Ever consider how the bottom line of an organization is adversely impacted when a team lacks motivation?

Demi Gray has. In fact, she has made a career out of understanding the concept and written the book on it: The X Factor of Employee Engagement: Why Fostering Employee Motivation Should Be Every Company’s Goal. (Read our review here.)

In this recent Q&A, she discusses her motivation behind helping leaders motivate their employees, and what experiences have shaped her conclusions and solutions.

Q: Where did you acquire the thirst to write about employee motivation?

A: Three personal touch points: my experience working with ineffective leaders, my research regarding the topic of human behavior concerning motivational influences, and workplace impartialities. As a human resource professional and female leader, I have seen and heard countless acts and comments that have derailed employees’ enthusiasm within the workplace, triggered by individuals who hold leadership positions. I continued to see how off the mark leaders were regarding changing conditions that affect generations, demographics and cultural influences in an evolving society and the workplace throughout my career. My goal is to share my experiences and education with employees and leaders alike, hoping to positively impact employees’ experiences worldwide.

Q: How have the main drivers that motivate employees today changed from what they might have been a few years ago?

A: As people, organizations, technology and our society evolve, so do our motivational influences. While basic hygiene needs are denominational pillars, the stuff we place above that line shifts based on the employee’s environment and the individuals within that environment. These drivers “feel” different today compared to what an employee’s experience was five and ten years ago. This includes how we’d like to receive information, express our opinions, our communication approach, decision-making delivery, and what we expect from those to whom we report.

Q: What have you noticed about the makeup of today’s typical employee that might have spurred that change?

A: Because of the advancement of technology, ever-increasing social display of experiences, access to information, and the exposure of better opportunities, employees are entering and exiting the workforce more fluidly in terms of transitioning between self-employment or staying employed long-term with one employer. These individuals have a greater expression of pride and expectations from their leaders and the organizations they work for because the mindset is they can find something better someplace else or do something more significant for themselves. So, because the workforce’s tolerance today is not as absolving, the employee’s motivational driver to be committed must “feel” beneficial to them. If employees don’t experience the value they can gain, they are apt to look outwardly due to an evolving mindset.

Q: What do you think is the single biggest mistake leaders make when it comes to motivating employees?

A: Making incorrect assumptions. However, this misjudgment can be further defined as judging without knowing their teams, having a preferential mindset, being closed-minded, and applying old-school management approaches that feel like a command-and-control style. Unfortunately, these practices still exist in organizations today. These actions deflate employees and any motivation or desire they would otherwise have to stay under the direction of a leader, and it certainly removes any feelings of allegiance.

Q: Can you recall an example of perhaps the most creative, innovative strategy or concept a leader used to effectively motivate an employee or employees?

A: It was a department exercise that was conducted as a team. The exercise involved both the completion of Tom Rath’s strengths finder assessment and the group’s participation in a wordle activity. The strengths finder assessment was conducted to identify the team’s strengths collectively, which was socialized with the team through facilitator assistance. Before completing the assessments, everyone in the department had to provide five words (single words) to describe each team member. The words were for the creation of individual wordles that each person on the team received. 

The strengths finder exercise was intended to validate and bring to light individual strengths to leverage while working with and alongside others. The team was presented with their wordle during the strengths finder exercise and then asked to see if any of their strengths showed up on the wordle. They were asked to see what words were most pronounced because that is the perception that others have of them. The team had to reflect on the most pronounced words from the wordle and their strengths to develop a strategy to create balance from a leadership influence and employee perception standpoint. The goal was to assess if those perceptions inflated or deflated others. 

Q: How has the discipline of employee motivation changed in a COVID world, with virtual meetings and employees basically working from home?

A: As social beings, the distance that is required has created seclusion fatigue. So, the need to activate our teams becomes a challenge when we cannot be in the same room, under the same roof, or within 6 feet of each other. The concept of motivation becomes much needed. Leaders must be concerned with emotional and physical well-being, relational connections, conveying value, employee distractions, and their team’s overall commitment. So essentially, leaders must tactically create balance in motivational approaches and their employee’s needs. It may require moving the dial up more in one domain (i.e., recognition and rewards) and turning the dial down in another domain (e.g., email communications). 

Q: The X Factor is the first in a planned series of books. What’s next?

A: The next book will provide application strategies that build on employee engagement, the experiences reported by employees, and how to create a workplace culture that fosters an engaged workforce. The sum of this content will come from the research I am conducting. The third book will provide concepts that can be applied to develop a high-performing team, which will build on the High-Five Model. Lastly, the fourth book focuses on leveraging and balancing our strengths to be influential leaders, incorporating concepts regarding sustaining healthy workplace cultures.

Buy this book!

About Demi Gray:

Demi Gray is a human resources and business executive who has worked in multiple industries including healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and fast-food logistics. She is the managing partner of Accelerate MD, serves on the board for AcceleratingME, and is a board advisor for various non-profit organizations. As a part of her pursuit, she has led talent management initiatives that have impacted more than 150,000 team members over the course of her career. She thrives off helping people flourish in their lives.