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Once Again, Just How Do You Motivate People?

You know you have a talented group of people working for you. You may have personally hired some of them or seen their excellent work in other teams. But all of this talent is meaningless if you cannot raise the bar and motivate people to produce their best work ever, for you and your team, right now.

When people feel inspired to live up to their full potential, companies thrive. There’s a positive shift in the work environment, and the resulting culture boosts morale and productivity.

When you inspire motivation, you’ll see the following advances at work:

People come up with new ideas about how to solve your company’s most pressing problems.
People get along well and collaborate in teams to create new ways of doing things that can revolutionize the marketplace for your products and services.
People work with boundless energy, giving their time, enthusiasm and drive to forward the company mission.
Even during challenging times, your people remain steadfast and loyal.
People take pride in their work and feel responsible for the company’s future.

If you’re a manager or team leader whose employees exhibit such behaviors, you work under ideal conditions. When such energy is evident, truly great things can happen.

But what if, like the results of the Gallup Organization’s study of engagement at work, some of your people are not fully dedicated to their jobs? What if one-third of your team members are simply going through the motions, showing up but withholding energy?

A Paycheck Isn’t Enough

In today’s business environment, motivating people to be their best is more crucial than ever. Many people look to their supervisor or team leader to supply the inspiration for becoming fully engaged in the work they do.

It’s up to you to map the path that leads to the results you need. Only through inspirational motivation can managers help their employees deliver excellent performance that enables companies to boost profitability and thrive during rough times.

Even in a healthy economy, you must supply more than a paycheck to motivate people to perform optimally. Meaningful work is more important than money for most people. They want to feel they’re part of something larger than themselves—needed and challenged. They enjoy learning new skills, growing in their jobs and ascending to higher levels. They want to be a part of an organization that is dedicated to worthy achievements.

A steady paycheck, great benefits and perks won’t inspire people to excel. Leaders and managers must make motivation an integral part of their daily job if they hope to build the kind of workforce necessary to succeed in the 21st century.

Is Motivation an Inside or Outside Job?

Motivating others is surprisingly difficult. The most basic solution suggests that all motivation is intrinsic (i.e., found within the person you are trying to motivate). But knowing what motivates each employee on a personal level is impossible and impractical.

The more obvious forms of motivation include cheerleading, bribing and threatening. You could try to push people to achieve more through aggressive communications that instill a bit of fear, but even intimidation goes only so far.

Motivating others to high performance is more complex than it appears. To inspire your people to excel, you need to help them find meaning in their work and to feel productive on the job. You also have to encourage the personal qualities that enhance employees’ performance, such as optimism, personal responsibility and dedication to values – their own and the company’s.

Take note of these three themes inherent to motivating people:

1. Helping people find meaning
2. Strengthening personal qualities
3. Fostering commitment beyond the job

Helping People Find Meaning at Work

Do your employees find meaning and purpose in their work? If not, what can you do to help them achieve it?

You don’t need expensive training programs or complex compensation plans to connect your people to what really matters to them. Instead, create a sense of “we’re all in this together” by sharing what you know about the company’s business plans.

When employees know as much as management does about the company’s financial situation and business plans, they feel a sense of mutual partnership.

Get to know what motivates each of your employees. You can determine this by observing their level of enthusiasm and interest in various parts of a project, be it the tech side of how things work or their desire to lead the team. You can then adapt your communication style and recognition systems to each person’s intrinsic motivation.

“We still haven’t learned that you can’t enroll people’s loyalty and creativity if you’re not willing to enlarge the purpose of the work in ways far beyond money making,” observes Margaret Wheatley, an author and organizational expert.

People want to work to help improve the world. Companies that can link their mission to core values and a purpose greater than the bottom line will create more engaged workers, boosting profitability in the long run.

Company leadership determines how much employees can grow, develop and find satisfaction in their work. Successful leaders focus not only on financial results, but also think about the experiences and opportunities that provide employees with intrinsic rewards as they contribute to building something substantial.

8 Career Anchors: What Matters Most

More than 30 years ago, Edgar Schein, a Sloan Fellows Professor of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed that people are primarily motivated by one of eight career anchors:

1. Technical/functional competence
2. General managerial competence
3. Autonomy/independence
4. Security/stability
5. Entrepreneurial creativity
6. Sense of service
7. Pure challenge
8. Freedom to organize themselves around their private lives

Once you understand each career anchor, you can determine the one that best fits each person on your team (or ask employees to help define what’s most important to them). Ultimately, the people who work for you must communicate what matters most to them, and you, as the manager, must continually ask for this information.

