss things in complete confidence, and use questions and suggestions to get others to reach their own conclusions. Whatever they end up deciding to do, they are acting very much on their own volition.
The forum method has proven essential to helping me build my leadership communication skills, so much that we employ it as a technique for GLOBIS University MBA students. Every year, we assemble the whole graduating class and talk them through the forum’s four principles. I then encourage them to meet quarterly once they’re out in the real world. The 30% or so who follow this advice report that the forum method has helped them with their leadership development skills.
As much as it relies on empathy and awareness of feelings, the forum method is not therapy. Rather, it’s an extremely effective approach to building empathetic leadership skills and raising employee engagement. It is at once a safety net and a method that builds trust, raises empathy and mindfulness, and encourages open communication.
And that’s the best way to keep employees motivated.