Dr. Nicole Tschierske

What motivates us at work? Discussing the feedback loop with Luisa Flechas

What motivates us at work? What are the key ingredients to doing better work and how do they correlate to each other? In this interview, Luisa Flechas talks about the importance of passion and trust, the role of feedback, goals, and communication, just to circle back again to motivation and engagement as key ingredients for doing better work. All these elements seem to have a circular dependency on one another, much like a cat biting its own tail. And they exponentially impact the outcome of our work.

But first of all, who’s Luisa Flechas? She’s a Chemical Engineer specializing in sustainable energy systems. She’s originally from Colombia but lived and worked in the US for over 12 years. After working in the oil and gas industry, she immersed herself in renewable energy technologies. Louisa is currently working as a Business Developer in the Applied Research Center in the Netherlands and is trying to change the world by introducing new technologies.

Here are a few pointers from Luisa on how to help yourself and your team do better work.

(You can also 🎧 listen to the episode or 📷 view the bite-sized version of this article.)

The importance of passion for our work 

The first thought Luisa shared is that in order to do her best work, she needs to be passionate about what she does. Passion needs to be coupled with having a clear picture of what she’s going to do each day and why. What is the goal for doing what we do? As per the famous quote by Annie Dillard, „how you spend your day is how you spend your life.“ So considering we spend around 90,000 hours of our lives working, we need to be passionate about what we do.

Passion, Luisa told us, is related to motivation. And that can be physical (like getting paid for our work) or intrinsic. However, the motivation of receiving a salary alone is unlikely to help us achieve our dreams. Motivation needs to come from within. And that happens when you feel valuable and valued in what you do, have support from your team, and have clear leadership.

Feeling valued at work

In order to feel valued at work, Luisa thinks we need a safe environment first and foremost. This allows us to express and cultivate ideas, but also get feedback and support from our teams and from management. Luisa also believes in having the opportunities to develop and influence her self-confidence so she can perform her job better.

When talking about support from her team specifically, Luisa shared that trust is crucial. Having a clear workflow is also important. That allows team members to understand who the leader is, who the key players are, and what role you play in moving the team forward.

Trust goes hand in hand with support. And that comes in the shape of contributing ideas and bringing the power of listening to the table. These components need to be reciprocal between a leader and their team. In order to work together in a team and face a challenge, we need to establish SMART goals – both for our team and for our own individual work.

So according to Luisa, the presence of a safe environment, trust, a clear workflow, and SMART goals are all key components of feeling valued at work.

The importance of having a clear vision, goals, and KPIs

In terms of how leaders can help fuel motivation and passion in a team, Luisa shared the importance of listening. This allows team members to feel safe and speak their minds. Having clear direction also plays a big part. If the direction the team is working towards is unclear, motivation can easily turn into frustration.

Coming up with the mission or vision for the team needs to be a reciprocal process between the leader and the team. Of course, that must take into account different working cultures. In the Netherlands, this is a more egalitarian process, for example. But Luisa believes that leaders and their teams should both contribute to the vision.

The first step in this process is to ensure that all parties or team members are listened to. Leaders must listen to their teams and their ideas to ensure they align with the overall purpose of the company or the industry. Once you have clarity and priority around ideas, you transform them into goals and break them down into individual KPIs for each team member. Once teams are clear about their performance, they can achieve more satisfaction in their work too. Because when goals are well-crafted, we create commitment between the team and the goals. And Just like the Lego blocks of a process, everything fits together.

The role of the company and teams in setting goals

Goals can also go both ways – they can come from management and from the team. The formulation of the strategy and the vision might follow a top-down model, where the company states what they require from employees. But the formulation (i.e. the delivery and implementation) of the strategy should go from bottom to top.

This means the team is responsible to come up with ideas and steps that satisfy the requirements and deliver the strategy the company has set. So the plan that comes from the company needs to marry up with the roadmaps from each team.

