On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I sat in front of a slot machine and fed that blasted thing more than it was giving back. Even though I was losing at the time, I found myself unable to walk away and continued to bet one "pull" after another. A tidy profit that I'd made at the roulette table soon dwindled down to nothing. When I made my last bet, I looked around the casino floor at the hundreds of others who sat there doing the exact same thing. I wondered, with the odds so stacked against winning at slots, how did Vegas keep us playing until our money was gone? It had to be more than just blind greed throwing dollar after dollar into the slot machine in hopes that the big jackpot was just a pull away. Then, suddenly, I watched the machine next to me coax another gambler into playing. Only then did I see that the machine itself was motivating us to play. It was using techniques that kept human beings seated for hours while it slowly took their money. It motivated them. It motivated them using strategies that many managers should be willing to pay to learn.
Make the game fun and easy
We humans are a lazy lot at times. We take the easy road. We like doing the enjoyable. We like having fun. Slots appeal to us by dazzling us with brightly colored lights that twinkle and flash. Grabbing our attention from across a crowded room and beckon us to play. It calls our name with bells, music, and cute little sound effects. Never mind that fact that it intends to rob us, it makes us happy with dancing digital cartoons, spinning wheels, and bonus rounds. We gladly heed its call and sit down to play. No one forces us. We're happy to do it.
Upon beginning a project, many managers forget the importance of motivating their team members to the point that they are excited to be involved in the project. I'm not talking about deceiving employees into blindly marching into a dull and boring job but, instead, mean that managers often don't sell the opportunities that are inherent in the project. They forget to talk about why the project has to be done and the benefits that the team members and the organization will accrue at the completion of the project. The managerial expectations run from, "I expect this done because I said so," to "It has to be done, so suck it up and get to it." Few take the time to motivate before the work begins. There is no time allocated to encourage and uplift. Properly motivated, team members should be so itching to get started that they simply can't sit still, they are excited to get started.
Minimize the effects of the losses
When the button is pushed to place a wager on a slot machine, the amount of the wager is deducted quickly and quietly. One hardly even notices that the bet has been deducted from the monies that they may have in the machine. After a single losing game is over, the wheels stop spinning and the digital display stops. The slot machine simply sits there and does nothing. It doesn't nag, scream, or berate the bettor. It doesn't ridicule and embarrass. It attempts to make the loss as painless as possible.
Some managers, however, adhere to the philosophy that employees must be "encouraged" by nags, threats, and tirades. When the project hits a rough spot, the only way to get the team through it is to bring out the whips and force everyone through. They "lead" from the back, using the whip to force their team members forward instead of leading from the front. Mistakes are exaggerated and employees are made to be examples of what not to do.
Managers, instead, should be keeping employee morale high by minimizing the effects of any difficulty or losses. This is not to say that managers must gloss over screw-ups and lost ground because of problems. Instead, they must admit that difficulties are being experienced, but they can be overcome by perseverance and hard work. Setbacks are temporary and can be defeated. Managers should be making obstacles (losses to a gambler) smaller in appearance and conquerable, inspiring the team to greatness. Defeatist attitudes and negative communication demoralize teams into inaction or mutiny. So, in slot machine terms, minimize the losses.
Celebrate the wins!
I may have bet $5 and won 25 cents, but the slot machine will celebrate that win as if I had doubled my money. It does so loudly by playing happy music, ringing bells and the lights and screen burst with bright colors. In addition, it insists on counting each of those 25 cents one at a time as they're deposited into my account. It stretches out the good feelings about that win as long as it can. Wow! Don't I feel special! I'm dying to pull that handle again!
Celebrating "wins" during the course of a project is important for team morale. It also shows the team members that you are tracking their progress and noticing when they do well. Everyone loves a pat on the back and to feel appreciated. These rewards are important to team members. Remember the old adage, "What gets rewarded, gets done!" Opportunities for rewards should be built into each project by the manager to maintain project momentum.
Some managers will read this and say, "Simple stuff! I already knew that." Yet, as Tony Robbins states, "Many people know what to do, but few people do what they know." The fact that many employees have negative feelings about their bosses seems to validate Robbins' assertion. So, go and do what you know about motivating your team members.