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November 2020

MOTIVATION & THE CENTIPEDE or 'taking care of the details'...

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In the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” We see this time and time again where one small overlooked element causes the whole house of cards to come crashing down. It is often in the small things that the telltale signs may be read about the state of an organisation or relationship’s health. We have to get the small details right, and in doing so, will often fix the big things.

 

Take motivation as a case in point. For many organisations or leaders, motivation is considered a relatively unimportant factor, a “nice-to-have”. If they’re making profit, and everyone is being paid on time, then surely the minor issue of a few disgruntled employees is no major issue? Of course, they fail to see that over time this “small” issue will become a major one, and indeed, if it is not redressed, possibly cause the collapse of the organisation. In addition, the issue of staff motivation, whilst on the surface seeming to be purely a “people” or “HR” issue, will in fact cause knock-on effects in every other department and facet of the business. Demotivated people don’t sell, which leads to loss of revenue. Demotivated people leave, which leads to the extortionate costs of recruitment multiplying. Demotivated people spread bad press, such as “It was awful working for XYZ, don’t apply for a job there.” Or, in some ways even more disastrous, “Don’t by XYZ products, they mistreat their staff!” This is detrimental to the strength of your brand, loses even more revenue, and closes down new opportunities. As you can see this “small” issue of motivation, left unaddressed, suddenly affects everything and everyone.

 

Of course, motivation is particularly important to me, but motivation is not the only “small detail” that can make a colossal difference to your organisation. There are many small upkeep factors that we must pay due attention to. In the light of Covid, and all the big things going on in the world, we are more likely than ever to overlook these small things as we’re overwhelmed with these crises and large challenges. However, arguably, it is still more important to focus on the little things; we have no control over Covid, after all, but we do have control over whether our staff feel valued and rewarded, whether our website is optimised, and whether we decide to put those extra-personal touches in all we do, in relation to customer-service or otherwise!

 

This principle is not only true of the business world. We can see it in our personal relationships and self-development as well. When you think about your relationships, whether friendships, family relationships, or romantic ones, don’t the small details count for so much more? It’s the little things our partners or friends do that make a difference to us day-to-day. When the little attentive things stop, often this precipitates a serious calamity or deterioration in the relationship.

 

Likewise, when we think about personal development, it’s the little things we do – a ten-minute yoga practice each day, a mindfulness or meditation routine, a regular creative practice – that becomes transformative over time. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bootcamp, where you go away for three weeks and study or train in an intensive fashion. But the learning we acquire from a bootcamp cannot be maintained without these small habits and elements in place.

 

There is an American story I came across a while ago and love, that illustrates this attitude perfectly, I’ll share with you now…

 

***

 

One day, not so long ago, two teams of animals decided to compete to see who was best at football. It was a case of the large animals, The Lumpers, versus the small ones, the Tiny Team. Elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions and tigers versus rats, skunks, hedgehogs, frogs and, well, a centipede.

 

Naturally, there was a lot of animosity and name-calling.

 

“We’ll crush you, small fry!”

“You big lumpuses!”

 

The day arrived. The coach for Team Tiny was very excited.

 

“Go out – give it everything you got,” he said. “Remember – you can do it – believe in yourself.”

 

So out they went.

 

They returned at halftime, bruised, crestfallen, and down 3-0. The rhino (the elephant’s run always tended to peter out) – once he’d gotten up steam – was unstoppable. But the Tiny Team’s coach was a real motivator.

 

“Go on,” he said. “Don’t quit now – winners never quit and quitters never win. Visualise that ball going in the back of their net – next thing, you’ll see it happen!”

 

So out they went. The game had barely kicked off when the rhino got possession and charged straight at goal. He was in the penalty area and on-side. The goalkeeper – the frog – had simply jumped aside. All the rhino had to do was shoot… when suddenly there was a green flash. The rhino, hypnotised, crashed over his own feet. The rest of the players were riveted watching him collide with the mud and into the goal post. Thud! And the ball, it went in the other end. 3-1.

