Attention CFOs: Financial Targets Don’t Motivate Employees
Tips on Motivation Minus the Numbers
Without a doubt, as CFOs, our language is the language of numbers. Simply, numbers make sense. So, it’s probably no surprise that we use them more often than other people. And while it seems intuitive to us that numbers are a great way to motivate employees, that thought process tends to be counterintuitive to others.
Most people appreciate having a clear-cut goal to meet—something to strive for and work toward. However, financial targets don’t generally motivate employees in the same ways. Financial results are the outcome of hard work, performance, and productivity, not the cause of it. As such, when we focus on the numbers, employees don’t feel as if they have control over achieving that goal and ultimately begin to feel less motivated. In fact, using financial targets has actually been said to decrease morale among employees.
This is not to minimize the importance of financial targets and metrics. Let’s face it—we’re CFOs, to us, there isn’t much else that is more important. And logically, we know that if we don’t hit those numbers, we may not be able to pay those employees we’re so worried about. But just because financials are important to the company does not mean they’re an effective motivational tool for employees. Rather, if we want to motivate, we need to bolster support for our organizational purpose, emphasize the value the employees bring to it, and focus on their specific impact on customers or the community.
Three Tips to De-Emphasize the Numbers in Motivation
- Reevaluate what you communicate.
Put the metrics, measurements, and dollar signs aside for the time being. Instead, communicate goals over which employees have some control. They should be able to clearly see what they can do to help achieve company goals. Of course, some numbers will likely need to be included, but be cognizant of keeping the focus where it needs to be. Increasing focus on numbers will decrease focus on what actually needs to be done and dilute the overall strategy.
- Be specific and use emotion when you talk about customers and clients.
Employees are more likely to go the extra mile when relationships are built, and they can see individual, specific, and actual impacts on those relationships. They want to know what impact they are having on customers and the community. Employees want to feel good about what they are doing, so show them the impact they are making, not in the aggregate, but in specific instances.
- Do not overshare every metric.
Employees generally don’t need to know every single item that is being measured regarding financial performance. When all they see is numbers, they feel as if they have to figure out how to get there when really it should be the other way around. Tell them what they have control over and then the goal that was met because of what they did to get there. Think about where you want to direct their attention and remain focused there.
A Harvard Business Review article described it best, “You cannot spreadsheet your way to passion. With ambitious goals on the horizon, it’s tempting to double-down on financial metrics. But hitting financial targets requires employees who are excited and care about their work.” This has never been as true as today. Employees want to feel appreciated by leadership. They want to have joy and pride in their work. And as we talked about previously, they are far less likely now to tolerate anything less.
Barker Associates has extensive experience in both specific CFO needs and more general leadership ones. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.