How to Keep Your Team Motivated to Perform and also Retain Them in your Organization?

Date: 10 October 2017

From my 27 years experience in the army and 22 years in the civil street as an entrepreneur, I have seen my team in uniform then and now, in civil dress! There is lots of similarity between the two and some are dissimilar. In the case of soldiers and officers of the army whom I was privileged to command, they were a disciplined body and retention was never an issue. But in the civil street this could be a major issue as attitudes and expectations are different. In the army you will accept the boss because he is the boss. Here, you can change the company and get a new boss!

Management of human resources is a command function and needs good leadership. Man management as it is called in the army is different. We have to train our soldiers and officers at various levels for war.  They should know their roles in different operations of war and be prepared to undertake multi-tasks, when and if necessary. Of course, there are some who handle the same weapon system life long but with experience they will be given additional responsibilities. To the officers and soldiers, training is an essential part of life, since we do not know when war may happen. The levels of training will differ with the rank and the terrain where you are to fight the battle. Today, with insurgency and terrorists in our borders and within the country, all fighting arms are trained to operate as foot soldiers and undertake operations even against insurgents or terrorists on our borders.

Motivation of our troops is essentially part of officers’ training. Low morale is direct reflection of low motivation. Officers are constantly reminded for their need to keep their soldiers under their command highly motivated and maintain high morale to perform the task assigned. During my time, in field or border areas when you are facing the enemy, if we notice any soldier showing signs of being worried, his immediate officer would speak to him, find out what is the cause for his worry and find a solution. It may even be as simple as that he had not heard from his wife.  His immediate-officer would even write to the soldier’s wife asking her to write to her husband so that his morale is raised!  Remember those days we did not have decent telephone lines leave alone mobile phones! This requirement may not be there today!

The leadership style when dealing with disciplined men and women in uniform is different than what we require in the civil street. It was and still is a learning experience for me after I hung my boots and became an entrepreneur. I realized that the same methods of man management would not work in the civil street. The method to be adopted needed tweaking.

The biggest lesson for me was that loyalty is not implicit as in the army but depends upon the salary and perks that one can get. In the army we are bound by our contracted period of service and even after that period, we may not be allowed to go home if the army needed our services. Not so in the civil street, where one can resign and look for greener pastures.

But many of the leadership traits that I learnt in the army stood me in good stead when I moved to civil street.  Our Company’s attrition levels are low, even though we are in the services sector – taking care of senior citizens across many cities. We provide services and care to senior citizens.

Some of my learning in the past 22 years as an entrepreneur with regard to management of Human Resources is as follows:

  1. An organization is more important than individuals. This must be stressed at every opportunity and the Team should feel and take proprietorship of the Company. The Company that you are working for is not mine – it is ours.
  2. No one is indispensible. It is always all about teamwork. Yet, ever member of the team has a role to play and this must be not only understood but also demonstrated.
  3. Every human being is different. Never apply the same yardstick in either judging individuals or assign them tasks to perform. Not all are endowed with talent to undertake any task.
  4. Identify talent and groom them for taking more responsibilities in the Company.  The armed forces do it exceedingly well.
  5. If there is a need to fill a vacancy at higher levels of management, first look for such a person within the Company rather than getting some one from out side. This will send a strong message to the Team that “the management recognizes our talent and I can rise in the hierarchy of the organisation
  6. Appreciate good work and let everyone know.
  7. “To error is human but to forgive is divine”.  But in any organisation mistakes will happen. So long the mistake is not intentional but due to error in judgment, pardon such people committing such mistakes. Even the Boss makes mistakes. That does not mean you punish the Boss! If the mistake made was due to error in judgment and you pardon him or her, it will never curb that individual from taking initiatives from which the Company may benefit.
  8. Never curb initiative of any employee. Never say, “You do not know any thing. Listen to me and do it.” On, the contrary ask the person first for his views to solve the problem and then guide him to the solution but make it appear that he or she has found the solution himself or herself. Preservation of one’s self esteem can get you dividends that you have never imagined.  Never hurt one’s self esteem.
  9. Every one says, “customer first and employees second.”  In our Company, which is in the services and care segment, the philosophy is “employees first and customers second.”  It is the management’s thinking that once the employees are taken care of, they will take care of the seniors whom they need to serve with compassion. Concept and strategy can be evolved in any office. It is the execution that will determine if the concept is correct. In our model, the seniors need quality services and care. Who is delivering it to them? Housekeeping staff, cooks, stewards, gardeners, security staff, plumber, electrician, ambulance driver, nurses, caregivers, manager etc. Unless they are motivated to perform, the affected people will be the very seniors who needed to be given the services and care. The only way that the Management has been able to achieve this is by adopting the philosophy towards employees as given above.
  10. The above is from the very same philosophy that we followed in the Army. An officer always came last.  It is the country first and the soldier that he commanded next. For example, if we had to go on a training route march of say 20 kms, with full kit and personal weapon, on our return, the muster is taken, everyone is told of the weaknesses and good points noticed and then the weapons are deposited in the armoury. Thereafter, the soldiers are taken to a place and all of them sit down and remove their boots and socks. Their feet are examined by an officer for any blister and all of them are given warm water to wash their feet. Those needing treatment are given the same. The soldiers are given a hot cup of Cocoa and then only will the officers leave for their quarters.
  11. This is the concern shown to the soldiers’ welfare and this is the bond that we have between officers and soldiers. In the civil, I have to adopt this but in a different format and the format is that for the management, the employee are first because they will take care of the senior citizens and keep up the name of the Company!
  12. Never criticize an employee in public. Call him to your office and tell him what you have to say! Whether you like it not, the employees will discuss and every one will come to know why he or she was called to the Boss’s office! But, by calling him or her to your office and speaking to the employee, you have not hurt his or her self-esteem.
  13. Last but not the least, let not ego dictate your treatment of an employee. Never be harsh with usage of your language. Do not hurt the employee. Humour and smile will pay better dividends when dealing with your employees. Make them feel important. Give them their due. Do not take credit for every thing. Pass the credit even if it is because of your efforts to your employees.

I will stop here as one can go on writing. Human resources management is the toughest element of an organisation. Machines do not think. Humans think and no two individuals are same. Choose your HR Manager correctly. HR Team is to assist the employees and not throw rulebook at them. Many a times, mere listening to the employee’s problem is enough. Finally, it is your ability to make the team feel important which would do wonders to your organisation!

Colonel Achal Sridharan, VSM

Leave a Comment