How to Affect Employee Motivation and Engagement in Challenging Times

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Jordan Birnbaum, ADP's Chief Behavioral Economist, draws a comparison between military management theory and the unique challenges facing business leaders now.

The roots of the field of Industrial / Organizational Psychology (the science behind HR) comes from a surprising place: the US military. It all got started in WWI as officers tried to determine what soldiers should be assigned to what jobs. And ever since, the military has continued as an outsized contributor to the field of employee engagement, driving further our understanding of human behavior, particularly in organizations.

There are many interesting reasons for this. Extreme circumstances uncover crucial insights into human psychology, and no other entity is more familiar with extreme circumstances than the military. The need to engage effectively with large groups of people is literally a life or death challenge. And to put a cherry on top of its psychological relevance, outside of university campuses, there is no greater supply of potential human participants in psychological research. Similar to innovations in technology, advances in our understanding of human psychology is a very positive by-product of our military operations.

As such, it is fitting to look at military strategy for insights that can be useful as we face unprecedented uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. When speaking of the chaos of battle, distinguished generals often discuss the need to resist the urge to centralize command, as conditions change too rapidly for that to be effective. Rather, there must be clarity on intentions, priorities and operating principles so soldiers are able to make real-time determinations based on what is happening around them.

Practical Application

If we think of our leaders as soldiers, and their teams' motivation and engagement during the pandemic as the mission, this is incredibly instructive. We can't tell leaders what to do in every situation. Nor can we have leaders check in for guidance each time something comes up. Instead we must be unambiguous about the intentions, priorities and principles they should use to fashion their responses and actions in the moment.

That's why it is important to revisit the basic underlying contributors (and detractors) to motivation and employee engagement — leaders can use that knowledge to figure out how best to engage with their teams during these unprecedented times. They can begin to approximate what ideas like "autonomy, mastery and relatedness" actually look like in either an extended remote work environment or an on-site business operating under very different operational guidelines and experiences. That's how we best enable our leaders to be effective: share the strategy, let them figure out the tactics, knowing full well that different teams and situations in the same company will nonetheless require very different approaches.

Learn How

And that is why we put together the webinar, "Motivation and Engagement in the New World of Work." Our goal was to provide insights into what you can share with your leaders that will help them to navigate this new world of work which, as I said in the webinar, got here a lot faster and looked a lot different than anyone ever imagined.

Whether you share the session with your leaders directly, or you apply insights from it into messaging and training more applicable to your organization specifically, our hope is that the information empowers you to help your leaders be as effective as possible in driving the motivation and engagement of their teams. After all, this is an outcome in which everyone wins.

Launch the recorded webinar anytime.

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