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Stephanie Sparrow

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Motivation training: Am I bovvered?


With employee satisfaction levels dropping faster than the interest rate, Stephanie Sparrow looks at the surge in popularity of motivation training.

Has the UK workforce got an attitude problem? Surely not, when there are numerous reports of employees taking pay cuts and working shorter weeks in order to keep their companies afloat. Nevertheless, recent research reveals that attitude and motivation have become major training needs.

Where needs must

A recent survey of 400 line managers, by training company Video Arts, found that managers believe that these two essentials are the highest-ranking personal development needs in their teams. More than a third rated them as a far more pressing requirement than training in customer service or change management. “A key challenge for organisations that have made redundancies - and also for those which have not faced lay-offs - is to find ways of improving motivation in these difficult times,” says Video Arts managing director Martin Addison adding that the research highlights what training is worth. “Training is a good way to signal that people are valued. It can also help to rebuild capabilities and lift the spirits of employees,” he says.

"Managers should appreciate what a difference they can make because true engagement is about individuals flourishing and so enhancing their own performance." Emma Judge, Positive Organisations.

The good news for providers is that employers are still very aware of the benefits of training. In this year’s Learning and Development Survey from the CIPD, 76% of respondents said that “learning and development was seen as an important part of business improvement.” Angela Barron, the CIPD’s adviser in engagement and organisational development thinks there are many reasons for this, all rooted in employers’ needs to make the most of what they have: “They are showing a commitment to careers and employability and are keen to develop and retain talent for the upturn," she explains.

Whenever and wherever relevant training is offered it is a motivator for employees, says business psychologist and executive coach Emma Judge. The major challenge for line managers is to help employees find meaning in their work says Judge, who is founder of the Positive Organisations consultancy, and an expert in employee engagement.

Meaning Maker

“Meaning and engagement are the two essentials,” she says. “ You can’t tell employees how to find meaning, but you can give them the questions which will help them understand what matters to them in their job.” Judge is interested in the concept of manager as a “meaning maker”, someone who helps employees to find their own personal sense of motivation, which in turn helps them to find the intrinsic meaning in what they do. “Managers should appreciate what a difference they can make,” she says. “Because true engagement is about individuals flourishing and so enhancing their own performance.”

Judge points out that no one can actually train others to have a better attitude but that successful organisations are generated by good relationships and supportive peer networks. Team-building exercises can kick start these relationships. Judge also advocates peer coaching or mentoring as a means of encouraging employees to build their own support networks within organisations.

"Co-coaching others builds trust and encourages people to discuss external pressures and outside factors." Katherine Tulpa, Association of Coaching.

“It's time to get back to basics,” adds Julie Balch, a team building specialist and managing director of Career Steps consultancy. “In the recession some of the classic HR stuff, like rewarding people with praise, seems to have gone out of the window. Organisations are bogged down with problems like red tape and managing the outbreak of swine flu, but their managers should be giving employees small, achievable targets to boost motivation.”

Balch says that management training has gained in importance over the past few years. It has become even more of a one-to-one process, that demands a lot from trainer and trainee. “We’re seeing more distance learning, email support and telephone support built into programmes,” she says, “All of which are getting good results.”

However the topic is tackled, managers remain the lynch pin of a motivated workforce and to be effective in the current climate they should be creating a sense of what their team needs to be doing together and focusing on those goals, adds executive coach Katherine Tulpa, chair of the Association for Coaching. “This builds a sense of community but team members should also be encouraged to coach each other towards their individual goals." 

According to Tulpa, co-coaching others builds trust and encourages people to discuss external pressures and outside factors: “There is a responsibility to tell the truth about what’s working well and to appreciate and celebrate success - and we could do a lot more of that," she concludes.

Case study: Motivation in action

Learning and motivation go hand in hand at logistics company TDG, says HR director Annette Capper. Capper is celebrating the first anniversary of the TDG Academy, an online portal where employees can access 60 flexible e- learning courses. “In transport and logistics many people rise up the career ladder with no formal qualifications, “ says Capper, “So we are delighted to be able to offer these modules which are a stepping stone to greater skills and confidence.”

More than 500 employees have used the Academy since its launch in August 2008, at a cost of £25 a head to TDG, with management and budgeting courses being the most popular. The Academy is run with Learning Resources International, which also provides courses to the NHS and insurance giant Aviva. TDG and LRI have launched a Certificate in Leadership and Management which is endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management. It covers 13 key competency areas such as team leadership, customer focus and problem solving, Capper explains that demand for the Certificate has exceeded expectations and the programme is oversubscribed two- fold.

Applicants for the Academy discuss their training needs with their line manager during their Performance Management Review. This sets up a process which in itself is a virtuous circle, says Capper, because managers revisit these reviews on a quarterly basis to assess the impact of the training, which lets employees know that they are valued. “This is the Holy Grail of Learning and Development ”, she says, “Running effective evaluation.”

 Stephanie Sparrow has 20 years' experience in writing about HR and training issues and is passionately interested in people development. She contributes to various publications and covers education topics for The Guardian newspaper.
She was highly commended in the Watson Wyatt Excellence in HR journalism awards.


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