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How to Motivate Employees

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

The number one complaint that I get when a manager walks into my office is, "employee X is just not getting the job done." Most of the time, this happens when the manager is frustrated and about to fire the employee.

It is always a tough situation when you have an employee with a performance problem. Often you can avoid being in this situation by being proactive about motivation. The great news is that being proactive is easy. Just focus on these three items.

1. Career Advancement

Self-advancement is ample motivation for most people. You can tap into this motivation by helping your employees see themselves reach their dreams within your company. You should have a clear line of progression for your positions. I do not mean that each employee is guaranteed a promotion. I mean that employees should see themselves at your company for years to come, and they know what it takes to get promoted. As an example, the intern sees how she could one day compete for the marketing manager job. The best managers do more by working to tie current tasks and goals with the employee's career goals. For example, you might explain to the intern why a stretch project will be a great experience since her goal is to be a marketing manager. Remember that to make these connections you should sit down with your employees regularly and have conversations about their goals and current experience with the company.

2. Training and Development

Using training and development as a tool is similar to what we discussed above. When you know your employee's goals and future aspirations, then you can offer significant training and development events or opportunities that will be motivational. For example, coming with you to a speaking engagement would be an excellent motivation for a junior employee. You can use the training and development activity as a reward for completing a project or hitting a goal. You can also use it as a surprise after the employee executed something exceptional. Lastly, you can use the training and development activity to inspire the employee. For example, conferences are great places for employees to be inspired in their current roles and to create and foster long term goals.

3. Awards and Recognition Programs

Formal and informal awards and recognition programs can be used to create a recognition rich culture at your company. When this happens, your employees will be motivated and encouraged to meet demands and be innovative. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Daniel Pink breaks down this type of motivation into two categories: 'if, then' rewards and 'now, that' rewards. An 'if, then' reward happens when you set a goal and attach a reward to it. Then the employee works to meet that goal. An 'if, then' reward might occur with a sales team. You might give a quarterly award or performance bonus to the top seller or each employee that sales X amount. This type of reward has the benefit of narrowing the employee's focus on closing sales. However, 'if, then' rewards also have drawbacks. With these rewards, the employee is also motivated to cut corners. You might see a car dealership perform unneeded services because the employee is trying to make the sales numbers, as an example. With 'if, then' rewards, you also do not see the motivation for innovation. Instead, the employee is focused on the specific goal and reaching it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore 'if, then' rewards are best for tasks that are process-driven, and clearly identified.

If you have functions that are unclear and require innovation or creativity, then you want to focus on 'now, that' rewards. With a 'now, that' reward, there are no set parameters or goals in the beginning. The employee is giving responsibility for a project. You then look for big wins, significant innovations, and remarkable creativity to reward. A 'now, that' reward fosters intrinsic motivation in your team. Whether you are using 'if, then' or 'now, that' rewards; you should make the reward impactful. One way to do this is to announce the achievement publicly. You can talk about it at a staff meeting, post about in on social media, and provide the employee something to display in her office. You can use our free Canva templates in the free HR Toolkit.

These are three ways you can be proactive about motivating your employees. Start by focusing on one today.

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