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Your Team Isn’t a Family. Here’s How to Motivate Them Instead.

Topics: Career Advice
motivate your team

Managers, have you ever heard yourself say, “We’re more than a team, here. We’re like family?”

If so, stop right there. While it might sound like a good way to motivate your team, claiming to be a family is more likely to inspire eye rolls than productivity. Why? Because your reports know you’re fibbing — even if you think you’re telling the truth.

“When it comes to motivating your team, one of the biggest problems ‘family’ language creates is the obvious one: you’re not a family,” writes David Dye at Let’s Grow Leaders. “One big difference that I’ve seen create problems for many businesses is the idea that you can’t fire a brother or sister for poor performance.”

Why Your Team Isn’t a Family

Consider the following:

One-fifth of American workers were laid off during the last recession, according to a survey from Rutgers University.

That means your team members almost certainly have direct experience with layoffs — either their own or that of a family member or close friend. They know that no job is forever.

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Wages have stagnated since the recession. Per The PayScale Index, real wages — the value of workers’ paychecks with inflation — tumbled 1.8 percent last quarter and are now worth 9.3 percent less than in 2006.

PayScale research shows that not every worker can “quit their way to higher pay.” Software developers who stay put earn 10 percent less than new hires, for example, while administrative assistants who stick with the same company earn 19 percent more.

However, raises at many organizations average 3 percent a year. As a result, many workers see job hopping as a way to boost pay.

This all adds up to an economic picture in which workers have to consider their own bottom lines when calculating the value of loyalty to an employer.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Per The PayScale Index, real wages — the value of workers’ paychecks with inflation — tumbled 1.8 percent last quarter and are now worth 9.3 percent less than in 2006.” quote=”Per The PayScale Index, real wages — the value of workers’ paychecks with inflation — tumbled 1.8 percent last quarter and are now worth 9.3 percent less than in 2006.”]

Every team member is not equally valuable.

Hopefully, you love your children equally. But your boss doesn’t “love” you and your colleagues the same way, nor do you equally value your direct reports. And you shouldn’t.

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, famously gave a presentation in which he stated, “We’re a team, not a family.” He asked managers to ask themselves, “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep at Netflix? The other people should get a generous severance now so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.”

In reality, there’s only so much money in the budget. Smart companies use their compensation dollars to reward workers they want to keep. That means those with hot skills, high performance, or both.

A Better Way to Motivate Your Team

The fact is, your reports don’t need you to love them … or even like them. Here’s what they need you to do instead:

1. Offer Clarity About Goals and Culture

Anxiety saps productivity, and there’s nothing more anxiety-producing than not knowing where you stand. Most companies have goals against which success is measured, but for workers, that might be a once-a-year evaluation — something to worry about when it looms on the calendar, but not part of the daily conversation.

Motivating a team requires communication. That means using your one-on-ones to check on progress and potential roadblocks, but also having ongoing conversations about company culture — and being honest about what you expect and where the organization is going.

“Clarify your culture (How people like us act) with regard to how you will treat one another with respect, compassion, and hold one another accountable,” writes Dye. “If growth is in your future, talk about how it will require more role clarity and more structure, and how treating one another with respect, compassion, and holding each other accountable should never change.”

2. Communicate About Pay

We work for a number of reasons, but money is usually No. 1. (Don’t believe me? Think of how many of your reports would stick around if they won the lottery.)

You may have limited power over how much your team members are paid, but you can: a) use your compensation budget to reward the people you want to keep, as previously discussed, and b) push for better communication about pay.

Pay transparency is a spectrum. Not every organization will want to reveal what every employee is making — nor should they. But workers should understand why they’re being paid as they are.

Are you being paid enough? Take PayScale’s Salary Survey and find out.

3. Support Work-Life Balance

Team-building activities are all well and good, but what your reports really want … is to go home to their actual families.

“The best companies aren’t families,” writes Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson at Signal v. Noise. “They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. There to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour, they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.”

Respect those needs, and you’ll reap the productivity- and loyalty-boosting benefits of work-life balance.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you work for a team that actually does seem like a family? We want to hear your perspective. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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