4 Ways to Motivate Your Employees

It’s the ultimate question: What really motivates people?

Figure it out and you’ve got the formula for attracting and keeping the best employees, who then become evangelists for you and your business.

So what is it – what’s the secret to motivation?

Some think more money will motivate employees (it won’t), others think the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ route is the way to go (bad idea).

The reality is that, in a work environment, there are a handful of proven methods to motivate employees no matter what business you are in.

But first, it’s important to understand the difference between internal and external motivation.

Internal Motivation

There has been numerous studies on this topic in the last 50 years and they have all come to the same conclusion: motivation is not external – we can only motivate ourselves.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, there’s a whole industry of motivational speakers whose sole purpose is to give you the confidence to conquer all the obstacles in your life.

What they are really doing is creating conditions to help you motivate yourself. They help build your internal motivation through empowerment, but ultimately, you have to take action to make the changes you desire.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional motivational speaker to make your employees more passionate about your company. I’ll tell you exactly how to do this, but first, we need to talk about external motivation and dispel some common misconceptions.

External Motivation

People often assume that they can motivate others through external factors – such as increased salary, a corner office, or a bigger commission check.

These are not actually motivators, they are what Frederick Herzberg called ‘hygiene factors’ (or maintenance factors).

The absence of a respectable paycheck is a demotivator, but increased pay does not motivate employees to work harder. If you pay an unhappy employee more money, you will only end up with a richer unhappy employee.

Hygiene factors are the foundation. They themselves are not motivators, but without them, there is no place for motivational factors.

Examples of hygiene factors include:

  • status
  • salary
  • supervision
  • peer relationships
  • work conditions
  • administration
  • company policies

Absence of these leads to lack of motivation, but presence of these factors do not motivate. That is the essence of ‘hygiene factors’.

How to Motivate Your Employees

So the question remains – how do you motivate your employees?

The first thing to recognize is that we are all different, and since motivation comes from within, there is no one-size-fits all motivation scheme.

Some people are motivated by respect, others by recognition, others by power and influence.

No matter what motivates your employees the most, there are 4 areas of focus that will ensure your employees are passionate about working for you.

1. Utilize Their Talents

People want to use their talents. If employees are in roles where their talents are underutilized, you have a serious problem.

Someone with artistic creativity should not be relegated to a customer service role, answering phones and returning emails. They would serve you better – and be more satisfied in their work – working on creative design such as website development, branding, presentation development, etc.

The more you can use your employees talents in the workplace, the more fulfilled they will be with their work. They will find a way to use their talents one way or another. If the outlet is not found in their ‘day job’, they will expend that emotional energy elsewhere. This reduces their commitment to your organization and makes them more likely to seek out work where more of their talents can be utilized.

2. Recognize Their Contributions

Good employees want to be recognized for their hard work.

Make it a habit to recognize behavior, not just results.

Not all contributions translate into tangible changes in the business. Some ideas simply don’t pan out, and others may only impact a small portion of the business. What matters is that your employees are actively contributing and that they continue to do so, not that those contributions turn into new opportunities. Because the next idea might just be a home run.

This type of behavior should be encouraged, and the best way to do that is to recognize and acknowledge those employees amongst their peers.

3. Autonomy

The best employees are self starters. And the last thing any employee wants is to be micromanaged. Once the parameter of a role is defined, let your employees deliver the desired results in their own way.

Moreover, encourage them to push the boundaries of their role so they remain challenged in their day-to-day work.

Give them the freedom to act as independent agents and not have to seek approval for every issue from their supervisor.

4. Empowerment

‘Empowerment’ is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot without a well-defined meaning, so let’s be specific.

In a work environment, empowerment means giving your employees a stake in the outcome of their work. Put another way, give your employees the freedom to fail.

Good employees want to be challenged and they want the freedom to make impactful decisions. Most importantly, they want assurance that they won’t be punished when using their best judgement results in a less than desirable outcome.

When these situations arise, bad managers blame and scold, while good managers see a valuable learning opportunity. Empowered employees know that mistakes can happen, and if you’ve truly provided them with autonomy, they’ll embrace a chance to learn from their mistakes.

The Empowered Playing Field

Now of course, autonomy and empowerment are not without limit – they must have boundaries that your employees know and understand. For example, a customer service rep should have the ability to resolve complaints that require financial compensation up to a set amount. Anything beyond that would need higher level approval.

Other boundaries might be legal, ethical, etc. as illustrated below:

The Empowered Playing Field - Alan Weiss

Image credit to Alan Weiss – Summit Consulting

These are the keys to motivation. Put them to work in your business and life and the changes you see will be nothing short of dramatic.

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