help manager connect the dots
ATD Blog

To Unleash the Can-Do Spirit, Help Managers Connect the Dots

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Many managers—even people-focused ones—don’t know how to unleash that eager willingness characterized as a can-do spirit in their team members. They adopt an upbeat tone to encourage or compliment employees or promise perks and financial rewards for exceptional job performance. Then they are disappointed and puzzled when their attempts to engage and enthuse don’t work.

To unlock can-do spirit, you must understand people’s deepest motivators. Managers are positioned to connect the dots between the work they assign and their team members’ drivers. With this in mind, we have developed a three-step process that talent development professionals can use to help managers learn how to unleash a can-do spirit in their workforce.

1. Introduce managers to the VITALS power pause.

In our last blog post, Check the Real Motivators for Employee Engagement, we discussed the VITALS acronym (values, interests, talents, ambitions, longings, and style)—an easy-to-remember mental checklist that managers can use to inspire the can-do spirit.

When managers take a VITALS power pause, they use the VITALS acronym to activate deliberative thinking about a team member’s key motivators. When performed earnestly, this approach lessens the possibility that managers project their motivations onto their direct reports.

A helpful way of introducing managers to the benefits of taking a VITALS power pause (short of giving them a copy of our book, Becoming a Can-Do Leader) is to share that you have found VITALS to help identify the key motivators of people you work with. This, of course, will be most convincing if it’s authentic.


2. Help managers connect the dots between VITALS and their team’s work.

Ask managers to give you a quick description of employees who seem enthusiastic about what they do—as well as those who are not. Then find out the specific motivators and demotivators driving these responses to particular work assignments.

The goal is to encourage managers to consider a person’s VITALS when assigning tasks. Now, VITALS can’t always be aligned with the work that must happen. But if team members know their manager sincerely attempts to assign motivating work whenever possible, that takes the edge off of unsatisfying assignments.


3. Encourage managers to follow up with purposeful multi-impacting.

A direct report’s VITALS should not be considered a one-and-done deal. Employees need their performance at work to be evaluated, recognized, and encouraged in ways that align with their motivators throughout their stay at an organization. The best way to get busy managers to do this is to encourage them to use a time-management strategy we call purposeful multi-impacting . This approach enables managers to make decisions and participate in activities in ways that achieve more than one desired objective.

Your managers should have ample opportunities to focus on VITALS during annual goal-setting sessions and other professional check-ins. These might include scheduling a one-on-one to check in on how it’s going, giving direct feedback in a way that unleashes a can-do spirit for learning, conducting post-event debriefings, or recognizing staff during presentations.

Managers mindful of the VITALS checklist will have many chances to unleash exceptional internal motivation in their employees. And they’ll be grateful to you—the TD professional—who helped them learn how to connect the dots.

Want to learn how you can advance your career by helping managers energize their workforce? Please join us at the ATD 2023 International Conference & EXPO for the session The Secret to Unleashing the Can-Do Spirit of Your Workforce.

About the Author

Dr. Frank Satterthwaite is a professor of organizational leadership and a past director of the MBA program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Frank, who has contributed numerous blogs to ATD’s Community of Practice, is co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press). He is also the senior author of The Career Portfolio Workbook: Using the Newest Tool in Your Job-Hunting Arsenal to Impress Employers and Land a Great Job (McGraw-Hill), a bestselling career book that was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” at the Wall Street Journal. In addition to his cover story for TD Magazine, “The Delegation Conundrum,” his articles have appeared in national magazines, including Esquire. He has appeared on nationally broadcast radio and TV programs in the United States and Canada, and is currently doing webcasts for ATD. Frank also has a management consulting practice in which he helps managers become Can-Do Leaders. He studied psychology at Princeton and received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale. Earlier in his career Frank was a member of the U.S. national men’s squash team. Frank and his architect wife, Martha Werenfels, live in Rhode Island and are proud parents of their two sons, Peter and Toby.

About the Author

Jamie Millard, co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press), is the executive partner and co-founder of Lexington Leadership Partners, an executive coaching and customized leadership development and training firm focused on developing can-do leaders who demonstrate commitment, competence, and courage. He formerly led the national organization change management practice at CSC Consulting. Prior to that, Millard was a partner at Harbridge House, where he led the continuous improvement and project management customized training and consulting practices. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the US Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the University of Rhode Island. He is a proud veteran and member of the Global Educator Network with Duke Corporate Education.

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