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Creating a climate of motivation and learning

Civil servants are often stereotyped as lazy and unmotivated. However, in my 23 years of fleet experience, I have met some of the most talented, proactive and motivated employees any organization could have. On the other hand, there is a cycling of motivation that goes up and down depending on the environment, which is greatly affected by management.

In my experience, management often does not know the effect they have on their subordinates and only manages to create a positive work place by chance. My goal is to develop a program that creates a work environment in which employees are highly productive, highly motivated and which is a “win-win” for all levels.

Some research has shown that unmotivated staffs are more than just lazy. They are also not proactive and are afraid to make decisions. Remarks such as the following reflect the symptoms of an unmotivated staff: “The more you work, the more mistakes you make, so don’t do anything unless you have to. And even then, do as little as possible,” or, “We just do our jobs and play it safe. We are not paid to make our own judgments. It is perfectly acceptable to seek and follow the boss’s instructions every time,” or, “Why bother making suggestions? Let’s check how the job was done last time and follow suit.”

Among the common reasons government workers give as to why they are not motivated are the following: office politics; having to always perform repetitive and simple tasks; unclear instructions; organizational visions, missions and values that are not clearly communicated; vague and contradicting instructions; unproductive meetings; unfairness; lack of information; discouraging responses; tolerance of poor performance; over-control or micro-management; and no recognition of achievements.

Part of the solution is to focus on empowerment, particularly on a special form of empowerment called delegation. Evidence shows that empowered employees are more productive, more satisfied and more innovative, and that they create higher quality products and services than un-empowered workforce employees. On the other hand, empowerment means giving up control and letting others make decisions, set goals, accomplish results and receive rewards. It means that other people will probably get credit for success.

Various organizational scholars, such as Gerhart (2003), Steers, Porter & Bigley (1996) and Vroom (1964), have summarized the determinants of task performance in the following equation: Performance = Ability x Motivation (where Ability = Aptitude x Training x Resources, and Motivation or Effort = Desire x Commitment).

Aptitude refers to the native skills and abilities a person brings to a job. Most of our inherent abilities can be enhanced by education and training. Motivation represents an employee’s desire and commitment to perform, and is manifested in job-related effort. Areas I address in my program are supplying resources, training, and redesigning the current evaluation program to motivate the employees.

I start my program by focusing on motivation and establishing clear performance expectations. Supervisors and their assigned personnel will be asked to establish their own set of goals and create a mission statement that will be measurable and achievable. My hope is to have all employees buy into the goals and mission statements that they help develop.

Within 60 days of the start of this program, I personally visit each work location to provide feedback opportunities for clarifying expectations, adjusting goal difficulty and gaining recognition and trust. My job is to support the work environment, reward, discipline and mentor when able. The more feedback individuals receive about how well they are performing their jobs, the more knowledge of the results they have.

Getting people to buy into this program and believe that it should and could be a “win-win” situation will most likely differ at each and every work location. The goal of a “win-win” arrangement is to make all parties feel good about the decision and committed to the action plan. In “win-win,” people evaluate themselves, using the criteria that they helped to create upfront.

The reward system must also be in line with established goals and values. The character of a motivated staff is reflected through its actions. A motivated staff should be energetic and full of initiative, committed to serving the workplace, wanting to think for themselves, appreciative of recognition and challenges, seeking opportunities to improve their capabilities, taking proactive and positive action to solve problems, believing that they can contribute and make a difference, and setting their own challenging but achievable work targets.

My plan starts with giving the whole division time every two weeks to discuss and develop a set of goals and a mission statement for their work location. They must also come up with a plan to evaluate whether they are meeting their goals. I hope to see a first draft of their goals and mission statement within 60 days. These documents will not be written in stone, and they should be updated and changed annually, or as needed, to keep all employees on the same course as the mission and goals of the entire division.

Within the established goals, the needs of the employees and management, as well as the mission, must be addressed. Specific areas that I want them to address are safety, quality, cleanliness, improvements, professionalism and anything else that they feel is important to them and their fleet operations. Some of the free time is just for the workers to interact and maybe have a barbecue and share family or personal stories. My goal is to build morale and have most of the employees buy into the new programs. All employees will be reminded that their job is crucial for the safety and vehicle availability of the fleet.

The second part of this program is to redevelop the current evaluation program, which uses a set of tasks and standards for each member of the division. These tasks and standards are somewhat basic, and neither the supervisor nor the employee has had any input as to what is rated. The whole program is seen as an exercise and an annual chore with no real benefit to anyone.

Evaluations are only reviewed when someone is getting promoted. Some supervisors give all the employees the same rating, which only serves to help the lowest performers. Proactive workers, after a few years of seeing this, start to slow down, failing to see the need to work harder when no one cares about or recognizes quality work.

I have all my supervisors trained to know the importance of giving true and honest evaluations. The goal is to foster a work environment in which people are empowered and motivated to contribute to continuous learning, performance improvement and mission accomplishment, while ensuring accountability and fairness for all employees. This will most likely cause some hard feelings among lower performers when they receive the ratings they should have been getting in previous years.

When I visit the shops and offices, I try to make them understand that the evaluation program will be a departure from the status quo. No longer will it be an annual occurrence. There will be periodic feedback and coaching throughout the year, allowing parties to continuously communicate, document the results of performance discussions and monitor how well the stated goals and objectives are being met.

If this continuous communication occurs throughout the rating period, then there are no surprises when the formal performance appraisal is done. Recognition can be provided and noted when objectives are met or are progressing as planned, and when performance exceeds expectations. Areas needing improvement are identified and provide the basis for individual development plans.

During the implementation of the program, I listen to feedback from all levels of the division. I started parts of my program over a year ago, and the results have been well worth the effort. About a year ago, I formed a mechanical personnel focus group that identifies mechanical problems and ways to improve the division. This past year they identified over 30 problems with vehicles and areas in which conditions needed to be improved.

In some cases, action was taken within days of the group’s meeting, and the condition was immediately corrected. Another part of this new culture was making me approachable; everybody is welcome to make an appointment to meet with me. The program is very complex, and I realize that not all of it will be achievable, but it will give me and my staff some direction. I will also be having monthly training for all levels of supervision. And, at least once a week, I will read my mission statement and make adjustments to try to keep myself on course.

Robert Martinez is the Director of the Fleet Services Division, New York City Police Department, and may be reached at

Photos courtesy of John Bellah.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2009

Rating : 8.0

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