Motivation: Using the Right “Carrots” to Reaffirm Valuable Contributions

motivationcarrots-620x330A Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) study released in 2013 revealed that a mere 21% of Federal employees feel their job has the potential to be highly motivating. In other words, 79% of employees feel little-to-no reason to be motivated based on their jobs.

To be clear — this is not about whether employees want to do their jobs, it’s whether employees think their jobs present particularly motivating factors: “Does my job come with good ‘carrots’?”

Motivation is critical for engagement, but with limited budgets and a shrinking workforce, how can your agency drive motivation and increase productivity? What are the “carrots” that you can use to incentivize employees to give their best and know that it counts? This is an area where any management team can benefit from strong human resource analytics.

Recent data tell us that money is not the only thing that employees care about. In fact, when it comes to our jobs, a number of non-monetary rewards can be powerful motivators. The same MSPB study revealed that Federal employees care more about nonmonetary rewards than monetary rewards. Factors such as being included in important agency decisions and being able to serve the public outranked bonuses and opportunity for advancement.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely (current professor at Duke University and cofounder of BEworks) has volumes of research that explain this. His research has demonstrated the fact that meaning is a powerful motivator and drives productivity in the workplace. (See this TED talk for a few examples.) 

Although Federal leaders may worry that the inability to give large monetary bonuses in Government diminishes Federal employees’ motivation, Ariely’s research also posits that we can rely on large monetary bonuses to drive activity — but not necessarily productivity. That is, bonuses let people know their employer expects more, but it doesn’t necessarily make them work smarter, contribute better ideas, or innovate agency processes.

To drive performance with limited workforce and shrinking budgets, choose carefully the “carrots” you’ll put on the end of the employment stick. Creative non-monetary rewards can go a long way, so what are some ways you can ensure your rewards programs are optimally effective?

Here are some tips to en sure your “carrots” can boost the motivation potential of working in your agency and drive performance:

  • Link rewards to effort.
    Employees work best when they believe their effort is strongly correlated with the potential for a reward, something fewer than 30% of government employees currently believe. For example, an employee needs to know that additional effort that yields a strong product that aligns beautifully with agency goals will be acknowledged and received in a more positive light than a less amount of effort that “gets the job done” but just barely satisfies an agency goal.
  • Communicate candidly about rewards.
    Whether monetary or non-monetary, make sure employees know what rewards are available and how one can receive them. OPM provides a list of awards for Federal employees. Be aware of what they are and how to nominate a deserving employee, teammate, or leader. Depending on the type of reward and the context, use a variety of channels. Flyers in the break room are appropriate for some; for others, you may want to distribute detailed summaries along with performance review packets.
  • Target only high performance.
    Avoid having rewards become an entitlement. Be clear about the kinds of high performance that merit a reward, and don’t give them out to those who are simply fulfilling job requirements. With nonmonetary rewards, make sure you structure the program so that only superior performance — such as innovative contributions, exceptional efficiencies, or game-changing improvements — merits a reward.

     The flipside of this is not to treat entitlements as rewards. For example, don’t grant the privilege of telework as though it’s a perk for going above and beyond—employees are either eligible for telework or not eligible — so it’s not a way to acknowledge superior performance.

  • Be fair and equitable.
    This goes back to setting expectations — don’t be cagey with how you justify and distribute rewards. Give them only to those whose performance met the justifications and be transparent about who that includes. For example, if you get one stellar report from each of three teams and each report helps you meet a Cross-Agency Priority goal, give the reward to all three teams or make it clear why one earned it and the other two did not. So that employees don’t become demotivated by feeling let down, it’s always best to communicate thresholds or qualifying metrics in advance.

To make sure that your carrots are what they need to be, continue to collect data on how the rewards are perceived and valued in your agency. Use surveys or interviews to collect information about rewards. You can use the same tools to learn what about the agency’s mission or work might be meaningful to employees, and use that information to shape your rewards programs.

Nonmonetary rewards are motivating for Federal employees, so honing in on which ones are most meaningful, how employees view their jobs, and how rewards impact productivity are key.

How can you increase motivation in your agency? What rewards are available?  Which will be most meaningful in a climate of fiscal austerity and constantly shifting workforce?

How to Manage a Low-Performing Employee

It’s many Federal supervisors’ worst nightmare, and yet if you are one of those supervisors, it’s likely to happen at some point in your career.

It’s the under- or low-performing employee – one who can’t or won’t do the work well, or very much of it. For whatever reason – and stayed tuned on that point – work is just not getting done.

A few years ago, our team at Management Concepts did a webinar on the topic and the switchboard blew up. About triple the number of people who usually listen in to these things showed up, anxious to know what to do.

I have some answers for you. But first, you, the supervisor, have to make a pivotal decision. Everything rides on this.

