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Interviews  |   Executives and Leaders

How to motivate a team with different definitions of success [Interview]

John Becker

By John Becker

May 20, 2020

How to motivate a team with different definitions of success [Interview]

What makes you get up in the morning? What inspires you to do your best work each day? What distractions can derail your efforts? Why do you push yourself?

For professionals of all stripes, it is vital to be able to answer these questions for ourselves — but managers need to know these answers about their direct-report colleagues as well. 

IMPACT’s VP of Services Katie Pritchard has worked on several teams and in multiple positions during her tenure.

Here, she reflects on the imprecise science of motivation, both as a worker and a company leader.

A journey to leadership

John: So first off, Katie, in your time at IMPACT, you've worked with and managed a few different teams. Can you tell us about your journey? 

Katie: I started off working at IMPACT on the front lines as an account manager, a main point of contact for clients for about four years.

During that time, I joined several different teams, but I was always in that frontline seat, rather than working in any managerial capacity. I was asked to join the leadership team while I was still in that frontline position.

From there, I got a wealth of experience listening to other leaders in the organization and how they were managing people and setting the vision for the company. I got to see a lot of firsthand backroom conversations through the leadership team.

Over time, as we grew as a team and as I grew with my own experience. When I had been leading a team for about three years, I started to transition into more of a managerial role. 

I soon stepped up into the director of client services role, overseeing people that were overseeing people.

There were probably 20 to 30 client services team members at that point and I focused on trying to get everybody going in the right direction and doing the right things, working with those managers under me. 

Now, as our VP of services, I oversee about 40 client services team members. 

The surprises when shifting to management

John: When you made that shift from the frontlines to management, what surprised you most?

Katie: I was surprised by how similar it was in some ways to what I was already doing with account management.

I was talking one-on-one with people, getting them to do things that I thought they should do. It's very similar to working directly with clients. 

But also, I was surprised how incredibly difficult it was to provide feedback and work directly with people that I was friends with.

There's an emotional barrier with a client that you don't necessarily have to be nervous about.

With team members that you've been working side by side with, stepping into a managerial role (especially with some who might be older or more experienced than you) the emotional aspect of that was definitely something that I had to get used to. 

Making difficult conversations easier

John: That emotional element can make it more challenging to have the difficult conversations you sometimes need to have as a manager. 

Katie: When I was first in a managerial role, three years ago, I had to do a lot of scripting, a lot of practicing, to really get comfortable with what words I wanted to use when I was describing what a problem was.

Now, I have the tools and experience to not need to prepare as much, but, of course, I still like to know where I'm generally going with the conversation. 

The fact that we rolled out job scorecards makes it really easy to help somebody understand in a written format exactly where I need them to be. 

In the past, it may have been a your opinion versus my opinion situation.

Now, the tools give managers better perspective, and I think the managers themselves have suited the tools to assist them in having effective conversations. 

Now, instead of being emotional and opinion-based, it’s more of here’s what I expect of you.

John: Can you talk more about job scorecards? Talk about how they are beneficial both to managers and to the manager.

Katie: I think that they're really beneficial to the managers because they've really helped them understand and articulate exactly what they need out of every single team member — and how all of those team members fit together to form a complete team.

The managers are able to clearly define exactly what an ideal teammate is.  

Then, from the employee standpoint, these job scorecards offer a descriptive picture of what they need to be and what they need to embody to be able to be praised and to get pay bumps and promotions — as well as where they can use their skillset to be most useful to the organization.

I think everybody wants to be useful; they want to be doing something that contributes to our bigger goals. And from that standpoint, they now have their guiding light of what they should and shouldn't be doing.

They're better able to self-manage. 

IMPACT has cultivated and attracted people who want to manage themselves. They want to be self-sufficient. They don't want to have to work with a manager on every single thing. 

And we’ve built these tools to give them the ability to do that. 

Do people leave jobs or leave managers?

John: There's a saying that people don't leave jobs, they leave managers. Do you think that's true? 

Katie: I think it's half true.

I love that saying because I think that people can be really great at their jobs, but have really terrible managers. They hate their lives because they're always trying to find where they fit in and where they are headed.

However, I also think people can have great managers and end up feeling the same way.

The caveat there is that a good manager can and should help the person realize that whatever their expectations are, they are not aligned with whatever their position is.

I think that a great manager can either help somebody grow into what they need to be or help identify that they're not necessarily a good fit. 

What keeps workers motivated?

John: You’ve worked with many people in several different roles at IMPACT. In your opinion, what motivates people? 

Katie: I think, speaking generally, what motivates people is understanding the bigger goal of something that they're doing — knowing that it ultimately rolls up to this bigger picture of what we're doing as a company.

It’s really important to clearly see and feel that.

On the flip side, I think if everybody is confused about the purpose of their role, and how their work fits into the bigger picture, their value is less clear, and this demotivates people.

When someone’s new, getting them to see that structure and have that first little win sets the tone for everything else that they do.

John: But what about people who have different motivations or different definitions of success?

Katie: Obviously, everyone is different. I’ve certainly managed people who aren’t just motivated by the thought of doing good work. Maybe they have personal financial goals or a certain promotion in mind. Maybe it’s personalized or public recognition. 

When it comes to motivation, it’s never black and white. There’s always some level of gray, of mixed motivations.

For me, I believe in having those deeper conversations, to push beyond the “I want to get to a certain salary level” conversation.

Instead, I try to understand why, so I can paint a more complete picture of what it actually means for that person to reach whatever they’re trying to reach.

That’s what I try to focus on — the driving force behind their motivation. Then, I make sure to align that to company priorities and personal priorities that they have.

If they want to achieve those goals, these are the things that they need to focus on to get there. 

I am very specific in terms of expectations, growth plans, job scorecards, and any other relevant metrics so that they are are very clear about what they need to do to achieve their goals. 

Again, everyone is motivated differently, and everyone appreciates recognition differently. Tailoring your management to each individual person is the best way to get them all going in the same direction.

A culture of motivation

John: It’s interesting the way that company culture and collegiality informs motivation. Sometimes, motivation seems to be in the air. 

Katie: Yes. That's why we spend so much time on the culture fit part of interviews when we’re hiring.

I've done a fair amount of interviewing, and you can kind of have a feel for whether or not you think that you'd work well with a person.

It's hard to describe.

We try to put it into words with our core values, and we test against them, but there's still an indescribable element, a way of working. It’s sort of like having fun but doing hard work at the same time.

Having that around you in a team, it’s definitely motivating. I think that the leadership team all shares certain qualities. We motivate each other by simply being around each other and having conversations with each other.

I think that the better that we are at hiring people who are similar to us in that way and who are a good culture fit, it just keeps fueling the engine. 

There can be a physical energy that you bring to a room that just motivates and drives the team forward. It's often obvious when you don't have that. 

So yes, there's a culture that we try to put words to, but sometimes it’s a feeling — just vibing with somebody.

If we're all having fun and working hard on really challenging topics, and it's motivating because we did it together. 

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