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How to get the best from the people you employ
We can all recognize them; companies where employees lack the enthusiasm, drive and, sometimes, even the competence to carry out their jobs properly. After all, as consumers we are often in the front line when it comes to experiencing the product or service an organization offers.
Regular travellers on a world-renowned airline noted that its standards began to nosedive in the mid-1980s as staff concerns grew over the effects of privatization plans on their terms and conditions of work. Aircraft cabins were not as clean as they used to be, the meals weren't quite up to standard and some of the cabin crew were rather less diligent - and seemed less keen to be working for the airline - than they should have been.
When this sort of attitude sets in, it is very difficult to shift. The problems are all the greater during a recession, when there simply isn't the money to offer higher wages or performance-based bonuses - the usual ways to keep people on their toes.
Christoffer Ellehuus believes that sport can show business managers how to keep people motivated and engaged when the going gets tough. In his article 'Peer Power' from volume 23 issue 1 of Business Strategy Review, he suggests that the most effective way to keep employees' performance up to scratch is to make sure that they have plenty of contact with their colleagues. But few companies do enough of this.
The author argues that employees should seek regular feedback and advice from their colleagues to understand their role better and create a shared buy-in - just as happens in the top sports teams. He points out that 'job-swaps' have also been used effectively in sport training and argues that similar ideas in business - such as job shadowing and mentoring - can help employees to understand the challenges of other roles, develop professional relationships and improve their performance.
Christoffer Ellehuus then considers the manager's role in developing the talent of junior staff. He cites the example of the 1992 Manchester United youth team, famous for including such stars of the future as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.
'Sir Alex Ferguson, their manager, ensured their success by committing to developing and nurturing their talents,' says Christoffer Ellehuus. 'Business leaders should adopt the same approach.'
Of course, young soccer players, like young and new employees in other fields of work, start off full of energy and enthusiasm. Sir Alex's genius is in keeping his players keen and motivated throughout their careers. Tamara Lytle has advice for business managers on how to do the same.
In the article 'When the Honeymoon is over' from the August 2012 issue of HRMagazine, the author reports that infatuation among courting couples tends to last between one and three years. In the business world, though, the corporate 'itch' hits after between 18 months and seven years, depending mainly on the industry and type of job. That is when the individual's productivity usually begins to fall and he or she starts to look for work elsewhere.
'When the initial attraction wears off, companies may be in trouble if managers don't watch for the signs of diminishing engagement, analyze turnover statistics, address the causes of waning engagement and work to keep employees engaged,' Tamara Lytle explains.
Among the measures she recommends to re-engage these people are helping them to achieve better work-life balance, offering them more stretching tasks and ensuring that they have adequate and interesting training opportunities.
Adam M. Grant adds another idea. In his article 'Giving time: time after time', in the October 2012 issues of Academy of Management Review, he reveals that employees are most motivated when they interact with the people who benefit from their work, and so can see how what they do and how they do it have meaningful consequences for others.
A call-center agent will probably offer better service to a customer he or she knows personally than someone who is merely a voice on the end of the line. A person manufacturing a hip joint will be much more likely to try to do a perfect job if he or she meets the patient in whom the joint will be implanted. And an engineer servicing aircraft engines may pay just that bit more attention to getting things right if he or she is asked to watch a couple of hundred people board the plane in which the engines are fitted.
It all stands to reason.