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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 23, 2009 • Issue 09:03:02

Get what you want from your staff

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

At one time or another, all business owners or managers face the challenge of keeping their employees motivated and on task. We all know what happens when people lose interest in their jobs: We miss deadlines; we fail to close sales; we don't complete assigned tasks.

We also have poor morale that results in poor work, and we lose our star performers when they continually have to step up and cover for the underperformers.

To motivate means to provide incentive. In other words, when you provide motivation, you create an environment in which people will want to do what you want them to do. While an individual ultimately needs to motivate him or herself, we can create an atmosphere that encourages people to move in a favorable direction.

The first thing we need to understand is that not every individual is motivated by the same thing. Some people are motivated by job security, some by financial reward, some by personal recognition and some by professional freedom.

In theory

There are countless theories on the sources of motivation. Here is a brief overview of some of them.

  • Incentive theory, or the reward method, says positive incentives such as bonuses, raises, promotions and so forth work best.

  • Intrinsic motivation, or altruism, says motivation comes from a desire to achieve for personal enjoyment and without external rewards.

  • Extrinsic motivation, or coercion theory, says negative results, including termination, probation or loss of job status, are the best motivators.

  • Self-control theory says people use their own internal motivation or self-control to reach a goal.

  • Needs theory says there is a basic order of needs that must be met to create an environment where people are motivated.

Abraham Maslow is most famous for his "Hierarchy of Needs." Described in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation," the theory says there are five levels of individual needs. They form a pyramid that includes, from bottom to top, the following categories:

  • Physiological: Breathing, food, water and so forth

  • Safety: Security of body, employment, health, property and family

  • Love/belonging: Friendship, family, and intimacy

  • Esteem: Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others and respect by others

  • Self-actualization: Morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance of facts

The question, then, is can we help individuals motivate themselves? If so, how do we do it? What if we don't have the resources to create motivation through financial incentives? Are there other tools available to help keep people motivated?

In practice

To avoid deflating your employees' enthusiasm, do the following:

  • Clear the office of all company politics.

  • Provide unambiguous expectations of everyone including yourself.

  • Ensure all rules are fair, equitable and necessary.

  • Conduct productive meetings.

  • Eliminate internal competition - sales contests and company rivalries should be conducted in a friendly, positive manner.

  • Assure employees have the critical information needed to perform their work.

  • Provide constructive feedback rather than criticism.

  • Reward high-performing employees and eliminate underperformers.

  • Treat everyone fairly.

  • Use all employees to their maximum capabilities.

The next step is to be sure you are creating the best situation possible for your employees to achieve success. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you appraise your current situation.

  1. Do you treat all of your employees fairly, equitably, and with dignity and respect?

  2. Are the rewards you offer contingent on the behavior you seek from your employees and the individual needs of each employee?

  3. Do you value everyone's contributions and acknowledge their achievements in public?

  4. Do you allow employees to participate in decision-making activities that affect them and their futures?

  5. Do you challenge your employees to keep themselves interested, stimulated and growing?

  6. Do you seriously consider employee complaints and issues without taking them simply at face value?

  7. Do you celebrate company successes with all employees?

  8. Do you create an environment where people want to come to work each day and enjoy working with other employees?

One on one

Once you determine whether you've been successful in creating a positive environment conducive to employee motivation, the next step is to meet with each employee individually. Get to know your employees and find out what motivates them.

For someone just beginning a career, the need for a job and income stability may override the need to work in a self-directed, incentive-based situation. Ask probing questions such as:

  • What do you enjoy most or least about your job?

  • What are your long and short-term career goals?

  • What did I do in the last month, quarter or year to help make your job easier and more successful for you?

  • What can I do in the next month, quarter or year to assist you with achieving your (and the company's) goals?

After meeting with all of your employees, you can determine what to offer to help motivate each one. Remember, one size does not fit all. People are motivated by different things, and it is your responsibility to determine what works best for each of your employees. Here are some types of incentives.

  • Financial gain, including incentive-based compensation packages, bonuses, gifts or trips

  • Public acknowledgment of individual accomplishments

  • New challenges

  • Opportunities to expand professional networks

  • Avenues for learning and developing new skills

  • Autonomy

  • Opportunities to assume additional responsibility

  • Clearly defined goals that include tangible, attainable outcomes

  • Opportunities to be involved

  • Higher status such as a new title or privileges

  • Participation in developing the company vision, strategies and tactics

On the ball

Now that you've determined what motivates each of your employees, how do you go about linking rewards to results?

Step one is to determine a system of measurement. Your meeting with each employee should determine goals, job requirements, quotas, resources needed and rewards. Be sure you are both on the same page and understand what is expected from each of you.

Step two is to provide feedback on each employee's performance. It is not sufficient to examine performance only during the annual performance review. Daily, weekly or monthly feedback is absolutely necessary to ensure that goals are met, rewards are received, additional resources are provided and successes are celebrated.

Step three is to reward achievements rapidly. Prompt recognition and rewards will help employees feel valued and appreciated and will ensure a continued focus on company goals.

In the current economic recession, there are ways to provide rewards and incentives that cost little or no money through the creative use of time and resources. I recommend two books for every business owner's library:

  • 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson, 1994, Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York.

  • 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work, by Dave Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes, 1997, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

These two books offer real-world, tangible suggestions and ideas to help reward employees and keep them motivated. Some suggestions include:

  • Calling an employee into your office and saying "thank you" without discussing anything else

  • Writing a simple thank-you note and posting it on the employee's door, desk or computer

  • Volunteering to do a high-achieving employee's least favorite task for a day

  • Answering a staff member's telephone for an hour or a day

  • Washing an employee's car in the employee parking lot during lunch

  • Holding a cookout in the company parking lot for all employees

Sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little - when his work is done, his aim fulfilled - they will say: 'We did it ourselves.'"

Take a hard look at the way you deal with your employees, and be sure you are doing everything you can to provide tools that motivate them to do what you want them to do. And to think, "we did this ourselves." The Green Sheet, Inc.

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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