We did it! We achieved our goal! My friends managed to keep me company until km 25 and I finished the marathon alongside 10,162 runners.
What’s more we had fun doing it, enjoying Madrid all around the race course. My friends finished so well that they commented, over well-deserved beers after the race, that next year they’d do the whole thing with me. They were euphoric and hyper motivated; the marathon spirit had invaded them and even some dared to propose to cover the distance in another marathon closer in time.
Now I’d like to analyze with you the motivating factors that can drive all these people, including myself, and the analogy between these motivating factors and employee motivation within companies. Runners who on average spend four to five months training and prepping for a one-day race, going out to run in any climatic conditions, more often alone, paying to run, knowing that they may be among the 30% who won’t finish or the 15% who abandon on the wayside because of injuries sustained during the preparation, and knowing they will not win… Running is one of the most accessible and comfortable sports to practice; all it takes is to put on the right shoes, a t-shirt and sweat pants, then go. Investment is minimal and it doesn’t require any fixed timetable and it can be done any time of the day. That’s why it is one of the easiest sports to adapt to your other personal and professional activities. The latter was the main reason why I started to run, my numerous business trips blocked me from other team sports or taking up an activity that required a fixed time or place.
If we extrapolate to the business world, can we put in measures to make an employee’s working life more comfortable and easier, reconciling personal and professional lives and yet achieving increased productivity? If we manage to apply the technology we have at hand today, it’s possible. Technology allows us to create more intuitive and configurable work tools with completely automated and intelligent processes, with faster access from anywhere anytime and any device, allowing employees to telework part-time or full time.
Ever since I started to run, I have quite independently set myself personal objectives as an amateur long distance runner. Form my first ever goal to run more than half an hour continuously, to the last one I set last year to finish a marathon under 4 hours while maintaining a constant rhythm, enjoying the entire race course and finishing with the energy to celebrate.
Over the first five years, my evolution was very fast because I ran races accompanied by friends who had been running for longer and they had already achieved every one of the goals I had set myself. Their experience, advice and my own personal motivation to achieve what they had done beforehand helped me to achieve whatever I was setting myself.
The following three years I stagnated and even began to do worse times, and I stopped running classic races due to a lack of motivation. I trained and ran alone and didn’t enjoy it in the same way as before or like now.
Over the last two years, friends have been joining me while training and in races—friends with less experience than I who wanted to progress and grow with me. Their desire to achieve the objectives I had surpassed has motivated me to train better, above all to go out and train more in a group. They have also proposed some changes in training sessions and they have proposed to run new races which have made me improve my times in shorter and mid-distance races and they have helped me to finish the marathon in the time I had planned in good conditions.
I am telling you all this because other motivating factors I think can be mapped onto the work environment are autonomy and team work. If we can engage employees to set their own objectives, with the same independence as a runner, based on some overall goals aligned with the company’s strategy, and we give them autonomy to achieve them, we will give the employee a sense of being in charge, responsibility and commitment over the daily tasks and goals set. We all like to learn and surpass ourselves, and more so, when this has been of our own initiative. In addition, this freedom makes something flow that brings much value to companies in these difficult times—our creativity, our ideas for improving the business, engagement, and commitment to the company. What’s more, if we manage to make this individual form part of a team and we detect that they want or propose the same goals and motivations, this spurs a multiplying effect in efficiency and productivity on the job individually—just like I did, by getting involved with my friends in the marathon as a shared project. And what if we gave any employee the chance to participate in an on-going project, or to propose a project, and we assess whether to provide the tools and let this individual pick the team of choice?
Let’s dig in further into the issue of an employee’s individual growth. What if we open up the development plans of a company, and we make it possible for any employee to opt for any position even if it is not in their personal career path? Does it make sense to review the career path of each employee every once in a while, taking into consideration the expertise and competencies acquired in this period of time? What about publishing and offering the option to allow any employee to sign up for a course he or she may be interested in even though it’s targeted to staff from another department? And what of giving the option to employees to propose other kinds of training courses they may be interested in receiving?
Daniel Pink, writer, lecturer and work dynamics specialist states that if we learn to help employees to grow individually, as they attain their goals, the work environment will improve significantly. They will work more efficiently and there will be a virtuous circle created. I completely agree. My individual growth as a runner has improved the atmosphere in the group of runners we created and this has also resulted in an exponential growth of the entire group. At the same time, the growth of my group fed the individual and group growth of all other runners in each race, spiraling in such a way that each runner independently and autonomously set his or her own limits.
I would also like to talk about personal recognition and that from others as a motivational factor. When I run and achieve the goals I set myself, I have an indescribable sense of wellbeing. All efforts have borne fruit. I feel good because I have achieved the goals I set myself—goals I thought were unattainable a while back. I am still savoring this wellbeing from running the marathon a few days ago. There’s also is recognition from others, the unconditional support from the people out on the streets cheering me at each race. In the last one, I was overwhelmed to see a man begging at the doors of a supermarket, forget about his condition for a few hours, and instead, relentlessly cheer runners and enjoy the party. Likewise the recognition stemming from the congratulations from your friends, loved ones, work colleagues and acquaintances on reaching goals. All this makes my self-esteem and capacity to surpass myself rise to other challenges in life.
In the working world, recognition for work well done is very important. We have to value the efforts taken and compensate as far as possible. A simple private or public congratulations or gesture of appreciation may be enough to reinforce the trust of our employees and boost their motivations to achieve new goals.
Here I leave you, I have to prepare a presentation for the inauguration of a training plan targeted at young graduates who are currently doing an HR masters degree and want to enter the labor force—future HR professionals, who are increasingly better prepared, by the looks of their resumes. I shall start as always, focusing on the person, and the rest we will build together. The most important thing is the individual people above companies, organizations, governments, countries and the famous venture capital funds. And as always, it’s people who will ensure through their efforts that everything improves over time, and we can motivate many more employees who do not currently have even the chance to work.
For people who believe in people, reporting from the Retiro Park in Madrid whilst enjoying the ambience as I write this article, your humble servant who continues to believe in you.