Getting the most out of the people you work with is a key function of management. But senior managers still sometimes discover the people hired or promoted to lead others may not be fully prepared for the task.
Learning how to influence the behavior of others is considered a social art. New and mid-level managers who make the effort to learn how to have a positive effect on those they supervise, their peers and perhaps even their boss are setting a foundation for success.
So, what can you do to improve the job performance of the people around you?
Dr. Mike Crant, the Mary Jo and Richard M. Kovacevich Professor of Excellence in Leadership Instruction at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, believes it's a relevant issue because influencing the behavior and attitudes of others will make your work life far more productive.
“No matter what part of business you are in, you have to get things done through people,” Crant says.
Internationally known for his research on proactive behavior in the workplace, Crant leads many discussions and programs on building a foundation for managerial success. His goal is to provide specific actions managers can use on the job to guide the behaviors of their workforce.
"Employees are a company’s greatest asset, and good organizations will think of ways to maximize the return on their investment," Crant says. “Why not think about ways to turn a greater profit by the people you hire? People who make it to the top are those who are effectively able to influence others, persuade and motivate.”
Management is a social art that often requires the personal touch. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch mastered the craft of choosing, developing and motivating the right people, Crant notes. Welch spent as much as 70% of his time dealing with people.
Many new managers are typically chosen for their technical skills, which Crant refers to as "hard skills".
“The hard skills alone are not enough for you to succeed,” Crant says. “The soft side of management, dealing with people, is at least as important as technical skills.”
Qualities of a good manger include the ability to work with others and get things done through people. Without people skills a supervisor’s career tends to plateau, making the path to the top much tougher to achieve.
Effective managers have the ability to motivate those they work with to behave in a specific, goal-directed way. Motivation is defined as energizing, directing and sustaining employee efforts.
Employees should be energized and excited about performing tasks. They should be focused on doing what is important for the organization. Managers want a sustained effort from their employees so that they work hard whether or not the boss is present.
It is equally important that effective managers understand how to influence people to perform specific behaviors and tasks they are likely to find mundane. A manager needs to be able to persuade workers to stay with the organization. Managers want workers to complete mundane tasks at times and always perform at a high level and be a good organizational citizen.
With an effective motivational scheme in place, managers are much more likely to retain the most talented workers and dissuade them from leaving and going to a competitor.
There are factors that lead to differences in employee job performance. A good manager needs to understand what causes those differences.
It is not unusual for two employees hired about the same time with similar skills to provide different levels of contribution to the company. One might be considered a star performer who meets quotas, does a great job on assignments and is a pleasure to work with. The other worker may struggle with assignments and meeting deadlines, has a negative attitude and causes problems.
Not all job performance deficits are caused by poor motivation. Performance is actually a function of three things: ability, situation and effort.
Ability is applied in terms of the intellectual (using intelligence and reason to solve problems), the social (being personable and outgoing) and the mechanical (possessing the technical skills to do your job). We address situations in terms of the work environment, the job design and specific task assignments. All three can have a strong influence on success.
But having ability and setting up the right situation aren’t enough. Effort is defined as a willingness to work hard; a worker or manager who asserts the maximum effort demonstrates motivation, according to Crant.
The opposite is true for a worker who demonstrates a poor performance. It could indicate a lack of ability, a poor managerial choice or the need for additional training. In the case of a poor situation, greater managerial support is required and managers need to create a more favorable situation as well as assign people to positions where they will succeed. A lack of effort indicates a lack of motivation.
The human tendency is to blame people when they struggle, to assume they are lacking motivation. In psychology the concept is known as Fundamental Attribution Error, which is defined as the tendency to overemphasize personal causes for behavior. Crant notes this can include describing someone as lazy or assuming the person doesn’t care about their job based only on what you see, rather than thinking about the situational causes of the behavior.
To help increase effort, managers are encouraged to try to influence the motivational levels of employees through tools. You should consider the cause of performance issues when diagnosing a problem. You also should address why the employee is poorly motivated and develop some helpful motivational techniques.
There are seven approaches to understanding motivation:
According to Crant, a key element of each employee's personality is their level of intrinsic motivation: How conscientious or achievement-oriented are they? Some people will succeed regardless of rewards; it is their nature to seek excellence in whatever task is at hand. For others, motivation is driven by extrinsic rewards - personal benefits like earning a promotion or raise.
Determining the level of intrinsic motivation is a huge part of job satisfaction, Crant notes. More companies are including intrinsic motivation-based surveys in the job application process.
Managers cannot influence intrinsic motivation because it is a part of someone’s personality. So Crant encourages managers to pay greater attention to intrinsic motivation factors during the hiring or promotion process.
Job attitudes or the level of job satisfaction is another major determinant of motivation when you are trying to influence the behavior of others. How much does someone like a particular job? What is your gut-level reaction to the task you perform on a day-to-day basis?
According to Crant, there is a relationship between job satisfaction and how well an employee performs, which he refers to as "individual job performance". However, the relationship is weaker than you might expect; the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance is about 30%, he says, adding that only about 10% of job performance is explained through someone’s job satisfaction.
“The first step toward job satisfaction is related to productivity,” says Crant. “People who are satisfied at work and love their jobs certainly tend to perform at a higher level than do people who dislike their jobs.”