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The mindset for success


Senior managers, L&D teams and OD practitioners can all play a part in helping employees to improve their attitude and motivation, says Martin Addison.

In a recent survey, we asked 400 line managers in UK organisations about the personal development needs of their staff. The managers responded that, to survive the downturn, people in their teams most needed to improve their attitude and motivation.

These managers understand that having the right attitude and motivation can make a considerable difference to employee productivity and organisational performance. However, the fragile UK economy has negatively affected attitudes and motivation - and increased levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace. This anxiety has been exacerbated by fears about job security and even, for some employees, whether their organisation will survive. In some cases, morale and motivation have been further eroded by ‘survivor syndrome’ - the guilt felt by those who survive cuts when colleagues lose their jobs.

"An effective way to improve motivation is to make sure that people feel appreciated. Training is a good way to signal that people are valued."


To address this, it’s important to understand that, as individuals, we choose our own attitude. Most people don’t believe they can choose their attitude at will. They allow events in their lives to directly control their emotions, which drives their negative attitude. What would be the impact in your organisation if employees chose to be welcoming, empathetic, curious and resourceful?

Motivation, on the other hand, generally relates to the enthusiasm or willingness with which you dedicate yourself to accomplishing organisational tasks. Most people are motivated at work by factors such as their desire to do a good job; their salary; their level of recognition; their relationship with their boss and colleagues; the pride they feel in their job or in working for the organisation; the excitement they feel about their role and their future career; the work environment and whether they have opportunities to improve their skills.

So, the challenge for organisations is to encourage employees to choose the right attitude and also to put in place the right motivating factors for success. This combination is the secret to enhancing employee engagement and achieving high performance.

Implications for leaders and senior managers

  • Communicate frequently: When the vision of the organisation is not communicated or when people don’t know what’s happening, they feel vulnerable, insecure and demotivated. In a communication vacuum, rumours will circulate. To prevent this, managers should involve people and communicate clearly, even if there’s only bad news to report. They should use face-to-face contact, informal team meetings, email updates and even staff get-togethers. 
  • Value people: Employees can be demotivated by stress or if they feel undervalued. Managers need to watch for the warning signs of stress, such as irritability or a drop in performance. Unfortunately, in many organisations, roles are being made redundant and some employees are being asked to take on more work, with no financial incentive. This can make people feel undervalued. Managers should show they value employees and they should clarify how each person’s role fits into the overall vision.
  • Manage performance: Boredom can be a big demotivator. It creeps in if you’re over qualified for the work or if you’re not doing tasks that stretch you. This is where performance management is so important (both formal and informal). Managers must try to ensure that people have the right skills for the job or that they’re doing the right work that their skills allow. 
  • Set the right example: Leaders send a signal to others in the organisation. If your boss looks fed up and ready to walk out, you’re not going to feel motivated! Managers need to think about the impact they have on others and ensure they choose the right attitude, promote the vision of the organisation and inspire others by being realistic and authentic.
"Most people don’t believe they can choose their attitude at will. They allow events in their lives to directly control their emotions, which drives their negative attitude."

Implications for learning & development

Meet training needs. An effective way to improve motivation is to make sure that people feel appreciated. Training is a good way to signal that people are valued. It can also help to rebuild capabilities and lift the spirits of employees. Apart from attitude and motivation, our research shows that the key skills needed to survive the downturn are communication skills, managing tasks, customer service, teamwork, performance management and change management. L&D teams may need to realign their learning strategy to take account of any new requirements for training and to ensure that their strategy still links to the corporate objectives

Take a pragmatic approach to delivery. L&D teams should consider: What resources are available to help you deliver more of your learning in-house? What options do you have for increasing self-study or informal learning? Can you modify classroom-based training programmes into blended learning sessions (which combine e-learning or online learning resources)? Flexibility and cost effectiveness have always been important factors but now, more than ever, trainers will need to justify their budgets and gain maximum value from their learning resources.

Implications for organisational development

Create a culture that inspires belief - The OD challenges are to unleash the passion of people, put in place the right motivating factors for success, develop new ways of working and create stronger relationships with customers.

Use stories to engage people - OD practitioners should aim to inspire and motivate people using stories from their experience, from within the organisation or alternatively from story-based resources such as FISH!*

By following the above points, senior managers, L&D teams and OD practitioners can encourage employees to improve their attitude and rediscover the mindset for success.

Martin Addison is Managing Director of Video Arts and a recognised expert in learning and development. Video Arts is the originator of FISH! a renowned philosophy for creating positive change at work, inspired by the fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, who place their emphasis on energy, commitment and fun.


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