Turning ’Em On

Motivating your staff members to do the best job they can involves creating an energized atmosphere. Consider the following eight ideas.

By Dr. Vincent Mumford

Vincent Mumford, EdD, is Director of the Sports Leadership Program at the University of Central Florida. He is the former Athletic Director at the College of Southern Maryland and Baltimore City Community College.

Athletic Management, 15.3, April/May 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1503/gpturningon.htm

Why it is that employees in some athletic departments are highly motivated, whereas employees in other athletic departments are discouraged and downtrodden? The answer to this $64,000 question may lie in your leadership. As the athletic director, you have the ability to shape the environment in your workplace.

Creating the right environment starts with developing a strategic plan that gets everyone involved. It also entails giving staff members the right direction and feedback. The following eight steps will transform your athletic department into a place that operates more efficiently and effectively.

1. Create Excitement
The reason many of your coaches and staff members are apathetic at your meetings or when you unveil the department’s new strategic plan may be because they have not been included in the process. If you want to increase productivity and performance, you must seek their input. The more input you can get from your staff members—about the direction of the department and the jobs you expect them to perform—the more likely they are to buy into the plans.

Including them in the process also encourages them to grow. A new strategic plan gives everyone a chance to assess their performance, so ask your staff members what it will take for them to succeed. Get their viewpoints on needed resources. Invite their suggestions and ideas on how to improve their jobs. Ask them how you can help.

When you include your coaches and staff in the improvement process, you get them motivated. They’ll share valuable information on how you can raise the bar of your department’s performance. They may also share important information you might have overlooked or failed to consider. Establishing goals together gets employees excited about their jobs.

2. Create Energy
Staff members should be encouraged to feel connected to department-wide strategic plans by developing their own individual strategic plans. Have each staff member work jointly with her or his supervisor to develop specific “Energy Goals” based on the department’s overall strategic plan and the institution’s priorities. An Energy Goal is one that can only be accomplished by new levels of creativity and innovation.

Developing Energy Goals will take your staff above and beyond the status quo. Energy Goals will also make their work more challenging.

Most people want challenging work, but they may not like having higher expectations forced on them. Make sure your employees know that you are sincerely trying to help them grow and improve. Make it a point to explain how their work adds value to the department and how their performance affects the performance of others. Part of establishing Energy Goals means helping your coaches and staff see the big picture and the role they play in it.

3. Create Order
One of the things that can undermine employee motivation is not knowing exactly what is expected of them, so it’s important to translate Energy Goals into specific expectations with results that can be measured. For example, if you expect your coaches to raise a percentage of their budget, give them a specific dollar amount.

Invite discussion on this matter and listen carefully to what your staff members have to say. Encourage each person to establish his or her own parameters for measuring performance based on what he or she considers to be realistic.

For example, the goals of your Associate Athletic Director of External Operations could be: increase attendance by 10 percent in football, increase season ticket sales by 10 percent, and increase television advertisement revenue by 15 percent.

Also discuss how you plan to assess aspects of their performance that are not measured in numbers. For example, what does it mean to be: outstanding, exceeds expectations, meets expectations, below expectations, unsatisfactory? Be precise and unambiguous when defining your criteria and stay away from vague descriptions. It is neither fair nor honest to hold someone accountable for something you failed to define.

Involving employees in setting performance standards is a smart leadership practice for several reasons:

• It develops an atmosphere of openness.
• It identifies obstacles.
• It improves communication.
• It promotes acceptance.

To improve performance you must be able to define your expectations. Getting everyone on the same page helps eliminate chaos and creates order.

4. Create Action
The secret to getting ahead of the competition is getting started. Once you have developed goals and set standards for performance, plan a course of action based on each person’s experience and ability. Then—and this is very important—do something! If the changes seem too complex or overwhelming to your staff members, work with them to break the tasks into small, manageable pieces, and then have them start on the first one.

Stay away from the old “my way or the highway” mindset, and be flexible when it comes to accomplishing goals. Provide your staff members with the structure and framework—the box—but stop short of telling them how to accomplish their goals. Instead, talk to them as if they are your business partners, and encourage entrepreneurial thinking among the entire staff.

For example, if your goal is to increase attendance, tell your coach about the strategic priority but let her or him come up with a way to accomplish the goal. When I was Athletic Director at the College of Southern Maryland, I talked to my men’s basketball coach about my goal of increasing attendance. I was amazed at all the good ideas he had but had never shared because no one had ever asked him. The next year, we set a conference record for attendance, based primarily on his ideas and my “box.”

5. Create Opportunity
When creating individual goals for your staff members, think carefully about each employee. How can you challenge highly self-motivated employees? Consider broadening their scope of responsibility. Give them the opportunity to make decisions and direct projects. If your development officer has successfully served on the golf tournament committee for several years, encourage her to take on a greater decision-making role in the event.

The goal here is not to give your staff members more work. The goal is to recognize them for taking initiative and to help them grow. They need to know that you appreciate their efforts and want to give them more opportunities to excel on the job. If there is no positive reinforcement, employees will not feel like making any changes. Establishing an atmosphere of opportunity motivates employees by providing them with not only a chance to learn but also with a chance to grow.

6. Create a Presence
You can’t always know when a staff member is having problems. You can’t always know whether someone feels too uncomfortable to walk into your office. Therefore, you must be accessible.

Make time to walk around your department, and observe how things are going. Don’t wait until the end of the season to check in with your business manager. Follow up on the jobs being performed by your employees while the season is in progress.

7. Create Rewards
You must make a link between the behavior you desire from your employees and the rewards you hope to give them. Why? Because things that get rewarded get done! It’s that simple.

If every senior on the women’s tennis team graduates, give the coaches a bonus. Money, however, does not have to be the only reward. Rewards can include:

• greater autonomy
• more responsibility
• a promotion
• more support
• additional resources
• special recognition
• flexible work hours

Ask your employees what rewards are meaningful to them. The coach who hopes to move to a higher level may want more resources. The coach who aspires to become an administrator may want additional responsibilities.

8. Create Fun
Your employees should look forward to coming to work. The terms “work” and “fun” do not have to be at odds with each other. People who have fun at work usually work harder and achieve better results. Fun is a valuable resource that can be used to relieve tension and stress, bring people closer together, increase productivity, improve communication, and enhance employee morale.

Need some ideas? Arrange a department bowling night. Appoint a Fun Committee. Celebrate employee birthdays. Provide food at meetings. These are but a few ways to make your department a fun place to work. Establishing an environment of fun helps people enjoy their work and makes their jobs feel more meaningful. They will become more productive, more open to improvement, and more concerned with the quality of their work.

As the leader, recognize that you have the ability to create a more positive work environment. Are your staff members motivated or apathetic? Are they open to new ideas or do they simply want to maintain the status quo? Are they working towards the big picture or are they stuck in a cycle of procrastination?

You should use every tool at your disposal to create a more positive work environment. When your staff members are more motivated and can recognize the connection between their own interests and the interests of the department, they will work harder to achieve success. Your time invested up front will pay dividends in the future.