Any successful entrepreneur of a certain age will tell you that "warm and fuzzy" fantasies and "feel good" goals don't work as effective long-term motivators for your people. Age and painful experience are important predicates for this understanding, because if you're a kid CEO who flipped your startup to Facebook, a meme "investor" who made a mint on GameStop, or if you've recently banked a bundle on Bitcoin, then the sadly practical advice which follows probably isn't for you. While you can afford to have your head stuck in the clouds or elsewhere and pontificate about peace, progress and purpose, the rest of us are concentrating on resetting and restarting our businesses and pointing our people in the right direction.
Having a professed purpose or two like ESG is clearly more desirable in your portfolio than MSG in your pot stickers. But it's even more important for the tip of the spear -- your sales team -- to have a specific point. Climate change is certainly a crucial concern and saving the seals -whales - wolves may be a great salve for the soul, but neither is concrete and immediate enough to translate into day-to-day direction.
Teams need targets. Not "nice to have" aspirations, but "need to have" objectives and the more particular and focused they can be, the more likely your business is to succeed. Good teams hit targets that others can't hit. The best teams hit what other teams can't even see, but only when they're given actionable information and ground-level guidance.
Importantly, successful salespeople require passion and commitment - the best of the bunch take things personally. We're talking emotion, energy and enthusiasm. Passion, as a practical matter, trumps purpose in the here-and-now and, interestingly enough in our post-truth world, the source, substance and sanity of the passion is almost irrelevant. You've got to believe it in order to sell it and whether it's actually true isn't that big a deal.
As your people slowly return from a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, you're going to need to fire them up and, as often as not, you're going to be fighting a fair amount of apathy, angst and indifference. In these very confusing and conflicted times -- when half the world doesn't seem to even know which way is up -- sending your people out with warm words, a smile, and a pat on the back to fight the good fight just isn't going to get the job done. A concrete plan with some measurable and achievable goals, the promise of some financial rewards based on results, and a modest kick in the butt are much more likely to bring home the bacon than even the best of intentions and a heart of gold.
Today's highly scrutinized managers can no longer employ some of the tried-and-true motivational methods. For a variety of reasons, good and bad, managers need to be much more sensitive to the "feelings and needs" of their employees. Apparently, this is all about carrots now and not sticks - especially with a newly returning and entitled workforce that seems to think that you owe them a living and an explanation for everything.
So, if you can't prompt, push or pick on your people, and you're getting tired of putting out the politically correct pablum that passes for acceptable encouragement these days, I have an alternative approach that apparently will still pass muster, as long as your choice of target is a competitor's expected actions and not based on its country, culture, color or any other disqualifying criteria.
Any good leader knows that you need to tell your people a compelling story about an important journey and then show them a path to reach the promised land. But to jumpstart your journey, what your story really needs is a villain because, as we see every day, hate has been normalized and weaponized into a stronger driver of all manner of behaviors than love.
So, the first step is to find an available villain. And, if you don't happen to have an aggressive competitor you can transform into an evil enemy, just feel free to invent one. I don't mean to suggest that you should go around making enemies gratuitously. Unlike friends, who come and go, enemies accumulate. But invented enemies, the nastier the better, are perfectly fine. Make them greedy gargoyles who want to take the food from your team's children's mouths and put their parents out on the street. Or reveal wanton weasels who want to take your people's jobs and customers away. They could also be scoundrels and scam artists selling second-rate products and services to your friends and family. The objective is to get the whole team hyped up, focused on protecting and advancing their own futures, and going full speed ahead for the gold.
The size of your illuminated or invented opponent doesn't matter. They can be a huge corporate player or the next hot startup in your space. Whoever's most likely to be aiming to eat your lunch. It's never about the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog that makes the difference. And your guys are the fiercest fighters in the contest. As hokey as this sounds, this is what works to get everybody back on their feet and ready for battle.
Fighting a common enemy is a contagious sentiment and builds connection, cooperation, and camaraderie. You may think that the sheer joy of finally coming back together in one place will be a reward in itself and sufficient to get things back to normal but (a) it's a "new" normal for sure; (b) you're gonna have some new people in the mix who never knew the old normal; and (c) some of the new folks and some old hands as well will be working remotely forever so you're going to need to really work hard to bring them all back into the fold. The bottom line is that things aren't simply going to take care of themselves.
You need a plan that's more than putting personalized hand sanitizers on everyone's desk with a couple of Hershey's Kisses. You are going to have to expend more time, effort and resources than you expect, and the ongoing messaging will be just as critical as your other actions. Your people need to work hard, stick together, get a little bit better every day, and ask themselves regularly how badly they want to win. The simpler your message the better.
My favorite: You can make dust, or you can eat dust.