You have to decide whether you are going to take a stance of supporting the employee to perform, or put the employee “in the barrel.” This huge decision means either letting the employee know that you are in his or her corner, and will do everything you reasonably can to help, or essentially setting up him or her to fail. Being in the barrel means a supervisor is orchestrating events and interaction so the employee feels progressively more under fire, fearful and doubtful. When an employee feels the lack of support, it can generate a downward spiral, in which the employee starts to have to think about whether he or she actually knows how to tie his or her own shoes. (This is because you have activated the threat center in the employee’s brain.)

It could also be called paralysis.

Of course, this crippling doubt, which is not so uncommon as many might think, only leads to a performance deterioration. So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s say that you decide to avoid this virtual guarantee of failure. Congratulations. Now let’s figure out how to make things better – for the work, the employee, the organization and you.

This may sound strange, but it’s critical that you notice your non-verbal communication and resolve to be positive in talking with the employee. Frowning, grimacing, eye-rolling or displaying any negative emotion will “leak out” and send a counter-productive message to the employee, leading to the situation described above.

Your goal, which must be mirrored in your words and non-verbal communication, must be to help. If this is what you really want, the employee will feel and sense it. It will create a sense of encouragement, a partnership, alignment, support and strength.

Along the way, be sure you comply with Merit Systems Principles on addressing inadequate performance.

From here, it’s important to run the standard performance diagnostic that helps to create clarity on why performance is so low or non-existent:

Federal Performance Diagnostic_Graphic_140910-01

What I have noticed about many supervisors over the years is that they often leap to the conclusion that the poor performance is due to employee laziness or lack of interest. It may be, but it’s better to come to that conclusion after first ruling out other factors.

Let’s get on the record here that you may do everything in your power to help the employee perform, and he or she won’t. In this case, you are fully within rights to either reassign the employee or, in the worst case, terminate the employment.

A final thought on that latter possibility: Of all the factors that can cause a downward spiral in a life – and we are talking about things like homelessness, drug abuse, failed relationships, family break-up – the loss of a job is the No. 1 factor.

Ending someone’s job is not to be taken lightly. A lot is on the line, and yet, as a supervisor you have to “do the right thing” for the organization, too. Knowing you have pulled out all the stops, and done everything you can to help the employee perform may help you live with the decision better than if you had come to a summary judgment.

The other key point on this is that it is the employee’s accountability to try to improve, to communicate openly, to do the right thing. I am under no illusion that some employees are playing a game, apparently having sensed a supervisor’s unwillingness to act – or because his or her hands have been tied by someone higher up. This is unfortunate, as it creates cynicism in the workplace, lower morale and a sense of inequity in workload. All that is the subject of another blog.

New Year, New Routine to Be a Better Leader

NewYearNo matter how many years you’ve been out of school, it is hard to ignore the back-to-school frenzy. For some, it is nostalgic to think about buying brand new school supplies, retracing the long walks you made to class each Fall as the weather turned cool, or how your mind would race after learning something new and fascinating.

For others, this time of year may make you slightly nervous. The carefree days of summer are really over and it is time to get back to routines and business so to speak.

The Government Fiscal Year is coming to an end and the new one is about to start. I would be remiss if I didn’t say this time of year might also remind you of the professional development you’ve been putting off…for months or even years. Don’t be hard on yourself — we’ve all been there — but I want to challenge you to start a new routine this Fall.

Do it now!
For those of you that read Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller The Happiness Project, the “one minute rule” might be familiar. One of the tips she follows to stay organized each day is to immediately tackle anything that takes less than a minute. Throughout your day there are literally dozens of small things you can accomplish in the moment that will save you time and effort if you don’t let them pile up.

For example, take a minute to wash your coffee cup and place it back in the cupboard rather than tossing it in the sink to deal with when you return home exhausted from the day. Take a minute to respond to a colleague’s email while you wait for a meeting to begin rather than flagging it for response later in the day. I’m sure you can instantly think of at least five tasks you do each workday that fall into this category.

One minute each day…
60secondsHere’s the challenge. I think the one minute rule can be applied to leadership development. Many people put off leadership development, or other professional development goals for that matter, because it seems too overwhelming or time consuming. All too often people think you need to engage in a lengthy and all-consuming leadership development experience to jump-start a personal leadership transformation. While those types of programs have tremendous value, it is not the only way to meet your goals. The best leaders find ways to make ongoing learning part of their daily routine.

Nothing is static in government today. In order for leaders to be able to navigate constant change and remain adaptable, you need to stay engaged and train your brain to ponder different ways of tackling leadership challenges. The best way to build that mental stamina is consistently introduce new ideas, tools, and concepts you can test out as situations emerge.

For that reason, one minute a day can make a huge difference. If you take one minute each day to read a blog you have bookmarked, scan a personalized newsfeed, or flip through a magazine (with the swipe of a finger or by turning actual pages), chances are the rest of the day you will process and practice applying whatever tip or nugget of new learning caught your eye during that one minute. That means the one minute you spend each day amounts to far more than 60 seconds of learning, and over time you’ve incorporated a great deal of new knowledge and experience into your repertoire of leadership skills.

What ideas do you have for using the one minute rule when it comes to meeting your leadership development goals?

