We’ve been into the Corona crisis for more than half a year now. Sadly the number of people getting infected is on the rise again. Traveling back and forth between Germany and the Czech Republic, I have seen a vast array of measures that have helped both countries fight the virus spread during the past months.
But this morning, I’ve made a new experience. I jumped over to a close-by supermarket just to grab a liter of fresh milk. Upon arriving at the entrance, I was stopped by two sales assistants who guarded the door. They told me in a determined and less friendly way that I had to go back and take a shopping cart from the outside before entering the shop.
After my initial response of puzzlement had faded away, I was like… ” sure, not a big deal. Look, I am just curious, can you tell me what it is exactly good for?”. The young men looked at each other as if hit off-guard and then both chimed into the statement, “No, our boss, the branch manager, didn’t tell us, we are just following an order”
My puzzlement returned, but more substantially. I was wondering whether I experienced just an anecdotal report on poor communication between the branch manager and his sub-ordinates or whether it was reflective of the manager’s leadership style in general. If the latter was the case, I witnessed one of the most prominent sins leaders can commit from a motivational perspective, telling people what to do without linking it to a purpose or a rationale at a minimum.
As humans, we get only fully engaged in activities that we identify with and have our fullest buy-in. We then act from a high-quality motivational outlook, bringing in all our capacities; science refers to it as autonomous motivation. An autonomously motivated and engaged sales assistant would have reacted differently. The conversation could have taken the following course.
“Good morning Sir, may we kindly ask you to use a shopping cart. At your convenience, we have already grabbed one for you. As you might know, the Coronavirus infections are again on the increase. The safety of you as our customer is of the highest priority to us. We have realized that people are more likely to keep the required distance at the check-out when having a cart in front of them. We hope for your understanding and apologize if this causes any inconvenience to you. We wish you a great day”
The difference a highly engaged salesperson – or employee in general terms – can make to the bottom line of the business is easily recognizable. Unfortunately, globally speaking only 1/3rd of the workforce is actively engaged. Any change for the better starts with the direct leader. It’s them who can create an environment in which people’s needs like autonomy are met. It doesn’t always take much.
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