How Great Leaders Get Employees Motivated by Explaining Intent

How Great Leaders Get Employees Motivated by Explaining Intent

Employers often face a field of landmines when it comes to employee communication.

Employers often face a field of landmines when it comes to employee communication.

Employers often face a field of landmines when it comes to employee communication. They want to clearly explain situations without giving away sensitive information. They want to answer employee questions, but aren’t sure of the right time or format to discuss the information clearly.

Communication isn’t limited to big announcements: How managers communicate can affect a team’s day-to-day performance. Poor communication can demotivate employees and reduce the productivity in an office.

One way leaders can keep their teams motivated through good or bad times is with context. Explaining the reasoning and intent behind decisions can guide employees toward a specific goal and drive team members to do better. Here’s how the secret ingredient of intent can improve employee motivation.

Why Should You Focus on Context and Intent?

Every day, your employees ask themselves why they work for you. They motivate themselves to come to work and perform their best at your company. While most companies assume their staff is motivated by money, employees actually show up for far different reasons.

The organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry found that 73 percent of employees say their main driver in the workplace is the belief that their work has purpose and meaning. Furthermore, 82 percent of employees agree that people work for their company for reasons other than pay at least to some extent.

Pay motivates employees, but there’s a limit to what an employee is willing to accept if they don’t feel valued or believe they are working toward an important goal.

Context and goals increase employee job satisfaction as a whole, John Berry, director at management consultancy Timeless Time, writes. Your employees went into their fields for a reason and selected your company to work for out of other likely offers. They aren’t motivated by making their boss happy, but rather by achieving their professional goals and helping the organization they chose to work for succeed.

If employees are motivated by goals and vision, are you doing a good job of sharing those objectives with your team members? The answer, usually, is probably not. The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, MAPI, found that employees spend an average of 20 hours per year in town hall meetings. A full third of them leave with an unclear picture of what the company wants or where the organization is headed as a whole.

MAPI estimates that companies lose an average of $770,000 per 5,000 employees per year due to lost productivity related to misaligned goals and unclear expectations.

Your job as a leader isn’t just to meet your sales goals or marketing quotas. You need to motivate your team to help you hit these targets.

Benefits of Intent-Based Leadership

There are multiple benefits to companies that invest in intent-based leadership.

There are multiple benefits to companies that invest in intent-based leadership.

There are multiple benefits to companies that invest in intent-based leadership. Along with increased communication and engagement, managers report other perks that improve the workflow in their organizations.

Employees Become Better Problem Solvers

Founder of The Sustainable Business, Josh Patrick writes that explaining your vision allows employees to come up with their own plans and ideas that support it. Rather than relying on one person to formulate all the plans, ideas and strategies for the company, department heads and even entry-level employees can brainstorm to help the organization achieve its goals.

Plus, problem solving works like a muscle. The more a skill is used, the easier it is to use it again. When your company faces a problem, your team will be ready to jump in and solve it, rather than relying on you as leader for help.

Employees Become More Autonomous

When employees solve problems on their own and know why they need to do something, they can work also on their own to achieve organizational goals.

“Not only does providing context lead to improved performance (and job satisfaction), it liberates employees and frees managers up to do their work without feeling compelled to monitor their employees at all times,” Bryson Kearl at BambooHR writes.

Kearl uses the example that the captain on a ship doesn’t have to monitor crew working in the hull, because everyone is aligned on where the vessel is going and how it will get there.

Employees Trust Leaders for Information

When management shares news with their team members, the employees will either believe what they have to say or seek out the real story elsewhere. In a toxic work environment, gossip runs rampant because employees think the truth may be hidden, masked or distorted. In some companies, news might break on mainstream media channels before a company makes an internal announcement.

“The only way to deal with [rumors] is by learning to match and even exceed that external speed and to make internal points of view readily available—not just during times of crisis, but also in day-to-day operations,” Sina Kaye Lockley writes at software company Staffbase.

And, when employees understand the intent and vision behind a choice, they are more inclined to listen to and trust their leaders despite what other sources are saying.

Fear-Based Leadership is Ineffective

Leaders who refuse to provide context tend to use fear-based leadership or forceful leadership to keep everyone in line.

Leaders who refuse to provide context tend to use fear-based leadership or forceful leadership to keep everyone in line.

If you need more reasons to embrace intent-based leadership, consider the alternatives. Leaders who refuse to provide context tend to use fear-based leadership or forceful leadership to keep everyone in line. This management style has no place in today’s workplace; good employees will simply leave to work where they are valued and trusted.

Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, says there are unmistakable signs of a fear-based workplace. These include:

  • Employees are focused solely on goals. If they miss their goals, they could lose their jobs.

