Motivation’s what you need

Finding out what makes each staff memmber tick is key to getting the best out of them. By Nigel Cover

There is a good argument to be made that motivation is not merely part of managing people, but very nearly the whole of it.

Motivation is not just about wise words from the latest guru or a managing partner’s pep talk. One of the most common complaints from law firm employees is that they are not told what is going on or consulted enough. While this may be largely the product of reflex rather than reflection, it is still an issue worth addressing. And it is key that it is seen to be so.

Those responsible for directing resource and effort to achieve practice aims must begin by explaining to individuals, clearly and persuasively, what is required and expected of them and how their roles fit into the bigger picture.

The clearest definition of motivation is whatever it takes to convince someone that their job is worth doing, so that they enjoy it and want to do it well. Never lose sight of the fact that internally motivated teams and individuals have higher levels of interest, excitement and confidence, and consequently perform better. Many people still believe that motivation is an inborn personality trait, but in fact there is much that can be done by employers to encourage and promote it. As well as providing appropriate incentives and rewards, law firms must ensure their people have as much autonomy as possible, feel confident and valued in what they are doing and have adequate personal support.

There are four basic ingredients to successful employee motivation:1. Communication. Is it absolutely clear what is being asked and why? Many managers and team leaders fall into the trap of issuing instructions without setting them in context or conveying how the work to be carried out fits into the overall picture.2. Education. Does the person have the requisite skills and competencies? If not, how can any necessary training be obtained?3. Measurement. Are there well-defined goals and evidence of progress towards them in any given project as well as in the individual’s overall career?4. Reward. How will success be recognised? This is absolutely key. Read almost any employee survey and a cry for greater recognition is invariably high up on the wish list.

The first three of these underpin the fourth, reward being, as it were, the icing on the cake.

In our experience of working with some of the leading City law firms, when it comes to the broad area of motivation and reward, firms are focusing on enhancing flexible benefits packages to ensure they remain competitive and help retain their key staff. Provided the key elements of communication, measurement and reward are in place, such packages can be extremely effective.

In today’s ‘instant’ society, benefits enabling employees to enjoy an immediate boost to their lifestyle are becoming increasingly popular, particularly when used in tandem with longer-term benefits such as pensions. These ‘here and now’ schemes enable firms to offer their staff benefits such as childcare, computers for home and bikes for work, net of tax and national insurance payments. Organisations specialising in the provision of these benefits are usually able to handle all third-party payments, manage the communication and allow staff to see the savings they can make through secure online websites.

While benefits schemes offer a tried-and-tested method of incentivising and motivating staff, do not forget that why we do what we do varies enormously from person to person, from task to task, and indeed from one organisational culture to another. So while the basic ingredients of motivation might be known, it is the way in which they are combined and the nature of the additives that can make all the difference.

Nigel Cover is an executive board director at motivation and incentives company Grass Roots