How to Make Training “Stick”

glue_bottleAs summer is ending and kids are going back to school, I was thinking about ways to get the most out of learning. While there are many reasons for attending a training class, most of us take training to meet a certification requirement, or because we need to improve/expand our skills.

Just like we tell our kids to do in school, we know that during training, it’s important to take good notes, interact positively with our instructor and classmates, and pay attention to the lessons that are covered. Doing these things will get you through the course just fine. But, to make sure you get the most out of your learning opportunity, there are three easy things you can do before, during, and after training to make sure it “sticks.”

      1. Before – Take time to prepare.
        In addition to having your supervisor approve your training request, you should also spend a few minutes talking to your supervisor about why you need to attend the training. Specifically, review the course objectives with your supervisor and make plans for how you will apply the training once back on the job. If you have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), then the training you are planning to take should be linked directly to a topic or skill on your IDP.

        If there are specific questions you or supervisor have about the topic or skill, or areas you are struggling with, make a list to share with the instructor. Good instructors will start the class by asking you what you hope to get out of the training. Then, they’ll know which areas to emphasize and which areas will have most meaning for the students. Your instructor and fellow classmates have a wealth of knowledge and varied experiences, and most instructors welcome the opportunity for questions and debate during class!

      2. During – Create an action plan
        We all know you either “use it or lose it.” Some training courses end with having students develop an action plan. The purpose of this, of course, is to document ways in which you will apply what you learned on the job. This is an important step in helping training “stick.”

        Mastering the skills you learned in training will take time and practice. Be sure to complete the action plan with things you want to remember and/or apply back on the job. Set goals for yourself and identify a strategy for achieving those goals.

        Even if you aren’t working on a current project that relates to the training, find a way to get involved with one. Maybe you can take on a small assignment or join a project team at work. Alternatively, maybe there’s a way to practice what you’ve learned in your personal life – plan a party to practice your project management skills, volunteer at your kids’ school, or get involved in a professional or community group to practice your leadership skills.

      3. After – Reinforce what you learned.
        Once you have completed your action plan and left the training facility, it can be easy to get caught up in other priorities, deadlines, and fire drills at work. But, this is the time to put what you learned into action. Here are a few easy tips:
        • Keep your action plan in a place that you can see everyday
        • Create job aids and checklists for yourself
        • Hold yourself accountable for using the tools and techniques covered in training
        • Find a coach or mentor
        • Put reminders on your calendar to brush up on your action plan
        • Update your IDP regularly

One additional way to reinforce what you learned is to participate in a follow-up evaluation a few months after the class. The follow-up evaluation is meant to determine the degree to which the behaviors/skills learned in training are applied to the job. You are typically asked questions such as “How much has your job performance improved since you completed the training?” or “If you have not been able to apply the knowledge/skills, why not?”

Information from the follow-up evaluation is often used by the training provider to show that learning was applied on the job. Even if you don’t receive a follow-up evaluation, quiz yourself and see how well you are doing. If you are struggling to apply what you learned, try to understand the reasons why. Do you need additional tools/resources? Do you need more support? Did you have too many other things going on? Once you identify the obstacles, you can work on removing them and applying what you’ve learned.

Do you have ideas or tips for how to make sure training “sticks”? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear from you!

How Do I Value My Assets? Understanding Federal Financial Accounting Technical Release #15

AssetValuationAccumulating costs for the purposes of properly capitalizing assets can be very challenging for agencies with large complex acquisitions. For agencies like DoD and NASA, asset capitalization can be especially difficult.  In fact, appropriately valuing assets is one of the most significant challenges to audit readiness

The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board’s (FASAB) most recent Technical Release addresses this issue directly. The Federal Financial Accounting Technical Release #15:  Implementation Guidance for General Property, Plant, and Equipment Cost Accumulation, Assignment, and Allocation supports compliance with the Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards 6 (SFFAS 6), Accounting for Property, Plant, and Equipment and outlines the recognition requirements for general property, plant, and equipment (G-PP&E) except for internal use software. Paragraph 26 in the SFFAS 6 states:

“All general PP&E shall be recorded at cost. Cost shall include all costs incurred to bring the PP&E to a form and location suitable for its intended use.”

Technical Release #15 focuses primarily on the implementation guidance as it relates to:

a) Recognition requirements for total costs (i.e., programmatic, managerial, administrative, and other elements of program costs)  incurred during the G-PP&E lifecycle, decisions regarding the granularity of cost information, and acceptable methods for recognizing those costs (i.e., capital costs captured on the Balance Sheet or period expense costs captured on the Statement of Net Costs [SNC])

b) The concept of a cost accumulation and allocation decision framework (i.e., acceptable methods of accumulating, assigning, and reporting cost data)

c) Management’s role in applying the cost accumulation, assignment, and allocation decision framework

Appendix C, The Decision Framework, is an especially useful tool that provides managers practical, easy to use guidance.  SFFAS 6 and 4 are great references to better understand the context of Technical Release #15.