In any team, ideas are the working force. That’s why it’s so important to create that safe environment Luisa talked about. Everyone needs to feel free to express themselves. And we should listen to every single idea because even though some might not be priorities at a specific point in time, they might become relevant in the future.

Of course, respect is the rule of the game here. Everyone needs to respect each other. And if an idea can’t be accepted at one particular point, a good leader should thank the team member and explain the reasons why that idea can’t be part of the strategy at that time. All this happens while continuing to motivate the person.

The role of leaders in ‚translating‘ the strategy to the team

When it comes to encouraging buy-in from the team, Luisa explained that the role of the leader is to ‚translate‘ anything that comes from the top of the company, especially if full of jargon. Team leaders must go into detail and break the management strategy down so it becomes accessible to the team. But team members can help too. A team might have leaders in their own disciplines who can also help translate management strategies into something tangible for the rest of the group. So a leader must be comfortable and willing to approach the team and be interested in their growth.

The strategy then translates into workflows that help define the inputs and outputs of individual processes. What swim lines do you need to establish in the roadmap? What channels will you need? From there, you break down SMART goals and KPIs. This helps create a clear picture of what each member of the team is trying to achieve.

All this can only happen with good communication between any leader and their team. And of course, engaging with upper management is also key. Straight and open communication channels help us deliver and receive feedback.

How to deliver feedback

When it comes to delivering feedback, Luisa shared that a safe environment and a trusting, receptive team are, again, some of the key prerequisites. The message must be direct and concise and delivered in a respectful way. As a leader, Luisa expects her team to give her feedback too.

Currently, Luisa works in a very diverse workspace, so taking that into account is crucial in order to ensure the feedback is delivered in such a way that it doesn’t offend anyone. Even negative feedback can be given in a constructive manner (as long as it’s done respectfully). And positive feedback plays a huge role in encouraging the person and building their confidence.

I’d also like to add that receiving feedback helps us to learn and grow and build a feeling of competence, which is rewarding in and of itself. But feedback also shows that someone cares about you as a person and that you belong to a group where you’re valued enough to be supported in your learning. When receiving helpful feedback, we get better at what we do and manage to accomplish our goals faster. Plus, let’s not forget about the power of positive feedback. Who doesn’t like hearing that they’ve done well? It’s even better if we manage to keep the ratio of five positives to one negative.

How to help teams achieve their KPIs 

In order to help people achieve goals and meet KPIs, Luisa believes three elements are necessary:

  • Structure and workflow.
  • Good communication (clear and concise, with the right amount of detail pertaining to a specific conversation).
  • And motivation in the team.

When motivation is lacking, it’s difficult to perform any type of work. If coming across a team member who is unmotivated, Luisa would approach them within the safe environment she’s created, listen to the person, try and understand their frustration, and brainstorm solutions together. They’d work as a team to find a resolution, and something Louisa is particularly passionate about is ensuring that the team member’s home life isn’t affected by any frustrations related to the job. Because work-life balance is important.

Another component that helps with motivation is reiterating the sense of belonging to the team. This is why it’s important to celebrate achievements and create activities that foster a sense of teamwork. It also helps to revitalize people and spark creativity.

Reducing stress and increasing motivation at work 

As you can probably tell, these points are very circular. Doing good work fuels our motivation, and motivation fuels doing good work. They both need each other in this feedback loop where everything’s connected and everything affects us.

My additional thought on this is that the structure of work and clear workflows are often the first things to be dropped when a tight deadline approaches. When the work becomes hectic, everyone’s working more, crucial points are missed, handover points become unclear, people start to get frustrated with one another, and stress can take over. But intentionally focusing on clear workflows can contribute to burnout prevention in your team.

Defining process steps with inputs, outputs, and responsibilities is one of the key strategies I describe in my no-fluff and immediately applicable Guide to Reduce Stress and Burnout in your Team. It’s a document I put together to help you analyze which stress and motivation factors are at play in your team. It also gives clear strategies for how to decrease stress and increase motivation. You can download this free guide here.

Further Reading

Better Work Basics​