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Briefing

Motivating employees

Most employees spend less than half their time at work being genuinely productive. For the business owner, this is frustrating and expensive.

Ironically, though, the employer is usually the major cause of the problem. Almost all employees will be highly productive if they feel enthusiastic and motivated.

This briefing explains:

  1. How to make people want to work well.
  2. How to align employees’ goals with those of the business.
  3. How to handle disagreements.

1 What is motivation about?

Motivation is based on giving people an appropriate combination of rewards.

1.1 Employees need an awareness of the possibilities for them at work and the freedom to choose options and goals.

1.2 Most individuals need to feel they have responsibility and the power to influence results by their actions.

1.3 People have their own priorities in relation to the rewards they get from work.

  • Rewards may include money, recognition, friendships, security, the challenge of new projects or a sense of doing something worthwhile and ‘making a difference’.

1.4 For many people, the chance to achieve ambitions is a major motivation.

Remember that what motivates you may not motivate your employees.

2 No ‘us and them’

Manipulating and bullying people simply does not work. It leaves them demotivated. The key to successful motivation is your attitude.

2.1 Treat employees as partners in the business.

  • Keep people informed about business performance and management decisions.
  • Ask employees for their views before making decisions which affect them.
  • Give each person a good, comfortable working environment and the right training and equipment for the job.

2.2 Build up an atmosphere of trust and teamwork, not defensiveness and fear.

A company run on fear is a miserable place to work, full of people who avoid making decisions in case they are wrong.

  • Avoid blame - and acknowledge that mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process.
  • Encourage people to ask for help when difficulties arise.

2.3 Keep communication open and honest.

  • Schedule regular appraisals for employees, to review progress, problems and plans.
  • Encourage employees to do most of the talking during these sessions, by using open questions like: ‘How well do you feel you are doing?’

2.4 Take an interest in people’s lives.

  • Be prepared to chat about the things your employees are interested in. Listen actively to whatever people have to say.

2.5 Be consistent, and fair, in your approach.

2.6 Build team spirit with regular briefings.

  • Hold brief daily or weekly meetings to plan work, establish goals and discuss any special events and deadlines.
  • Hold daily or weekly debriefings. Share any news and problems and give employees credit for their achievements.

3 Agree goals

People will not be motivated if they do not know what is expected of them.

3.1 Always agree realistic goals that directly benefit the business.

  • Ensure employees can influence the results they are being asked to achieve.
  • Agree targets against which both you and the employees can monitor performance.
  • Reward employees for achieving their goals - with money, praise or opportunities to run new projects.

3.2 Give everyone a chance at success.

  • If employees understand problems, they often come up with solutions themselves.

4 Praise and criticism

Let your employees know when they are doing well, and when they are doing badly.

4.1 Remember why you are giving feedback.

  • The objectives are to improve performance, help learning and build employees’ motivation and self-esteem. Any feedback that does not contribute to these goals is counterproductive.

4.2 Respond to people’s successes and failures as soon as possible, so they can progress by making many minor adjustments.

  • Be specific. Say exactly what you are congratulating people on or wanting to help them improve.
  • Show real feelings. Be delighted or disappointed. Make it clear that business is not just numbers to you.
  • Allow time to praise people properly.
  • Do not save up praise or criticism for reviews, or for when you lose your temper.

4.3 Avoid getting personal.

  • Describe the negative consequences of an action, rather than criticising the person.
  • Keep your messages of praise and criticism entirely separate.
  • Do not end a conversation with a criticism. Once the message has sunk in, encourage the employee to think through with you how better results could be achieved.

4.4 Most employers find it all too easy to complain about employees’ mistakes.

  • Frame criticisms constructively, in ways that will help people make improvements.
  • Aim to praise people’s achievements ten times as often as you point out errors.

5 Handling disagreements

You can never win an argument with an employee. The loser will become demotivated, and that is not in your interests as an employer.

5.1 If disagreements arise, limit the damage.

  • Separate facts from opinions.
  • Emphasise the areas where you agree.

5.2 Listen while employees talk.

  • They may have spent a long time thinking about the matters under discussion - and they may have excellent ideas.

5.3 Acknowledge employees’ opinions, even if they are at odds with your own.

  • Try putting yourself in their shoes.

5.4 Give people room to save face, especially after criticism, failure or disappointment.

Riding roughshod over employees leads to poor morale, low productivity and staff turnover.

6 Building up new skills

You can help people progress from being beginners in a role to the point where they enjoy real competence and take full responsibility.

6.1 When people do not know where to start, they need clear, confident instruction.

  • New employees, in particular, will need to be told what to do, and how to do it.
  • This also applies when existing employees are asked to take on new tasks.

6.2 Once the basics are in place, coaching helps the employee build up skills and develop a feel for the job.

  • Teach the more advanced skills as soon as the individual is ready to learn them.

6.3 As the employee becomes more involved in the task, the manager’s role is to support, rather than give information.

  • Continued encouragement helps build the confidence of even experienced people.
  • Stop offering advice at this stage.

6.4 Once full competence is achieved, the trust placed in the employee by management is a major motivational force.

  • Skilled employees may enjoy accepting devolved responsibilities, but you must still be there if problems need to be discussed.
  • Give generous recognition for good work.

6.5 Review your own skills.

  • You may need to develop your ability to coach and motivate people.

7 Pay as a demotivator

Pay can also be an effective way of undermining motivation in your business.

7.1 If you pay less than the competition, you can expect to have demotivated employees.

7.2 If you give rises only when people threaten to quit, you are rewarding disloyalty.

7.3 If you pay higher rates to attract new employees, current employees will resent it.

7.4 If you use year-end profit as a target for bonuses, employees will not see a direct link between their efforts and their bonuses.

  • The delay is too long, people know the profit figure may be altered for tax reasons and only a few employees will believe their efforts can influence the result.

8 Make the work interesting

8.1 You need to know which employees are ambitious and which are likely to be content to stay in the same jobs.

  • Identify which employees have the capacity to learn new skills.

8.2 Take any opportunities that arise to make people’s jobs more satisfying.

  • Increasing the variety of tasks employees undertake makes work more stimulating.
  • Giving employees the chance to shoulder more responsibility increases their sense of involvement.
  • Swapping people around so they try each other’s jobs and appreciate each other’s roles develops versatility and team spirit.

8.3 You risk losing talented employees if they are underused, frustrated or bored.

  • Ask them what you could do to make their jobs more rewarding.
  • Ask employees the key question: ‘If you could improve just one thing about your work situation, what would it be?’

9 When times are difficult

Any kind of change can be stressful for employees. Negative situations, like redundancies, are particularly tricky.

9.1 To keep morale in good shape, pay attention to how you communicate with employees.

  • Tell people what is happening, and back up what you say with factual evidence.
  • Offer support - be understanding if people are upset.
  • Give encouragement - accentuate the positive.

9.2 Explain why change is occurring.