How Do I Mobilize Momentum?

78487665_8bLeaders often struggle to mobilize their teams. “Don’t they get it? Their jobs and the future of the business are at stake. How do I get them to care?”

Momentum is a spark. And a push. It’s commitment that attracts commitment and keeps an organization moving, growing and innovating. The good news is momentum works the same way whether you’re pedaling a bicycle or mobilizing an apathetic team. Like the bicycle in your garage, momentum in your organization is waiting to happen – and it’s up to you to unleash it.

Steps 1, 2 & 3: Commit

Momentum is not a big, transformative action that happens once; rather, it’s a series of reciprocal, interdependent and steady moves over time. It starts with organizational leaders, but ultimately, it’s the people who build on momentum and propel the organization forward. First, your people need something from you. Then you need to expect something from them. Commit to them and they will commit to you.  It takes patience, but there is no greater force multiplier than commitment.

You begin to set commitment in motion when you acknowledge the reality of your current situation. Is your team fully aligned, mobilized and delivering? Or are your people shut down and apathetic? If so, try asking them to lead you to the root cause. Chances are they will point to themselves as much as they point to each other. Case in point:

A sales manager took over a new team in a remote office and discovered that salespeople had been providing perks to potential customers. The manager was alarmed – not only were the perks inappropriate, they were illegal in this industry. Relying on intuition, she confronted the team.

“This has to be keeping you up at night,” she said to the sales staff at a team meeting. “I need you focused. This is unacceptable, illegal behavior. So we’re going to have to clean it up.”

The manager set up an amnesty program and promised the salespeople that if they came forward, she would look at each case and determine what they needed to do to come clean.

“It was a sizeable amount,” she said. “Almost every single salesperson was involved—and it was eating them up.”

Paradoxically, the prior manager had pushed them to offer the perks to boost sales. Yet the compromise created such a drag on morale that the team’s sales had sunk to the lowest in the country.

The whole sales team had been stuck in a downward spiral – all momentum was drained. The new manager saw their potential and sparked it, using her commitment to start the process and challenging them to renew their commitment in return. True to her instincts, the team went on to set sales records – with the exact same individuals.

Commitment fosters momentum

Strong commitments are at the core of positive momentum. And as you can see, people don’t disengage because they’re inherently bad; usually, they disengage because the system is fragmented or broken. But when they pull back to shield themselves, they inevitably become a part of breaking promises to others. Dysfunctional momentum drags the individual – and ultimately the group – down to their lowest level.

This is why sustaining positive momentum requires constant reinforcement – to counteract our natural tendency to drift toward entropy. To reverse the cycle and sustain positive lift, it’s essential to first define your core commitments and build the systems that enable people to keep them.

Where have people pulled back in your organization? As you map the problems, you’ll discover the source of pain and stress. Often, it’s something very simple, and even when it’s not, a candid, coherent approach often re-engages the team. Once you know the root cause, you can solve the hassles that wear people out and start holding them accountable to  higher standards of excellence – whether that means smiling on the phone, developing more innovative products or exceeding expectations on projects.

The bottom line is that people want to engage at work. “I try not to care, but I can’t help it,” said one employee stuck in a dysfunctional system. Give people the space they need to take off and you’ll find positive momentum is there, waiting right beneath the surface.