Motivational Tools for Bringing out the Best in People

In the last 10 days I did three different consulting jobs, all with small- to mid-sized kitchen and bath dealers. All three businesses were profitable and fairly well run, but in all three cases, the owner/manager was a poor to very average communicator with his/her employees. Because of these poor communication skills, the employees weren't very highly motivated.

The ideal approach when providing information to employees is that everyone should know about everything that concerns them directly and indirectly, in full and accurate detail, as soon as possible.

The open system of management, which encourages the exchange of information and views between team members, allows managers and staff to work together creatively. Problems can be discussed and decisions reached quickly and easily.

To achieve this, one must operate with an "open door" policy. Communicating methods include:

  • Electronics: The variety of methods made possible by the computer age – such as e-mail.
  • Meetings: Whether one-on-one or with the whole team, this is a means of direct people management.
  • Job Descriptions and Performance Evaluations: This tells people what is expected of them and how they are doing.
  • Journalism: This can take many forms, from an internal newsletter to more formal activities.
  • Internal Marketing: This relates to consumer techniques that are applied internally. This allows you to "sell" your staff on changes, new policies, etc.
  • Bulletin Boards: This is the easiest way of messaging in the company.
  • Telephone: This is a critical tool for one-to-one communication.

Communicating and just plain thinking are important activities in motivational management. Be sure to not get so preoccupied with your own workload that you run out of time for those activities.

As a manager, there are three "needs" that you must juggle constantly to ensure that they are equally met. They are:

Task Needs: You must determine the task objectives and consider the problems involved.

Team Needs: Encourage team members to share ideas and to support one another.

Individual Needs: You must monitor working conditions and help all staff members develop to their full potential.

There are several free and easy incentives that you can use to win cooperation and boost morale. They include: one-on-one recognition, public recognition, written praise and morale-boosting meetings.

Getting the Best from People

People are capable of remarkable achievement, significantly ahead of previous performance, if they are provided with the right environment and given the right motivational leadership. Trying to motivate individuals is always tricky because of the variations between them and the way they interact with your personality and motivational efforts.

To motivate well, start by assessing each of the individuals on your team. Approach each employee without preconceptions, and concentrate your attention on performance – not personality, habits or personal appearance.

Many of you know that I like goals and incentives. You can motivate both individuals and teams by involving them in the decision-making process regarding budgets, targets and other goals. Ours is a selling business, so sales and gross profit margins are two areas that are naturals for goal setting. By tying incentives to goal achievement and producing a monthly "report card," you can influence employees to greater productivity, (which leads to greater compensation) and more highly motivated employees.

Many smaller kitchen and bath firms use the team goal and incentive system rather than an individual one. This is fine as long as all members of the team work equally as hard to achieve the goals.

There are several things to remember when developing a productive, happy team:

  • People in groups produce better ideas since they can bounce ideas off one another.
  • Asking staff members to contribute to planning heightens their levels of motivation and feelings of value.
  • Staff criticisms should be taken seriously. Do not automatically think of critics as troublemakers.
  • Meetings, celebrations, rewards and milestones will generally raise team spirits.

Motivating Through Change

Change is a good way to raise levels of achievement, and few things increase staff morale more than successful change. There are two ways to improve: gradually or radically. You must decide which system is best for you in each situation.

The concept of continual, gradual change (known as kaizen, from the Japanese) has become attractive to Westerners and essential to those who work to adopt Total Quality Management (TQM), which is about constantly improving every process and product by progressive methods. Kaizen, however, is more a way of life in which all staff members are urged to look constantly for ways to improve any element of their performance and to believe that nothing is the best it can be.

The second method of change is kaikaku (Japanese for "radical change"). Kaikaku redefines an organization's entire business, looking at its ultimate purpose and examining every process to see what each contributes to the final goal. It also takes into account how that contribution can be radically improved or, in cases where the process serves no purpose, eliminated.

It is possible to combine both kaizen and kaikaku techniques. Organizations can go through radical changes but still maintain the attitude "we can always be better."

Once you have successfully raised the motivation levels of your staff, it is important that they stay raised. Varying working conditions, improving management systems and placing a high value on your employees should all be top priorities.

People want to feel good about their work and the company they work for. Encourage and nurture this natural drive. Use surveys, research and polling to check on morale and find out when and where new initiatives are needed. Select trusted people to talk to you informally about general mood, developments that affect motivation, and potential problem employees, policies and procedures.

I have a wonderful test you can take to gauge your ability as a motivational manager. If you'd like a copy, e-mail me at and I'll forward it to you.

Today's increasingly competitive business environment dictates that a highly motivated workforce is vital for any organization seeking to achieve good results. Therefore, learning how to motivate others has become an essential skill for today's managers. Make it a priority of yours to become a better people motivator.