The deterioration of the global economy is happening at such a speed that merely discussing it poses the risk of being overtaken by events. Keeping staff motivated in this climate is a bit like aiming at a moving target. Every company in every sector is either making redundancies or trying hard to avoid them.
But no matter how few people are left after corporate culls have ended, those people need to feel that their contributions count and they are valued members of the team. By their nature, mass lay-offs can leave employees gripped by fear and concerned for their future careers, meaning that motivation is a more important issue than ever before for brands.
Scott Knox, managing director of the agency body Marketing Communication Consultants Association (MCCA), says that motivation is a particularly important area for marketers to get right. “Our very product is the ideas that staff produce and the future success of the business may depend on getting motivation right.”
He continues: “There is a real danger of managers getting distracted by the pressure on their business and resorting to short-term tactics. But they must be careful as staff will remember exactly how their senior managers reacted under pressure and how both they and their colleagues were treated.”
Catherine Forrest, business incentives manager at House of Fraser Business Incentives, argues that even in tough times, motivating staff need not be a necessarily expensive process. She says: “The art of motivation can be about providing exciting rewards and benefits. But it can also just be about focusing on personnel – talking to them, listening to and respecting their needs and generally treating them well.”
Forrest refers to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”, where he set out basic human requirements according to importance. Some of Maslow’s needs relate to a need for people to feel recognition. Forrest explains: “This particular element of Maslow’s theory demonstrates the importance of public acknowledgement of a person’s hard work and contribution to a business.
Being prepared to invest in staff training is always a clear sign that companies are interested in the development of their employees. Surprisingly for a period where so many businesses are under financial strain, training seems to be where many companies are putting their money.
Quentin Crowe, managing director of training group The Marketers’ Forum, saw a 60% increase in applications for training in January compared to the same month the previous year. He says: “These people are coming to us because they want their business to have a competitive advantage in the downturn. They want to steal a march on their competitors and win more business by improving the skills of their workforce.”
Training people to take on new tasks and build up efficiencies may be vital for companies during a recession as redundancies can prove a strategic error in the long run. Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at promotions company The Voucher Shop, explains: “Shedding staff can be a false economy as recruiting experienced people when the business picks up again can be more costly in the long run.”
Kaur adds that while some redundancies and recruitment freezes are inevitable, it’s vital to manage these as effectively as possible. If staff are left feeling demoralised they may end up “struggling to manage the all-important customer relationships that every business relies on”.
Knox at the MCCA agrees that the ability to manage redundancies correctly is the most important aspect of the process. He warns: “Problems really occur when the redundancies are badly managed. The key to getting this right is to plan ahead. Managers must set themselves a clear tipping point that states that when they reach a certain figure, X number of redundancies will be made and stick to it.
“They also have to maintain an open and honest relationship with their staff, keeping them up-to-date with the business situation. Telling your employees that everything is fine one day and firing staff the next is hardly likely to convey the sense of a well-managed business to anyone.”
Employee engagement levels in the UK have already dropped by half since 2005, according to research from Accor Services. This is backed up by research by YouGov for Investors In People that shows 30% of UK employees are demotivated at work. Unless businesses can find new ways of keeping spirits high, these figures seem likely to get worse as the recession continues.
Derrick Hardman, managing director of sales promotion company Capital Incentives & Motivation, owned by Accor, says of his company’s annual survey about staff motivation: “For the sixth year running, ‘being treated fairly’ at work is the main motivating factor that influences the professional performance of employees. ‘Good relationships with colleagues’ was second, with ‘good pay/salary’ coming third.”
Even when the economy improves, making sure that any promotions are relevant for staff is vital. Senior staff may respond well to corporate hospitality experiences, such as trips to Royal Ascot or a relevant concert at The O2. These treats can make people feel that their company values them beyond simply their workload.
However, staff on a lower salary with worries about their costs might prefer some more everyday incentives, such as supermarket and fuel vouchers.
John Sylvester, executive director at marketing agency P&MM, says his firm has seen the biggest increase in demand for its flexible benefits debit card, issued by companies to staff who receive a discount on high-street shopping.
He says: “The bottom line is that there will be an economic recovery. When this happens, companies will again need to draw on the loyalty of their staff to remain and help over the next growth period.”
Case study: 3663
Foodservice business 3663, which has sales of more than 1bn each year, runs incentive programmes for its customers to help boost loyalty and drive sales. Four years ago, it hired rewards company Projectlink Motivation to develop a scheme over the key periods of Christmas and early summer, and the campaigns have continued ever since.
