The pub theory of staff motivation

One thing we’ve noticed in our work is that the pub (or the wine bar) seems to loom pretty large in amateur theories of management. Problems with someone’s performance? Have a chat over a swift half after work one evening. Someone seems to be upset and complaining a lot? Take him out to lunch and have a good heart to heart about it. Time for somebody’s appraisal? Well, you talk every day anyway, don’t you? They seem to be doing fine. Surely it would be more motivational to take the whole team out for the evening ‘as a thank you’ and treat them to a slap up meal. Wouldn’t it? Well no, it wouldn’t.

Now we’d be the last people to argue against a nice pub lunch or a cool glass or two of chardonnay. But, nice though these are, they are not a substitute for a properly structured set of meetings designed to help your team members set specific measurable objectives for their work, give them objective feedback (both positive and constructive) and gain and maintain their full and enthusiastic engagement in your business.

Here’s the basic structure we would recommend, with some basic do’s and don’t’s:

  1. Regular work-in-progress meetings. Most people do hold these, as without them, work doesn’t get done, or tends to go wrong. They might take the form of a weekly (often Monday morning) or daily meeting when everybody shares a (quick) update as to their current activity so the team gets a picture of everything that’s going on.

Do: set a rigorous start and finish time. Hold the meeting standing up if you think it gets a bit cosy. Impose a simple structure and insist people prepare for and stick to it. A good structure might be (from each team member): a) 3 key things the team needs to know about my activity this week and b) 3 top requests for help.

Don’t: let these become a talking shop, with lengthy reports, and everybody settling in with coffee and croissants for a long cosy chat about the work. Don’t, as team leader, confuse these meetings with managing your team!

  1. Regular team meetings. These could be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, but these are the meetings at which you do not discuss daily or weekly work in progress. If the WIP meeting is where you all work ‘in’ your business, these team meetings are where you work ‘on’ your business. What are your priorities? What are the important longer term projects that need to happen which somehow never come up under work in progress? Where do the work flows get blocked? Who is accountable for what? Which projects need a closer look?

Do: record actions as you make decisions, in the form ‘Action’, ‘Who’, ‘by When’. Make sure you assign accountability for each action to one named individual. They don’t have to necessarily do the action personally, but they are accountable for getting it done.

Don’t: be tempted to start resolving every issue right there and then. Stick to your agenda, and if something needs longer discussion, bring the team together again.

  1. Regular 121 meetings with every individual in your team. This should be happening at least monthly, however busy you are, and however experienced the team member. It is your opportunity to review the team member’s progress against their goals (you do have agreed goals with each person, don’t you?), and it’s their opportunity to have some time with you and for both of you to share ideas, ask questions and clear up concerns.

Do: hold these meetings! Always talk about both what the team member is achieving, and how they are achieving it. If they are very experienced, don’t cancel the meeting – take the opportunity to learn from them.

Don’t: cancel the meetings. The process of setting and reviewing performance goals is management. If it’s not happening, you are not managing. It may take some time before people come to trust that you really won’t cancel the meetings if the going gets tough, and that you really do want to talk to them. It can take months sometimes before people (and you!) have the courage to come out with their real concerns, get them on the table and resolve them. That’s when the magic happens.

And when you’ve done all that, discussed the work, got the plans in place and given the feedback everybody needs to hear, then you can go to the pub and just have a good time!