  • Managers are focused on measuring results, punishing infractions and maintaining order.

  • Everyone looks out for themselves. They don’t help others for fear of getting assigned blame or missing their own deadlines because they cared for a coworker.

  • Following rules and avoiding blame are top priorities. Employees don’t take risks for fear of repercussions in the event of failure.

Not only do these symptoms paint a picture of a place that’s not very pleasant to work in, they also show how innovation grinds to a halt. Employees are so focused on not getting fired and avoiding punishment that they don’t risk (or don’t have time for) coming up with better ways to do things.  

The Pacific Institute writes that fear-based leadership is outdated and only makes a stressful workplace even worse. Three things come out of fear-based management, they say, which are: creative avoidance; work that is only good enough to pass; and active procrastination.

The burden of management style doesn’t fall on leaders alone. HR departments need to understand how employees think, feel and work within an organization. Rob Seay, HR director at Bonfyre, says good leaders appreciate difficult feedback and work to create a better experience for their employees. Poor leaders, on the other hand, become combative and defend their actions.

How to Lead with Intent and Context

Once you understand the value of intent-based leadership, you can use it in your company.

Once you understand the value of intent-based leadership, you can use it in your company.

Once you understand the value of intent-based leadership, you can use it in your company. Start with a few of these steps to communicate with employees and help everyone get on the same page.

Define the Intent Before You Act on It

Too often, leaders have a vision for a project, want to move forward with it and steamroll employees before they realize what is happening. Instead, strategic leaders take the time necessary to help team members understand the importance and value of the work so they can get on board.

David Michels, director at management consulting firm, Bain & Company, shares a story about a new CEO at a company that rolled out plans for a slew of changes. A year later, few things had actually changed. Employees pushed back because they didn’t see the value in making these changes and stuck to their own ways.

“In the rush to get to an answer quickly, executives unintentionally slow down the time it takes to get results because they do not engage their organizations sufficiently up front,” Michels explains. In fact, he says that forcing decisions is one of the reasons why 88 percent of change programs don’t work as planned.

Hold Open and Honest Discussions About The Work

You can improve your communication strategy and build trust with your employees today. Start practicing open communication with your employees when the seas are smooth so they can trust you and know to ask questions when times are tough.

“Talk with your team about the relevance of the work they do every day,” business advisor Lisa Lai writes at HBR. “Put away the carrots and sticks and have meaningful conversations instead.”

You may discover processes that can be improved, problems you never knew existed, and opportunities for growth just by listening to what your team members have to say.

Clear and open communication can encourages employees to focus on the future. Dann Albright at Hubstaff recently cited a CRM Learning graph showing that 80 percent of employee work conversations focus on the past, with 15 percent focusing on the present and five percent focusing on solutions and future possibilities.

It’s natural for your team members to dwell on either past problems or the good old days; however, leaders keep the focus on the future. When employees are excited about what is to come and feel like the future is bright, then their work efforts will reflect their hopes and drive for the success of the company.  

Build Business Processes Around Intent

Intent-based leadership isn’t just about listening and talking to employees. Good leaders build their operations around intent and context to help their employees succeed.

In one case study, organization development consultant Paul Thoresen says a company had a habit of using “gut feelings” to make decisions. He worked with them to develop processes using data on which to base decisions instead. This way, leaders were able to clearly explain to employees why the company was doing something and how the organization would benefit.

Change How You Discuss Projects

Leaders should avoid the dreaded “because I said so” mentality and instead answer the “why” behind various tasks.

In an article for The Muse, Avery Augustine, director of medical education and strategic events at Wright Medical, gives three alternative options to the dreaded “because I said so”:

  • I decided to go this way because… This method is firm, but also explains the intent and reasoning behind the decision. It’s a great way to start a conversation.

  • Let’s address your biggest concerns. With this phrase, employees can ask questions and learn the reasoning behind specific choices rather than listening to justifications for every choice.

  • This is how we are going to try it first. This option opens up the possibility of better tactics in the future and for employees to step in with other ideas.  

Each of these phrases provides context and opens the door for questions, discussion, and ideas without backing down from the original plan set out by leadership.

Review Employee Workloads and Emotions

Good leaders learn how employees respond to news, requests and change. They also take steps to make sure their team members are handling their workloads effectively.

“If you want to improve employee motivation, then you have to think holistically about the employee experience,” G.I. Sanders at Dynamic Signal writes.

This includes everything from making sure your healthcare provides coverage your employees need to preventing burnout from long hours and overwhelming workloads. Context can give employees the motivation to push through tough times and create better processes to help them in the future.

Intent-based leadership isn’t meant to banish company secrets and share sensitive information with your entire staff. The goal is to create a culture of transparency and communication that engages employees and allows them to trust your decision-making.

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