Employee motivation, in my view, is key to creating long term successful companies. While there are no magic bullets out there, here are 9 tips that we’ve gathered over the years that can help any manager improve the motivation of the people working for him or her.
1. Understand that everyone is motivated differently
We often apply the same motivational programs, ideas and processes across the board to the people that work for us. Too often this is based on our own belief of what is motivating. We tell ourselves, “well this would be motivating to me” believing that it should then be motivating to everyone. Managers need to understand that we all have different motivational profiles. By tapping into the individual needs of our employees we can maximize the effectiveness of our work. Look to the 4-Drive Model to help understand all the different levers that a manager can use to touch the most people.
2. People don’t always know what is motivating to them
In response to the first question, managers often go about asking their employees “what would motivate you?” While on the surface, this is good, it is important to understand that not everyone knows what really motivates them. Research has shown, that when asked, people rate money as the number one motivator more than 70% of the time. However, in certain side by side experiments performance improved significantly more when people were rewarded with merchandise or travel compared to money (see work by Scott Jeffrey). Don’t just ask people but get to understand what drives them, understand what works specifically with each individual, find out each person’s personality and use data to find out the underlying motivators for each employee. Henry Ford’s statement, “If I had built what people said the wanted, I would have built a faster horse” rings true.
3. Fear works for only a short time
Often the default motivation lies in the command and control management style that uses fear to motivate behavior change. The problem with this is that it only works as long as it is monitored and does not produce long lasting change. Even worse, it creates a lack of trust and loyalty so that people tend to leave the company or sabotage it more often. It is important to understand that managers often create a fearful situation through ignorance and not on purpose. This is done through managers actions (or lack of actions) and words (or lack of words) that could be misconstrued or interpreted in the wrong way. Humans have the innate tendency to think the worse if something has any ambiguity around it.
4. Work with people to set specific, achievable goals
Locke and Latham have shown that goals, when they are perceived as achievable (but have a stretch aspect to them) drive significant performance improvement. Employees are highly motivated to achieve goals that they have. Managers need to make sure that goals are clear (have employees repeat the goal to them – particularly if they are team goals), focused on (have employees write them down and put in a prominent place or state them publicly), and that employees believe that the goals can be achieved (ask about the viability of achieving them). Long term goals should have shorter term milestones that employees can achieve along the way.
5. Provide challenge and variety in the work place
The Comprehend/Challenge Drive shows how important it is for employees to be challenged or learning new things in their job. Too often managers don’t allow their employees to expand beyond their areas of expertise. Managers are fearful that they will need to expend too much energy on training or reviewing work, that there will be too many mistakes, or that the employees don’t want to have to learn more. Job sharing, job rotations, special projects, strategic offsites, or even including employees in on key decisions can have a significant and positive impact on long term motivation.
6. Take the time to focus on building relationships
Managers don’t often see the benefit of casual conversation, birthday celebrations, team sports leagues, team building events, or after hour get togethers. They can take productive time away from work or interfere with people’s family time. Again, the long term impact of developing meaningful relationships with people at work can drive increased motivation. These types of things can be overdone, however, they do contribute to a more positive work environement and create opportunities for team members to bond.
7. Frame discussions in the positive
Managers don’t understand the power their words can have on the motivation of their team. David Cooperwriter showed in his research on appreciative inquiry, that the way something is framed (e.g., an issue, problem, opportunity) can impact how companies and people respond to it. Managers too often focus on the negative aspects of work and don’t spend enough time on framing the postive and the potential.
8. Recognize sincerely and in a timely manner
Too often as managers we take the easy way out and recognize people only when we have a recognition program, or at the end of the quarter, or at a yearly review. People need more positive reinforcement that is both sincere and timely. As a manager, we need to search for things that our employees are doing and recognize them right away. However, do not make up or recognize things that are not sincerely appreciated – it is amazing how good people are at detecting these kinds of inscincere or false praise.
9. Keep working at it
My job involves working with motivation on almost a daily basis…yet I still need a lot of help in this area. I have to keep at it and learning every day. As managers, motivation isn’t something that we can schedule for every other Tuesday. It is a daily activity and mindset that we need to be constantly tweaking and improving.
Of course there are a number of other things that we as managers can do to impact our employees motivation, but hopefully these have provided you some insight. Please let us know some of your hints and practices.