Great Expectations

Guest post by Dale Gunther

In today’s economy where employees are inundated with negative news, it’s important to keep motivation and productivity high. Many companies struggle with how to do this in the midst of lackluster sales and shrinking budgets.

The good news is that highly motivated employees are largely the result of manager expectations rather than monetary incentives. In fact, after studying employee satisfaction and retention rates at various organizations, employee recognition company Globoforce found the standard monetary way of recognizing good performance is not an effective way to motivate employees. In other words, employees are motivated by a broader purpose than money. It’s like a quote I once heard: “People will work for money, but they will give their life for a cause.”

So what is the purpose or cause that really motivates people? In his classic Harvard Business Review article from 1969, J. Sterling Livingston discusses that in the workplace, motivation stems from a clear corporate vision and great expectations on how to achieve that vision. Moreover, employees are motivated to achieve when they feel their manager truly believes in them and expects success. Livingston concluded that if a manager is convinced that the people in his or her group are first rate, those employees will reliably outperform a group whose manager believes the reverse, even if the innate talent of the two groups is similar. This finding, confirmed in study after study, is considered fact rather than theory.

Livingston uses some lines from the play “My Fair Lady” to demonstrate how environment affects performance: “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated,” opines leading lady Eliza Doolittle. “I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady and always will.”

Businesses should consider how they treat their employees. Are managers articulating the company vision or are they projecting low expectations? Do they realize that what they expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determines performance and career progress?

When I was a college student many years ago, I visited a successful banker who told me, “Banking flies on the wings of its people.” I have come to believe that notion and incorporate it at Bank of American Fork. There we refer to each other as “associates.” Managers work hard to communicate high expectations because they know associates are intrinsically motivated to achieve high performance. And when they do so, it creates a win-win situation for all: associates are satisfied and the company thrives. This was the conclusion of a recent British study that showed employee satisfaction—more than customer satisfaction—was a leading indicator for company growth.

All fingers point to putting more effort into communicating the company’s vision in a way that empowers employees to excel in their assignments. But how to do it?

Repetition is key. Managers should constantly remind employees of company goals and just as often offer genuine praise and recognition for a job well done. Additionally, there are corporate activities that can take place to help managers in this process. Some effective activities that have produced positive results at my company include the following:

Sponsoring a contest. Competition engenders creativity and innovation, and can often help employers fill a specific need to increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Improving the associate suggestion box. If an idea is implemented, share a portion of the resulting cost savings or revenue increase with the submitting associate.

Upgrading a job title. Chances are the past year or two have brought an increased workload without increased pay to many of your employees. Consider changing their job title to reflect these new responsibilities and communicate your appreciation.

These ideas are simple solutions in which expectations are set and achievements are recognized. When such communication takes place, employees can’t help but feel motivated to improve output and the bottom line. Remember that, as author Mac Anderson wrote in his book The Power of Attitude,  “People are like sticks of dynamite: the power is on the inside, but nothing happens until the fuse gets lit.”

 Dale Gunther is vice chairman of the board of People’s Utah Bancorp, the holding company for Bank of American Fork. At the start of his 16-year tenure as CEO at Bank of American Fork, the bank had two branches and $80 million in assets; it now has 13 locations and more than $860 million in assets. Dale has served as chairman of the Utah Bankers Association and currently serves as an American Fork city councilman.

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