The question of how to motivate employees has loomed large over
managers ever since management was first invented. Ultimately, much
of the people side of management comes down to mastering skills and
techniques for motivating people to become better, more productive
employees who love (or at least like and are dedicated to) their
Most managers are aware that there are two ways to motivate employees: reward and punishment. If employees do what you (their manager) want them to do, you reward them with things they desire: money, awards, recognition, important titles, etc.'
Alternatively, if employees don't do what you want them to do, you punish them with things that they don't desire: warnings, reprimands, demotions, firings and so on. Employees are drawn to things that are pleasing and shy away from things that are punishing. Theories about employee motivation come and go, but motivation still comes down to these two basic tactics.
This month, we'll look at the positive side of employee motivation:'
By leading with positive reinforcers, not only can you inspire your employees to do what you want them to do, but you can develop happier, more productive employees in the process and that combination is what all managers should strive toward.
It's one of the greatest management principle in the world: Reward and recognize, and you will receive many benefits.
Treating all employees the same (i.e. compensation, recognition, and rewards) isn't fair to either the better or lesser performers. Nothing is as unfair as the equal treatment of unequal performers. You have to identify the differences between employees and reward or punish as needed.
Regularly scheduled (every six months) performance reviews is a wonderful way of communicating the good and bad of each employee's performance. These should involve two-way communication, and should be well prepared and thought out in advance.
Before you set up a system of rewards for your employees, make sure that you know exactly what behaviors you want to reward, and then align the rewards to these behaviors.
After you put your employee reward system into place, you need to check periodically to see that it's producing the results you want. If it isn't, change it!
Remember, what motivates some employees doesn't necessarily motivate others. Each employee has his or her own unique motivators, and your job is to figure out what they are.
The simplest way to find out how to motivate your employees is to ask them. Often, managers assume that their employees want only money. These same managers are surprised when their employees tell them that other things, such as being recognized for doing a good job, being allowed great autonomy in decision making or having a more flexible work schedule, may be much more motivating to them than cash.
Here's a format to help you find out what really motivates your employees.
- Create a supportive environment for your employees. Make your
employees feel safe. Will they share bad news with you as well as
good news? If the answer is yes, they feel safe. If the answer is
no, they don't.
- Open the channels of com-munication. Your
employees''ability to communicate openly'
and honestly with both you, the manager, and each other, is critical to the ultimate success of your organization.'
- Build and maintain trust and respect. Employees who are trusted
and respected by their managers are motivated to perform their
- Develop your greatest asset your employees. Challenge your employees to improve their skills and knowledge, and provide them with the support and training they need to do so. Concentrate on the positive progress that they make, and recognize and reward it whenever possible.
Have a plan
Motivated employees don't happen by accident you've got to have a plan to reinforce the behavior that you want. In general, employees are more strongly motivated by the potential to earn rewards than they are by the fear of punishment. Here are some suggestions for setting up a system of rewards in your organization:
- Link rewards to organizational goals. Rewards should be
structured to increase the frequency of desired behavior and
decrease the frequency of undesired behavior.
- Define perimeters and mechanics. After you identify the
behaviors that you want to reinforce, you need to develop the
specifics of the reward system and create rules that are clear and
easily understood by all employees. Also, be sure that all targets
- Obtain commitment and support. Communicate your reward program
to your employees. To achieve the best results, plan and implement
your reward program with the direct involvement of your
- Monitor effectiveness. Is your program working? Even if it
does, you'll need to make continual changes, because even the most
successful programs tend to lose their effectiveness over time.
Keep your program fresh by making needed changes.
- For an incentive program to have meaningful and lasting effects, it has to focus on performance. And always remember, regardless of how smart, talented or productive an employee is, he or she can always improve.'
Following are a few examples of performance based measures that all managers should recognize and reward:
- Increase sales by 20%.
- Increase selling margin by 3%.'
- Decrease mistakes by 5%.'
- Decrease expenses by 10%.
- Reorganize the records system by introducing color coding for
filing, retrievals, etc.'
- Reduce time to prepare quotes and drawings from 10 days to
seven days. Focus on the positive. When was the last time you
extended a personal "thank you" for a job well done? A written
thank you is a great motivator.'
Positive reinforcement will:'
- Give employees the benefit of the doubt. They don't want to do
a bad job, so give them the training, encouragement and support
they need to improve.'
- Have high expectations for your employees' abilities. If you
believe your employees can be outstanding, soon they will believe
- Catch your employees doing something right. Although most employees do a good job in most of their work, managers naturally tend to focus on the things that employees do wrong. Sure, we have to catch the mistakes but we have to catch and acknowledge the good things as well.
Small things count
Most of an employee's work is a whole lot of daily routines not a string of dazzling successes. This is true of the manager's workday as well. Ninety-five percent is "routine" and "putting out fires" and 5% is important decision-making, the activity that has the greatest impact on the organization.
It's absolutely critical that you reward your employees for their small successes as well as their big successes. Praising employees' progress toward a goal is as important as praising them when they finally reach it.
Money is clearly important to your employees. Most employees consider the money they receive for their job to be fair exchange for the labor that they contribute to their organization. Compensation is viewed as a right; recognition, on the other hand, is viewed as a gift, and using it helps you get the best effort from each employee.
Here's a summary of the top 10 ways to motivate employees:
- Personally thank employees for doing a good job one on one, in
writing, or both. Do it timely, often and
- Be willing to take time to meet with and listen to
- Provide employees with specific and frequent feedback about
their performance. Support them in improving
- Recognize, reward and promote high performers; deal with low
and marginal performers so that they can improve. . .or
- Provide information about how the company makes and loses
money, upcoming product changes and services and strategies for
competing. Explain the employee's role in the overall
- Involve employees in decisions, especially as those decisions
affect them. Involvement equals commitment.'
- Give employees a chance to grow and learn new skills; encourage
them to do their best. Show them how you can help them meet their
goals while achieving the organization's goals.'
- Provide employees with a sense of ownership in their work and
their work environment.'
- Strive to create a work environment that is open,
and fun. Encourage new ideas, suggestions and initiative. Learn from, rather than punishing for, mistakes.'
- Celebrate successes of the company, the department and
individual. Take time for team and morale building meetings and
activities. Be creative and fresh.
Finally, never lose sight of the fact that people are your most important asset!