Motivation Ideas for Supervisors and Employees

In past columns, I’ve stated that there are five critical elements to human resource management: hiring the best, training the best, communicating the best, motivating the best and compensating the best. This month, I want to concentrate on the importance of motivation.

Supervisors, when was the last time you thought about really trying to “excite” the people in your organization, inspiring them to do their best, take risks, think like entrepreneurs and unleash their limitless potential? This is an important part of your job, and you need to share this challenge with your workers and let them participate in this responsibility.

A manager’s goal – and challenge – must be to create a truly “motivated organization,” one that inspires each employee to do his or her very best every day – particularly when the boss is away or busy.

Recently I was doing a consulting job for a client who operates five showrooms. I was having dinner with the owner and his store managers when I asked the owner how he thought he did in the area of motivation. He said “I think I’m a pretty good motivator.” I turned to the managers and they all gave a thumbs down. The owner was stunned! He knew how to motivate, but was so busy running the day-to-day operation that he didn’t take time to be a good motivator. We talked more about it and came up with a program to help the owner and his managers become better motivators.

Another client called me last week and said team morale was in the tank. Due to the lousy business environment, sales were down, hours had been cut and there was pressure to close a higher percentage of the quotes. Folks were complaining that all of the staff meetings were negative.

The owner had been “pushing” the showroom sales consultants to get out of the showroom and call on tradespeople who might be able to bring in additional business. The salespeople had been slow to respond and the owner was frustrated. The end result was that the team was “down.”

I asked the owner if she was demonstrating any positive motivational actions or was it all, “Things are tough and we have to do better.” The owner replied that while she gave praise when it was due, she had a very hard time giving out “atta boys.” I explained that employees need good strong motivation in both good times and bad. She said, “That just isn’t me.”

I respectfully suggested that she should go back to school on the subject of motivation. Read books on the subject, watch some DVDs, attend a seminar and learn how to become a better motivator.

Most owners and bosses set very high expectations for their employees…and this is fine. They just have to remember that employees are just that: employees. For many (probably most) of them, it’s just a job. They’re working because they have to. This is why making the workplace a fun, warm, inviting, even exciting place to come to every day encourages folks to work harder, smarter and longer.

So just what is motivation? Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Motivation is getting people to do something because ‘they’ want to do it.” Motivation is inspiring people to work – individually or in groups – in ways that produce the best results. It’s learning how to influence people’s behavior.

Some bosses truly are great motivators – day in and day out. Many are not, and these generally fall into two groups: those who know how to motivate but get too busy or forget to do it; and those who just don’t know how.

Learning to be a good motivator is an art and a skill. It must be learned and practiced.

You’ve all heard the term “different strokes for different folks.” This is very true when it comes to motivating employees. We are all different and we all have different needs. The real challenge for every boss is to determine what will motivate each employee. For some it might simply be praise, for others, public recognition, and for others it may be monetary.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Psychology students may recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which posits that we all have different needs that we continually strive to achieve. The needs fit into a pyramid, wherein the bottom-level needs must be met before “moving up” to the next level of needs.

The lowest level of the pyramid covers physiological needs (warmth, shelter, food, sex, enough money to live on); the next level encompasses safety needs (a sense of security/absence of fear); after this comes social needs (interaction with other people – having friends). At the next highest level are esteem needs (being well regarded by other people; appreciated), and at the highest level are self-actualization needs (realizing individual potential, winning, achieving).

Only when one level’s needs are met to our satisfaction can we move up to the next need level. The challenge to you bosses out there – and each of you individually – is to keep working to move up the ladder.

The more ambitious and satisfied the individual personality is, the greater the potential for contribution to the organization. In essence, employees don’t just need money and rewards; they also need and want respect and interaction.

This is your challenge when designing jobs, working conditions and organizational structure. You must learn how to stroke all of those different needs that your employees have.

Self Motivation

Of course the whole burden of motivation shouldn’t be on the boss. Rather, every individual has an obligation to make a serious effort at self motivation.

When I facilitate my workshop on Showroom Selling Skills, I stress how important it is to have a great, positive attitude. That means bouncing out of bed in the morning knowing that today is going to be a great day, looking forward to going to work, and letting that enthusiasm for your life and job show each and every day. This may sound difficult, but if you really want to enjoy life more and get the most out of it, you must learn how to be positive and excited as much of the time as possible.

The bottom line is that, if you’re not having fun at work, you need to do something about it! Nobody has a gun to your head saying that you have to continue to be unhappy. You are in charge of your life.

I’ll close with a challenge: spend 15 minutes a day listening to a CD, watching a DVD or reading a book on subjects that will make you better and happier. This small investment will help you realize a huge return.

If you’re a boss and you’re not sure whether you are a good motivator, e-mail me at for a copy of my short self-appraisal test: “Are You a Good Motivator?”