A well-motivated workforce is like a well-oiled machine – necessary or else it will tear itself apart. Though linked, motivating and incentivising are very different, and though both useful tools, they should not be confused and used interchangeably. An incentive will only yield results when everything is going right, the moment the incentive is removed, the behavior will return to normal. As an example, by paying someone more money in return for working longer hours, you are giving them an incentive, but take away the bonus money, and the behavior will return, often with a sense of entitlement, and resentment if the same framework is not provided in the future. Correct motivation will make the employee happy to work longer hours, often without the need for additional remuneration and without expectation for future incentives. In short, it is a long-term imperative for a company to work out how to motivate its staff for consistent and sustainable positive results. So how do we motivate?
The first thing that must be understood is that motivation is an art, rather than a science. There is no magic formula that can be waved over an employee or team that will magically transform them into motivated, driven and hard working superstars. Rather a motivation strategy must be curated, like a fine dining experience, with each interaction complimenting the last, building to a crescendo and leaving a profound and sustaining impression. It, unlike incentives, cannot be turned on and off like a faucet – but has to flow constantly, building cumulatively and being ever present.
So with that in mind, how should a company, and indeed a manager go about creating such a process?
As with all things, a good motivational culture is simple to implement but challenging to master. I have included below a few easy to start, highly motivational processes that can fit into almost any workplace environment.
An employee who doesn’t know the why behind why they wake up in the morning and come to work will have a hard time being motivated when the going gets tough. Where people know the impact of their work on the wider company, as well as the goals of an organization, the task at hand become part of something larger and as such, they become part of a community, all pulling towards the same objective. I can’t recommend highly enough that people read Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’, it is a true guidebook to inspiring others through asking a few simple questions.
Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) goals for each employee, write them down and ensure that both the employee and manager has the same understanding of what is being asked, and review on a regular basis. The smaller and more precise objective can be, the better understanding the employee will have as to what is expected of them, this will also give managers the opportunity to implement arguably the most important learning point from Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – managers should ‘be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise’. Simply, managers should praise individuals frequently, genuinely, even for small wins – this will evoke a sense of pride (providing the praise is from the heart), that will drive them to work to the same standard in the future.
Every employee should feel like they have a voice. This may sound like an insurmountable task, but the implementation is easy. Each employee, on a regular basis, should have a one-on-one conversation with their direct manager. It should be formalized and scheduled but can take a format appropriate to the workplace culture, with or without a checklist, in a café or a meeting room, these points are irrelevant. What is relevant is that the management is aware of not just what their teams are doing, but how they are doing, what is going right and what can be improved upon. Regularly taking the pulse of your team can shine a light on problems in an organization, but that will only be translated into motivation for a team if they feel they are being listened to. If you have yet to read Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, get it and read the chapter ‘A Good Place to Work’ – it will change your life.
In my last article ‘The Single Most Poisonous Factor in the Workplace Today’, scores of people (rightly) commented that a lack of trust in the workplace is slowly destroying the work environment. Though I disagreed that this was the most divisive factor, a lack of trust is one of the top ways to demotivate employees. If you needed any more incentive to invest in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, then here is an excerpt;
Without trust, communication breaks. More specifically: In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust. Consider the following: If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests. On the other hand, if I don’t trust you at all, then no amount of talking, explaining, or reasoning will have any effect on me because I do not trust that you are telling me the truth.
Lack of trust breeds suspicion, skepticism and the breakdown of communications, all of which will totally demotivate a workforce. Conversely, by trusting that the employee wants what is best for themselves and the company, and giving them enough space to prove it, the results will be a motivated workforce keen to prove they are worthy of more trust in the future.
This is definitely a difficult pill for many managers to swallow, but in an article in the Harvard Business Review Patty McCord (Ex-Chief Talent Officer at Netflix) she explains, “If you’re careful to hire people who will put the company’s interests first, who understand and support the desire for a high-performance workplace, 97% of your employees will do the right thing. Most companies spend endless time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with problems the other 3% might cause. Instead, we tried really hard to not hire those people, and we let them go if it turned out we’d made a hiring mistake.” This is the exact sentiment to create a fluid, well-motivated and focused workforce.
The final point, highlighted by Patty, is that if there is bad feeling for whatever reason, managers should not let it fester – attempt to address the root cause of whatever the issue is head on. That being said, if there is no way of overcoming the negativity, the tough decision must be taken and the individual removed from the rest of the organisation, as the bitterness, laziness or animosity will spread to other corners of the organisation, and when this happens, removing it can be very painful for all involved.
Motivation is a constructive, cost-effective and long-term strategy for growth, but must be worked upon and weaved into the very fabric of an organization from the top down. Without this, key talent will leave, and long-term objectives will be sacrificed for short term wins.