If you want to keep your employees motivated and engaged, don’t do this.
Several years ago I was on a project that “restarted” seven times. At one point the project leader told us to hang out until he and the other leaders got things figured out. They told us it would take maybe a month.
No one acknowledged what this meant for my teammates and me.
I know I wasn’t feeling very motivated right then.
Yes, disappointment happens. Your project comes to a halt unexpectedly. A budget is cut and sends your job assignment into a spin.
Your desire to contribute is stymied. Your capabilities go unused and you feel undervalued. The circumstances may change the trajectory of your career.
We’ve learned to roll with the punches. After all, “It’s just business.” But over time this wears us down, siphoning off productivity and motivation.
A missing ingredient: empathy.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Commonly attributed to Teddy Roosevelt
My situation could have used what’s called cognitive empathy or “perspective-taking,” meaning putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. We have a noble and human desire to contribute. Without explanation, we assign our own meaning to changes, and don’t always come out in a good place.
If only the project leaders or my own supervisor had addressed the changes in our work and what they meant, so we could get our footing and be productive.
But it doesn’t end with perspective-taking. It’s one thing to anticipate reactions, and another to do something with them. It’s hard to tell what might come first, but we also need what Daniel Goleman calls “empathic concern.” That means wanting to help someone.
I often tell my clients that people can take a lot of bad news depending on how you present it. It’s not just the words, but also the how and why.
Engage, with empathy.
Brains are like hearts. They go where they are appreciated- Robert McNamara – Former Business Executive and US Secretary of Defense
When we’ve been processing a decision, it’s easy to become detached over time. Change is likely more than “a business decision” to those affected. It’s in no one’s best interest to leave them feeling stuck.
I know if the project leaders in my story had been more tuned in, the situation could have turned out differently. But it was all for the best. I ended up leaving the project and finding work that better used my talents.
As a leader, it’s so easy to focus on the task at hand and forget to acknowledge the effect of decisions on others. Let’s take the time and make the effort to engage. Talk about what would be a constructive response to a major change.
Create room for others to rekindle belief in their own competence and value, and reignite their motivation. We all deserve that at work.
Originally published Aug. 19, 2014.