Often, when we go back to work in January we find ourselves longing for the magic of Christmas. Just as Monday is often thought of as the hardest day of the week, the first week of the year is often labelled “the hardest week of the year”.
This is interesting considering the New Year is famously a time of renewal: resolutions are everywhere, and you can’t move for the sounds of “detox”, “gym membership” and “new me”. Do we feel the same way going back to work in the New Year? This is a crucial time to make sure employees are as engaged and motivated to work as they are to get on a running treadmill.
A simple step but easily overlooked: know your employees. That doesn’t mean constantly asking them how they are feeling or what they had for breakfast that morning (although showing an interest in the people you work with, rather than the “staff” is a quick way to garner a sense of connectedness and empathy), it’s about knowing how closely they are aligned to the values of the organisation. Values shape the way we behave at work, which in turn shapes how effective we are in working towards the shared goal of the organisation.
We all have different reasons that we work, and some of these come from outside of us – they are extrinsic motivators. Money, kids, travel, fame, the list goes on. When you see a footballer has been given a multi-million pound contract how many of you think “he’s only in it for the money”? In part, you may be right – we are, after all, motivated by extrinsic factors. However, beneath that desire is something else – what is that extra motivation?
Perhaps for footballers it is a love of the game. If you read the autobiography of a footballer he or she will undoubtedly explain that a sheer drive to play football has gripped them from a very young age. It is this passion that led them to practice constantly – to go to football training, then come home and kick the ball around in the garden. Then comes the determination to be successful, as a consequence of hours and dedication both physical and psychological. These ingredients are intrinsic – they come from within a person to drive them forward in order to make the realisation of a goal possible.
Personal values are also intrinsic, governing the way in which actions are carried out. A commitment to a set of personal values that reflects the values of the organisation you work in makes for a good fit in any industry. Employees who believe that their work is meaningful and purposeful have a drive to achieve which transcends the reward of money, fame or even the desire to get home on time to the kids.
To work towards something meaningful and purposeful is to work towards something that lasts, and resonates well beyond the time-span of a single career. Think of Google – it has arguably made the web an accessible tool for the betterment of the world. How? A culture that is based on innovation and a repetition of what it takes to innovate. Google Books for example: the mission to digitise all the world’s books is a monumental and ground-breaking purpose, and a feat which has given people anywhere with a computer and an internet connection the ability to access information previously unreachable. Google even created and patented the technology to scan a book’s pages in such a way that the natural curve from binding has no effect. Everything they do is grounded in innovation, so much so that Google’s business model itself is one which will be replicated for decades, maybe even centuries.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in” – Greek Proverb
Great leadership is often about dedicating yourself to bettering something you will never even benefit from personally. The greatest companies the world has ever seen have been, and are, made of employees who are motivated to create change, landmark improvement and achieve things that have never been achieved before. This is where employee engagement and motivation should begin – even if it’s the first day back after Christmas.
*Answer: David Beckham