insight magazine

Is a Lack of Motivation Killing Your Team?

Here are five key questions to ask if your finance team is anything but inspired, high-performing, and loyal. By Selena Chavis | Digital Exclusive - 2017

Bored CPA

We all know that motivated teams working towards common objectives can set the stage for steady growth and high performance. So if your finance team is experiencing anything but, it’s time to ask some important questions. Like what’s behind your staff's lackluster drive, and what happens when its unmet strategic initiatives start bringing down your bottom line?

Team motivation is inherently linked to each individual believing that their needs are met and their work is appreciated. And when all the stars align, you can expect to reap the benefits of both high performance and a stable workforce—a high priority for all finance departments given the current competitive recruitment and retention climate.

There are many ways to incentivize employees and spark their enthusiasm. So if you need to bring a boost to your finance team’s fervor, consider asking yourself these five foundational questions.

1. Does our company culture motivate team members?

Your company has a culture, and so does your finance department. If that culture is not purposely defined and nurtured, it will develop on its own—and likely not in an advantageous way.

Leaders who take the time to build teams around a common set of values intended to drive performance lay the groundwork for motivation. For instance, companies such as Google are known for a culture of creativity and innovation characterized by off-beat business practices and incentives. Professionals appreciate the identity and often want to be a part of it.

Finance executives can set the stage for motivated teams and high performance by creating a culture that inspires employees to buy into a greater narrative than just their day-to-day jobs. As such, each person must understand and buy into the company’s vision. When personal success is tied to achieving company goals, the entire organization wins.

2. How does our management style impact motivation?

Management style can make or break motivation. Employees want to feel empowered to bring ideas to the table and contribute to a company’s mission. Micromanaging their efforts can lead to discouragement, which extinguishes drive.

The surprising results of research conducted by Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, affirms this. In her book, The Progress Principle, Amabile details her analysis of 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees at seven companies. The results suggest that meaningful work engages employees more than anything else. Simply put, employees want to feel that they’re making important contributions.

In a recent Michael Page Finance article, Managing Director Jonathan Firth emphasizes that finance teams will often come up with better ways of improving processes and solving problems than you will alone. “Encourage strategic conversations and be open to innovation,” he suggests. “Give credit when the team’s ideas are good, and direction if they are not so good.”

3. Do employees feel appreciated and supported?

A 2012 study by Bersin and Associates ties employee recognition to lower voluntary turnover rates. Specifically, companies with recognition programs deemed highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31 percent lower rates than their peers with less effective recognition programs.

While it’s important to always congratulate employee successes and achievements, managers who home in on specifics get the most bang for their buck. For instance, it’s one thing to offer praise for meeting a financial goal, but calling out the hard work and skills of the individuals who helped the company reach that summit is even better.

Appreciation also extends to understanding and utilizing the skill sets of each and every team member. Employees who feel their talents are wasted or underused are less likely to feel motivated. Often, workforce management systems provide an effective avenue for extracting key information regarding skills from employee resumes. Then managers can better match skill sets to tasks and opportunities.

Team support during busy seasons also goes a long way. For instance, when mundane or unpopular tasks have to be completed after hours, don’t lay the responsibility in the laps of just a few. Bring senior, mid-level and support staff together to get the job done.

4. Are the right incentives in place?

Money always talks, but not necessarily as loudly as it has in the past. Especially as older generations exit the workforce and younger generations take the helm, trends point to factors such as job satisfaction, work-life balance and professional growth opportunities as key motivators. Alongside financial incentives, managers should consider building in nontraditional incentives to reward hard work, including extra days off, workplace amenities such as a gym or daycare center, and opportunities to attend targeted professional development.

5. Do we provide professional growth opportunities?

Employees who feel stuck in their jobs with no room for advancement will lack motivation, plain and simple. Companies that invest in professional growth opportunities and provide a platform for moving up the corporate ladder are in a much better position to optimize employee drive and productivity. The reality is that supply and demand are on the side of corporate finance talent, and the ability to tie employment to upward momentum is critical to recruitment, retention and ongoing motivation.

Professional growth strategies extend beyond training and educational opportunities, however. Solid talent management initiatives encompass key growth components such as coaching and relationship building with management, formal feedback systems regarding performance, career planning and training, and real opportunities for promotions, lateral moves or transfers.

Motivation is a hard concept to pin down, and an even harder concept to promote. Nevertheless, homing in on the right mix of strategies to inspire your finance team is critical in today’s increasingly competitive market.

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