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03/01/2010

Motivating Your Employees


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What do you think motivates employees? Most managers, when surveyed, rank money as the number one motivating factor. Most employees however, generally rank money seventh or eighth out of the top ten factors. Their top choices are usually “Feeling good about the work I perform”, “Feeling that my work makes a difference”, or “Feeling that I did a good day’s work.”

How can management be so wrong about something so important? It’s easy: We don’t pay much attention to our employees. To most managers, dealing with employees is an inconvenient, low-reward function. Therefore, we rarely communicate our expectations adequately. Even rarer is the procedure where we establish systems of accountability. In most small businesses, managers or owners give their employees only a vague insight of what’s important. They don’t want to be pinned down to a specific job expectation, nor do they want their employees to be able to hide behind some established job description. Owners don’t want to hear their employees say, “That’s not my job.” This attitude causes many employees to feel insecure about their job performance. When an employee doesn’t know exactly what’s expected, they can’t feel satisfied regardless of the quality of the work done.

To improve employee morale, business owners should offer a challenging job which will offer a positive learning environment, encourage some risk-taking without fear of reprisal, offer tasks which are meaningful to the business as a whole, and certain tasks or projects that stretch the abilities of the employee. Owners should also establish clear job descriptions and expectations, and a system to measure performance versus such expectations. This will allow the employee to evaluate their own performance which will result in their going home feeling good about what they have accomplished compared to what was expected. This will also enable the employee to defend themselves at management review time. The manager is forced to judge performance based upon facts, not emotions.

Employees should be encouraged to establish their own objectives, not only as it relates to the individual’s job responsibilities, but also as it relates to their personal and professional growth. Employers should not only encourage such growth, they should support it financially by paying some or all of the cost of continuing education programs. Employees should be required to submit a self-evaluation on at least an annual basis, to coincide with their annual review. Each manager should review the employee’s respective self-evaluation prior to or in conjunction with completing their evaluation of such employee. This will ensure that the manager is viewing the employee’s performance from both sides of the fence.

Employee recognition programs can also act as motivational tools. I’m not referring to the typical “Employee of the Month” program which often becomes a popularity contest. A program which I recently initiated is called the “Above and Beyond Program” in which a manager from one department recognizes someone from another department as having performed above and beyond their normal duties. Such individual is recognized in an open forum with the entire staff present, and then presented with a gift card for some nominal amount. In our case, the amount is $50.

Another motivational tool is to encourage employees to personalize their work space. Employees are not automatons, going about their duties without thinking or feeling. Employees are real people with feelings, likes and dislikes and families. Whether it is a cubicle or a private office, if employees are prohibited from adding personal items, such as photos or personal mementos, they will feel more like an outsider every hour of the day. Allowing personalization, as long as it’s not offensive to fellow employees, actually encourages employees to show up every day and results in a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Yet another motivational tool can be including your staff in any promotional items you may be sending out to customers or prospects. Recently, we ordered fleece jackets with our logo for a leadership conference We ordered extra so every employee could receive one. This is a good way to create goodwill and boost employee morale, at a relatively low cost.

There are many other ways to motivate employees, but management must take the initiative and show that they care about their employees. Otherwise, management may not get the kind of performance or attitude they would want or expect. In the immortal words of Lennon and McCartney, “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Show your employees “the love.”

--Michael Herz, CPA, MBA

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