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
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
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
1. Give 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
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.