 

A huge cheer went up.

 

“Who did that?” cried Team Tiny’s coach in ecstasy.

“Got ‘em that time, coach,” yelled the centipede.

“Well done, centipede, keep it up,” beamed the coach.

“Right,” thought the tiger. A neat bit of paw and claw work later and there he was, open goal in front, when … whoosh … a green blur, and suddenly a goal for the Tiny Team. The tiger hadn’t even felt the ball leave his control. It was now 3-2.

 

“Who did that?” cried Team Tiny’s coach.

“Got ‘em again, coach,” yelled the centipede.

“Well done, centipede, keep it up.”

That’s more like it, thought the coach.

 

Now the lion – who always saw himself as a cut above the rest – was really hacked off. He made it his personal business to score (usually he couldn’t be bothered). One roar and the small animals vacated the pitch on mass. He was just about to put it in the back of the net when … whoosh, green lightning … and the score was 3-3! Unbelievable!

 

“Who did that?” roared the coach.

“Showed ‘em again,” chuckled the centipede.

“Well done, centipede, keep it up – we can win this one,” said the coach. Then a quizzical look came over his face. “By the way, centipede, where were you in the first half?”

The centipede replied, “Putting on my shoes, coach.”

 

 

 

***

 

You see, the best vision, the most sublime goals, the most wonderful exhortations and inspirations in the world won’t work unless… we really ensure we’ve taken care of the smallest details! In the centipede’s case: tying their many, many shoelaces!

 

So, what small details might trip you up – at work, in your relationships, or in your self development?

 

Here are some typical examples:

 

At work – lack of punctuality, failure to keep promises, disorderly work habits and record keeping?

 

In relationships – lack of time spent with a loved person or friend, inattention to others’ needs, critical and blaming spirit, failure to generously praise and encourage.

 

For self development – lack of exercise, lack of sleep, lack of special hobby/interest, no ‘learning’ stretch built into future programme for your life.

 

Be honest with yourself – where do you need to tighten your focus? If you’re not sure, then ask someone you trust.

 

For more information on motivation, why not pick up a copy of Mapping Motivation.


MOTIVATION & THE DEVIL or 'the secret of demotivation'...

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There are two distinct camps emerging in the world of business development. Firstly, there are those who believe that technology (AI, robotics, etc) is going to solve all of their business’s problems. For them, there is sadly little hope; they are in a hell of believing the future is always around the corner, the water nearly within reach, but never quite getting there (see the myth of Tantalus!). Certainly we need to update our businesses from time to time and explore what opportunities technology might bring, but there are problems technology cannot address, and never will, no matter how sophisticated our computers become. The second camp are those who are increasingly beginning to wise up to the idea that improving structure, strategy, or systems is one thing, but unless the people can ‘perform’, all their labour is in vain. Even in times of crisis, where performance is partly motivated by necessity, we recognise its tremendous value. People who can perform, despite the lockdown, despite the fear and obstacles, are indescribably valuable. They can keep entire organisations afloat with the value they generate!

 

Great businesses can nurture and encourage their staff to continue to perform despite these trying circumstances; this is likely to create loyalty and engagement, and lead to retention. And believe me, even now, where employment prospects are slim, maintaining staff is still a priority. I’ve encountered several businesses who have handled the lockdown so poorly they’ve had all their staff jump ship, leaving them rudderless and powerless. They left people feeling so undervalued, and unable to perform, that they would rather risk the uncertainty of a job search in lockdown than stay a moment longer. Now that is truly awful!

 

Naturally, people performing begins at the top. As the great Quality guru, Crosby, once put it: “Good ideas and solid concepts have a great deal of difficulty being understood by those who earn their living by doing it some other way.” Those at the top can be the most averse to realistically appraising themselves. But if they don’t, as sure as night follows days, neither will their staff.