Strengthening Personal Qualities

Do your people demonstrate personal qualities that enhance performance, such as blending optimism with realism, viewing themselves as owners of the business, trusting you and the company, and knowing how to avoid burnout? If not, how can you help them develop these qualities?

Motivated people demonstrate several distinctive personal qualities:

1. They are optimistic, yet realistic about limitations.
2. They take pride in their work.
3. They build relationships of mutual trust with their managers.
4. They manage their time well, prioritizing appropriately to take full advantage of their energy and creativity.
5. They take steps to avoid burnout.

Optimism is vital to high performance. It fuels the ability to make creative connections between ideas, to convince others to take calculated risks and to persevere during sustained periods of corporate difficulties. But optimism is effective only when it is rooted in reality. One must strengthen flexibility and adaptation skills to become resilient. As you enhance your personal resilience, your ability to apply it to business situations also improves.

The key to enhancing resilience is to develop a deeper appreciation for how our beliefs influence our emotions and behaviors. This work is best done one-on-one with a coach or mentor, as it’s difficult to refine self-awareness without the benefits of a neutral third party. Sometimes, 360-degree feedback tools are used in this process.

Fostering Commitment Beyond the Job

Do your people commit themselves to more than just their own jobs? For example, do they energize peers, take responsibility for whole business processes, transfer best practices across departments and functions, and feel directly accountable for the company’s bottom line? If not, how can you foster this broader commitment?

When you motivate your people to excel, their energy and creativity ripple across the entire organization. Motivated people make others feel fully engaged in their work and inspire others to focus on possibilities instead of problems. They feel responsible for entire business processes, not just their own tasks.

You can foster commitment beyond a task or job by clarifying the company’s fundamental objectives and then demonstrating ways to measure a goal’s progress. You can challenge people to identify opportunities to leverage existing knowledge and make sure they understand how all of the company’s disparate parts work together.

Open-Book Management Style

The problem with some employee empowerment programs is that some people will focus only on their part of a task. People need to take responsibility for whole business processes, not just the parts on which they happen to work. Achieving this means employees must understand how other departments function.

People work better when they know what’s going on. When they understand the company’s objectives and metrics, they can take responsibility for their own work. First, however, they require a stake in the company’s success.

An open-book bonus system is a powerful incentive program, providing substantial rewards to those who improve performance. Such systems allow employees to track their progress toward the bonus over the course of the year. You can tie a unit’s performance to compensation in the following ways:

Large companies have employee stock-ownership plans. When workers are encouraged to become shareholders, they can be reminded of their interest in the company’s long-term health.
Many companies also have profit-sharing programs. People know high performance ultimately contributes to plan payouts, and they recognize that better-performing units tend to be rewarded more frequently than underperforming ones over time.
Pride is a form of compensation, and people often take it as seriously as money. Open-book companies challenge people to be their best and share the scoreboard that shows how they compare to their competitors, whether internal or external.
Small rewards are sometimes as meaningful as larger ones. Achievement of customer service targets, shipment percentages and similar goals can be celebrated with pizza lunches, ballgame tickets or simple recognition.

9 Steps to Creating a Great Workplace

A great workplace is characterized by people who enjoy going to work and strive to do their best. Employees must:

1. Be engaged in their jobs
2. Respect management (and vice versa)
3. Feel they are treated fairly

Benefits are important, but they’re a reflection of the underlying culture—not the cause of it.

The Gallup Organization interviewed about 1 million workers, including 80,000 managers, over the last 25 years. Those surveyed were asked about all aspects of their work life. Gallup researchers found that people stay with a company largely because of the quality of their managers.

So, how can you start creating a great workplace?

1. Help people see the purpose of what they do. People stay at jobs that are intellectually stimulating or personally rewarding.
2. Expect a lot. Challenge your people to not only meet their goals, but to exceed them.
3. Don’t dictate how to work. Good companies set high standards, but they’re flexible about how people can meet them.
4. Be really available. Managers’ availability is a crucial element in successful companies.
5. Break the Golden Rule. Treat people not as you would like to be treated, but as they would like to be treated.
6. Get the word out—in 24 hours or less. Let your people know within 24 hours about the issues discussed in your management meetings.
7. Make sure people have what they need to do their jobs. The Gallup study found that, next to knowing what was expected of them, employees were most productive when given the materials and equipment needed to do their jobs.
8. Say thanks.
9. Have fun!

Working Resources is a Leadership Consulting, Training and Executive Coaching Firm Helping Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally Intelligent People; Emotional Intelligence-Based Interviewing and Selection; Multi-Rater 360-Degree Feedback; Career Coaching; Change Management; Corporate Culture Surveys and Executive Coaching.

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams
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