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Motivational Operations

By Brent Filson

There's an inexorable law operating in business. I call it the law of UP 'Unfulfilled Potential. One can see aspects of this law working in other areas: For instance, in neurophysiology, humans are supposed to use only a fraction of our brains' capabilities; in technology, superconductivity is not yet widely available; and in medicine, the harnessing of the body's abilities to fight cancers is only just beginning to be understood and realized.

But the law of UP is particularly dominant in the business world 'and especially in operations. Operations is the blocking and tackling of any organization, the fundamentals that create the foundation for consistent success.

It's such an important function that in many companies the Chief Operating Officer is usually the next in line for the job of CEO. If a company is not doing operations well, all of its other functions are diminished.

Having consulted with operations leaders in a variety of top companies for two decades, I've seen that many are unfortunately strict adherents to the law of UP 'for one main reason: They've neglected an all-important results-driver, motivation.

Clearly, many factors further operational excellence: capital, cycle time, technological advancements, quality, efficiencies, etc. But motivation is the most fundamental, operational determinant at all, for it drives all the others.

After all, operations is the sum of people doing many jobs; and when skilled people are motivated to accomplish those jobs, great results happen.

But many operations perceive motivation as "soft" 'as opposed to the "hard" factors of cycle time, quality control, etc. 'and so either ignore it or struggle with actualizing it on a daily basis.

I see motivation, however, as a "hard" determinant of operations that can be a concrete, a practical results-producer.

I'm going to provide four imperatives that you can use right away to achieve consistent increases in operational results. But before I do, I'll offer a working description of motivation. For leaders often fail to motivate others because those leaders misunderstand the concept of motivation.

The best way for me to describe it is to describe what it is not.
Motivation is not what people think or feel. It's what people do. Look at the first two letters of the word, "mo." When you see those letters in a word, such as "motor", "motion", "momentum", "mobile", etc., it usually means action of some kind. Look at motivation as action too. If people are not taking action, they are in point of fact not motivated.

Motivation is not something we can do to somebody else. It is always something that that someone else does to themselves. Look back over your career, and you will see that the motivator and the "motivatee" were always the same person. As a leader, you communicate, but the people whom you want to motivate must motivate themselves.

Motivation is not a dispassionate dynamic. It is an "emotional" dynamic. The words "motivation" and "emotion" come from the same Latin root word, which means "to move." When we want to move (motivate) people to take action, or in truth have them motivate themselves, we engage their emotions. Put another way: People will not take action for more results faster continually unless their emotions are engaged.

Finally, the best way to enter into a motivational relationship with people is not by distant communication but the kind of face-to-face speech that has people make the choice to be committed to your cause.

Those are descriptions of what motivation truly is. But descriptions alone won't help you meet the challenges of UP. You must follow clear imperatives to help you transform descriptions into results.

Here are four that will help you cultivate motivational operations.

ive leadership talks not presentations. The difference between a presentation and a leadership talk is what Mark Twain said the difference between the almost right word and the right word is. "That is the difference," he said, "between the lightning bug and lightning."

Let's understand the basic difference between the presentation and the leadership talk. Presentations communicate information; but leadership talks have people believe in you, follow you, and, most important of all, want to take leadership for your cause.

My experience has taught me that 95% of all communication in business is accomplished through the presentations. However, if 95% of communication were accomplished through the leadership talk instead, leaders would be far more effective in getting results.

So before you speak to people, and leaders speak 15 to 20 and more times a day, ask yourself if you are simply providing information or are you motivating those people to motivate themselves to take action for results.

2. Create motivational systems. Most operational leaders are good a systemizing quality initiatives, cycle time, efficiencies, etc. But few understand that some of the most important systems they can put into place are systems that help people make the choice for motivation.

A particularly effective motivational system is one that saturates operations with "cause leaders."

Unquestionably, people accomplish a task better if they are not simply doing it but taking leadership of it instead. When we are challenged to take leadership, we raise our performance to much higher levels. With that in mind, create systems that identify cause leaders, challenge them to take specific leadership action, and support those actions through systematized training and resource allocations.

3. See results not as an end but as a motivational process. Clearly, you have to get results. But many operations leaders misunderstand what results are about. I teach leaders the concept of achieving "more results faster continually" 'not by speeding up but instead by slowing down and working less, by putting the motivational imperatives into practice. Leaders understand the "more results faster" aspect 'but they often stumble when it comes to the "continually" aspect.

We can usually order people to get more results faster. But we can't order people to do it on a continual basis. That's where motivation comes in. Instead of ordering people to go from point A to point B, say, we must have them want to go from A to B. That "want to" is the heart of "continually."

When we understand results this way, understand that we must achieve "more, faster" on a continual basis, then we begin to make motivational operations a way of life.

4. Challenge people to be motivational leaders. The imperatives are powerful when you use them consistently. But they are even more powerful when you have your leaders use them and teach others to use them. After all, you alone can't create motivational operations. You need others to help you do it, especially those mid-level and small-unit leaders. If they are not putting the imperatives into practice every day, your attempts to raise the standards of operations to a consistently high motivational level will falter.

Define the success of your leadership by how well your leaders are leading, and you are well on your way to making motivational operations a reality.

Once you begin to institute motivational operations by applying the four imperatives, the law of Unfulfilled Potential becomes your competitor's worry, not yours.

2005 'The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author
The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He has worked with thousands of leaders worldwide during the past 20 years helping them achieve sizable increases in hard, measured results. Sign up for his free leadership ezine and get a free guide, "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at

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