 

Furthermore, given the importance of people to our long-term success, it really does pay off to consider recruitment, retention, and reward in-depth, and go on considering it. Paraphrasing Sun Tzu, Krause observes: “Leaders who complain about morale of their employees evidently do not realise that employee’s morale is a mirror of confidence in their leadership.” If we substitute the word “morale” for “motivation”, then we can see even more clearly how this applies. We often see this disparity in the results of Motivational Team Maps, where we find that the motivation of the team-leader should be higher than their staff, but often is not, which explains the negative trajectory of the team’s performance. This is a painful realisation for many, but if we can courageously accept the lesson it teaches, we are on the way to significantly improving our approach to people.

 

But how do we get the best performance out of people? How do we “nurture” them even in these trying times? Well, naturally, I think the key lies in motivation. Maintaining the motivation levels of our staff, of all levels, should be our number one priority, especially given the uncertainty of the future ahead. There is a folk story that illustrates this principle; it goes something like this…

 

The Devil realised he was never going to win in his battle against God, so he decided to throw in the towel. To this end, he held a car boot sale in order to flog off all his tools and assets.

 

The day came – it had been well advertised – and various colleagues and peers turned up looking for bargains. And, boy, were there some bargains!

 

There was this sharp, shiny, pointy spear called Pride that could shatter anyone’s armour. Very expensive, but a tasty piece of equipment.

 

Alongside this there was a mace with strange eyes set all around its head, so that it could see, in three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, everything that was going on around it; sometimes, if the mace spotted something it didn’t like, it would swing of its own accord. This was Envy.

 

All in all, the Devil had some fantastic, high-tech equipment – stuff that could really mess people up. All of it was very expensive. His colleagues were standing there, drooling over it, wondering which pieces they could afford to buy.

 

But in the centre of the collection was a large, nondescript, blunt, lustreless piece of metallic tubing – its only possible use was as leverage.

 

Beelzebub said, “How much is that old piece of junk?”

 

The Devil smiled and quoted a price. There was a gasp all round – the price he asked was worth more than all the other pieces put together.

 

That’s outrageous!” said Beelzebub, “that’s just a piece of junk.”

 

That,” said the Devil, “is Demotivation. Without it, none of the other tools work. When I want to tempt someone I always start with Demotivation. Buy it and you’ll see.”

 

***

 

When we are motivated, it inoculates us against negative emotions, against the bad experiences we have during the day, against doubt and fear. To continue the analogy of the story, when we are demotivated, we are more vulnerable to the Devil’s temptations. Nothing in heaven or earth can entirely remove the nagging voice of doubt in our minds. We’re human, after all. If we aren’t questioning ourselves, then are we truly thinking at all? But, the sway that nagging, doubting voice has on us is directly influenced by how motivated we are. When we’re highly motivated, we can tell the voice in our head, The Devil, that he’s wrong: we are good at what we do, we are going to succeed.

 

Motivation is energy, as I have often reiterated, and energy gives us resilience. Resilience is often described as our ability to “bounce back” from setbacks, but we cannot bounce back unless we are truly motivated and energised. Demotivation leads to low energy. Again, this leaves us vulnerable to The Devil’s metaphorical temptations. For example, if we are exhausted every day, are we likely to go for that run to keep our fitness up? Are we likely to put in those few extra hours to make sure the project is “done right”? No, we’re likely to cut corners and take the “easy path”, as Yoda might say.

 

Anyone who has ever witnessed the affects of Demotivation on staff will know that it’s far more disastrous than lack of skills or knowledge. People without “hard skills” can be taught them. In fact, even soft skills can be taught to a degree. Clinical psychologists go through a vigorous seven year (and sometimes more) training programme which teaches them how to listen, how to ask the right questions, how to empower other people and validate their ideas (but also politely and gently challenge self-destructive ones). But motivation cannot be artificially instilled; it has to be implemented and worked on. If we fail to do this and become demotivated, nothing: no training, technology, or pep-talks will be able to get us to perform, and we lose our inoculation against negative thought patterns and damaging emotions that can lead to even deeper problems.

 

So, don’t let the Devil destroy your business. Use Motivational Maps, and kick him back to hell!