I was recently on the phone with my Dad talking shop, and he said something that really resonated with me:
"It's not about X's and O's; it's about Janes and Joes."
This was his version of a common sports phrase that emphasizes the importance of a team's players rather than its plays.
The idea couldn't be more true in business. People are by far the most important assets your company has. Without good people on your team, the greatest products and services on the market can't scale. Without people, you literally don't have a business. And without engaged and motivated people, you have an underperforming company.
There are a lot of different ways to motivate people. I certainly don't have all the answers. But I can draw from various experiences I've had over the last seven years, both as an employee and as a manager of small teams.
Listen and Pay Attention
Every person in your office has different needs and aspirations. Some are very open about them and some keep them very close to the chest.
Do you fully understand your people's needs and aspirations? Have you ever asked them?
The very first time I meet with a person on my team, I sit down and chat with them for an hour. But we don't spend that hour talking about strategies or tasks or projects we'd like to start. I spend that entire hour getting to know the person better. I ask questions about parents, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends, dreams, influences, hobbies, interests, etc. And then I ask these two big questions:
"What's the goal here? What do you want to do?"
I am not leading the witness when I pose those two questions. I truly don't have an ideal answer in mind. I just listen and pay very close attention to the answers. I want to know what makes them tick.
If a person on my team has aspirations to eventually start his own business, that's great. If the person has a goal to become a VP at our company, I'm all for it. If someone tells me she has no idea what she wants in life or where she wants to be in two years, that's fine too. I just want to know so that I can reverse engineer my management of that person based on the answers to those two questions. If I don't know what they are driven by or the path they'd like to take, I won't know what plays to run for them.
It may take time for people to get comfortable with you and open up. But these types of transparent, honest conversations are worth it in the long run. You'll notice that people who trust you and believe that you support their short- and long-term goals will be motivated to help you achieve yours.
Focus on Strengths
LeBron James is the Cleveland Cavaliers' best player. He is officially listed as a small forward, but plays a lot like a guard. The King is most effective when he starts his dribble out past the perimeter, sees the whole court, and uses his incredible strength to plow to the rim.
Imagine if Cavs coach Tyronn Lue decided he also wanted LeBron to play center for half the game. Coach Lue is thinking "LeBron's my most talented player. I can put him anywhere on the court and he'll dominate."
Wrong, Coach. I know it's tempting. I've witnessed versions of this management mistake often.
Always double down on a person's strengths. Finding out if LeBron can post up and play center in the League is a waste of time and energy. The Cavs will win a lot more games just leaning on LeBron's ability to penetrate the key and create opportunities for his teammates. Let Tristan and Mozgov clean up the paint.
You'll win more often in business if you lean on a person's strengths and surround them with other people on your team who have complimentary strengths. Give your people the best opportunity to succeed, and you'll win a lot more games.
Everyone hates micromanagement. But so many people become micromanagers. And some people don't even realize they are micromanagers.
To avoid becoming the manager that all of us despise, you have to let go of the notion that controlling every detail of everything will yield better results. You can't be good at every aspect of your business. It's impossible.
If you are self aware, you'll know your own strengths. Focus on those. Let go of the projects that someone can do better than you. Empower and motivate the members of your team to lead, while still making yourself available to them when they need help.
Here's how it works for my team at BoxCast: I was hired and immediately scheduled a number of hour-long, one-on-one meetings with the two people that report directly to me. I took some time outside of those individual meetings to observe their strengths, weaknesses, acumen and interests. Then, I assigned each one of them particular roles, responsibilities and performance metrics based on the aforementioned criteria. Each one of them now manages various areas of our highly productive marketing machine. I'm there for them whenever they need me—for high-level strategy, support, challenges, questions and feedback.
Paint Them Into the Bigger Picture
If you ever come visit the BoxCast office, you might notice the phrase "BE THE BEST." printed in bold, capitalized letters and stuck on walls and laptops. Of course, the BoxCast marketing team did not invent this phrase. But those three words connect our team to the greater vision of the company—to be the best live video streaming company in the world.
A good way to motivate people on your team is to help them see where they fit into the bigger picture. Help them understand how their roles and responsibilities specifically impact a large company goal, like annual revenue. Break it down further for them so they know how department goals impact the company goals, and how their individual roles impact both team and company goals.
There are no hard and fast rules to motivating people. You will most likely have to evolve your management strategy over time, always adjusting to the people you are managing. But I 100% believe with all my heart that if you want to succeed in business, the people on your team should be your top priority at all times. Just put in the time and listen to them.
Be a better leader and get in tune with your employees. It's the best thing you'll ever do for your business.