When customers select products from a preselected list, they receive points for each pound spent once they have surpassed a minimum spend value. The packaged goods company chose to use Projectlink Motivation’s Supercheques reward vouchers, which are redeemable at a range of businesses, from retailer Debenhams to travel brand Marriott Hotels.
Customers select their reward choice and return their voucher requests to Projectlink Motivation. Within 72 hours, customers receive their 3663-branded Supercheques. A customer helpdesk has also been set up to provide telephone and email assistance for any queries relating to the campaign.
The campaign resulted in a better relationship between 3663 and its customers, backed up by an increase in sales. The programme is set to be repeated with added merchandise and experiences to be included in future.
Viewpoint: Carol Mote
One of today’s biggest corporate challenges is to encourage employees to be the architects of their own motivation. This does not mean that employers should be absolving responsibility for encouraging their staff, but productivity can plummet in the face of any major organisational change because talented individuals lack a sense of belief in the future.
People would prefer to work in a well-rewarded, energised, inspiring environment where intellectual curiosity is encouraged at every level. Such a strategic “pulse” in a company should be communicated and driven from the very top, but in today’s troubled times, where senior executives can be distracted by financial problems, it is essential for individuals to become accountable for the quality of their motivated contribution to work.
I recently met someone who was recognised in his industry as excellent at his job; his challenge was not the content of his work but the manner in which his mind was coping (or not coping) with the fact that his organisation was about to be acquired by a competitor. The rational part of his brain recognised he had a well-paid job that he enjoyed and he was likely to keep. However, he was undermining his own abilities by his fears about unknown, future decisions.
The commercial realities of 2009 mean that the fear of redundancy is very real, so it is important for employees to retain their integrity by finishing a job well.
In the event of redundancy, people need to capitalise on what time they have left at the company by networking with people in the organisation who may be able to help in future with references or connections. Line managers and HR departments may have advice and it’s worth exploring options to gain financial support for external coaching facilities and time during the working week to spend networking externally.
Embracing self-motivating techniques to thrive in the midst of change demonstrates high emotional intelligence. Employees should challenge themselves to behave in a positive manner, despite negative misgivings; this is a productive way of stretching capabilities.
There are three useful areas to start taking charge of your own motivation. First, take an honest look at yourself. How motivated are you at work? When do you enjoy work most? Understand what drives you to perform and excel.
Second, where do you want to be in two years? You need a sense of where you are heading. On your career journey, you need to maintain a sense of direction and momentum, recognising it may have to be recalibrated from time to time.
Third, work out what are you going to do differently to enjoy work more each day. Even in the hardest times, staying positive is vital.
Carol Mote is director of human resources company Verdant Futures
Case Study: Game
High-street entertainment retailer Game was keen to increase top-line growth by adopting a more sales-oriented culture in its stores. The business believed its operations were more slanted towards customer service than sales, and it was keen to change the internal focus within the retail outlets.
Game asked performance improvement company Grass Roots to develop a bespoke training programme aimed at exciting store staff with knowledge and options about their customer’s potential purchase.
Given Game staff’s sophistication with multimedia devices, it was imperative that the sales lessons were communicated and delivered in a motivational way. Employees were given tools to more effectively approach customers, give advice and assistance and offer specialist support.
Grass Roots called the programme Xcite and developed an interactive DVD to appeal to the company’s youthful workforce. Presented in the style of a video game, the content included in-store scenarios where the service received was scored in a gaming style by the user, who could select from an array of customer profiles. Other material included an ‘Unlocking Hidden Levels’ element with space for staff to fill in personal commitments and action plans.
There was no prescriptive sales model handed out, dictating specific phrases or body language for store staff. Instead, employees were encouraged to share their own passions for the products in providing customers with information. Each staff member was encouraged to find sales methods that worked best for them.
The pilot programme encompassing 17 stores resulted in an uplift in sales and positive feedback from customers and staff. On this basis, Xcite was rolled out to the entire Game estate during 2008, involving 3,500 participants. Game training and design manager Sharon Wisniewski says the scheme has helped keep her staff “fully engaged”.
Grass Roots business development director Steven Morris says the biggest challenge was making the training relevant and meaningful for Game employees. “It was as simple as talking to them in a language they understand rather than with sales speak, and giving them real life scenarios,” he says.
The scheme is now kept up through team discussions, with one Game store manager commenting: “Our staff loved the fact that they were encouraged to actually talk about the games they have a real passion for.”