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The Way I See It… Honesty is the Best Policy


Smiling crowd Following on from last week's opinion piece Motivation is not a Commodity, Peter Hunter explains why honest, straight talking can be a great motivator.

Throughout our industries, both public and private, there persists a perception that motivation is a commodity to be handed out by the manager at his own discretion.

Nobody seems to consider the effect of what would happen, if instead of finding time for motivational speeches and conferences, we spent the time and energy looking for the reasons that people become demotivated, then simply got rid of those reasons.

Most people want to do a good job
We don't get up in the morning hoping that we will miss the train or fail to land the big order. We get up because we want to catch that train, get to work and land that big order. We want to do a good job but we are prevented from doing it by circumstances that we can’t control or understand. This lack of control or understanding that causes the frustration, and it is this frustration that demotivates.

In most cases the frustration can be removed by providing simple feedback. This feedback does not always have to be positive. The answer "no" is a valid response as long as it is accompanied by a reason why not.

Imagine you are waiting for the train to take you to work to make the call that you know will secure the order, but the train doesn’t turn up. Every minute that passes you imagine losing the order and frustration mounts. Then there is an announcement: A milk truck has broken down on the level crossing and the train will be at least another 45 minutes while it is removed from the crossing. That announcement makes no difference at all to the time that you will arrive at the office, but now you know the reason why you have been delayed.

Being given a reason tells us that we are being valued and respected. The understanding that the reason gives removes the frustration.

When we are not being listened to or given this respect we become angry and our frustrations start to multiply. When we are frustrated it is very difficult to avoid becoming demotivated. Sometimes the difference between frustration and satisfaction is as simple as the way we are treated by other people, whether we are given the reason or whether our need to understand is simply ignored.

Flying off the handle
Watching a programme on TV about low cost airlines and the problems that they incur with unruly or difficult passengers I am always struck by the way that what starts off as a small problem is almost deliberately escalated by the attitudes and behaviour of the airline staff. Every member of the ground staff has been given the authority to deny someone a seat if they feel that they are being difficult or abusive. It almost appears that there is some sort of reward system, that the general public is unaware of, gives the ground staff a bonus whenever they are able to stop people from flying.

One case in point illustrates the problem: An American musician turned up at the airport with a reservation for Basle. He was informed that the flight had closed and that he would have to transfer his booking to a flight.

The check in had closed less than five minutes before he got there and through the departure lounge he could see the passengers for his flight still waiting to go through security on their way to the gate. He could see the plane at the gate, no passengers were boarding and the gate was not even manned. Why couldn't they let him through?

The woman on the desk was adamant: The check in was closed, she would not let him through. "Why can't you let me through?" Each time he asked the question she stonewalled, and in turn the musician got hotter under the collar until the girl at the desk assessed him sufficiently angry to call her supervisor.

The supervisor stonewalled the musician in the same way that the check-in girl had, with the added sting that if he did not calm down he would be escorted out of the terminal and not allowed to fly tomorrow either. After 10 minutes of argument, the supervisor lost her cool and in a moment of stress told the passenger the answer. She explained that when the check in closed the final passenger numbers and the baggage mass was sent to the plane. The Captain then calculated the final fuel load for that weight and his order for fuel went to the oil company who then topped up the aeroplane.

The American could not be allowed onto the flight after check in because his weight and that of his baggage meant that the fuel load would have to be recalculated and the plane refuelled accordingly. That would take longer than the time allowed for the plane to board and it would miss its departure slot, delaying the flight for all of the other passengers.

From the expression on her face we could see that the supervisor thought she had done a terrible thing. But the American musician looked as if the weight of the world had fallen from his shoulders. He said "thank you" and picking up his bag he made his way calmly towards the exit, and out of the airport. All he had wanted was to understand the reason why?

In most industries there is a similar perception that managers need to keep information from the workforce in the belief that they can’t cope with it. The reality is that the workforce finds it very difficult to cope without information and the frustrations that this mushroom policy creates are deeply demotivating. To remove this frustration and therefore remove the source of the demotivation the manager only has to learn how to listen to his workforce and most importantly, show them he is listening by supporting what they say and recognising their contributions.

For many managers this could be the single most difficult thing they have ever done.


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