Motivationally speaking


A topic that I have struggled with a great deal over the years and something I often get asked about when I travel and attend conferences, is, "how do you motivate employees? "

The simple answer is. I do not know. 

Some say you can not really do anything to motivate a person, it has to come from within themselves. I would not disagree with this perspective. 

That said, here is what I think on this topic.

We have all seen numerous books and training manuals and courses on motivating employee and most are filled with what I would call practical approaches and techniques. I have reviewed and even tried many of those ideas and they do have a great deal of merit. 

However, I realized someting about motivating people or more so, my own motivation.  

I asked myself what motivates and who motivates me at work?  

As I looked in the mirror, I recognized that no one was directly and regularly trying to motivate me in any formalized way. Yet, I found myself to be extremely motivated and I think my supervisor would have agreed. Does this make me a unique specimen, an anomaly, or is it because of something else? 

So, once again I looked in the mirror and acknowledged that I loved my job at the time and was happy with what I was doing. This novel idea of loving my job made me think that maybe you do not have to constantly try to motivate others if they love their job and are happy with what they are doing? 

Granted, from time to time I got deflated; we all do. But, that was likely more an indication that I needed time off to disconnect more than anything else. 

So, what does this mean? Maybe we can motivate people by getting them one step closer to loving their job and liking what they do; even liking their job more would be a good step. 

One straight forward way to do that is by asking them what would take them one step closer to loving their job or one step towards liking their job more. Keeping in mind we need to be realistic and feasible as we do have limited resources as employers and a big-screen 3D TV for the staff lounge may not be in the budget. 

By asking this simple question you might hear that they want to be more involved with decisions that impact on them directly, to be informed about a change initiative before it happens, to be granted the opportunity to take some continuing education course, to have a flexible schedule or to be provided with some new tools so that they can perform their work more efficiently. 

Now is the tricky part, once you’ve asked, you need to at minimum recognize the merits of what they are relaying and ideally take them one step closer to liking their job more by making their request a reality. Failure to do so might have the complete opposite impact and demotivate them. 

But there is another side to this. When I have done this in real practice, I have also added the question, what they might do that is fully in their control to do that would take them one step closer to liking their job more. 

I have found that people often find it easy to say what they think Leadership should do for them yet neglect to ask themselves what they can do for themselves. 

If you think they already might love their job or really like their job, get them to say it out loud. They might know it but just need to be reminded of it in their own voice. 

It is amazing the stunned faces I sometimes used to get when people heard me say it out loud and I did say it out loud a lot as I wanted others to feel they could say it too and not feel awkward about using the “L” word at work. 

Although formalized approaches and techniques may be necessary as well. More specifically the process should ensure they have the training they require the appropriate tools at their disposal and support from their supervisors to perform their work. 

This might come in the form of clarifying expectation, giving regular feedback, and conducting performance dialogues, goal setting and establishing milestones and some form of rewards and recognition along the way. 

Regular praise and recognition are essential parts of this. Do not wait for an annual review or dialogue program. In time, they might even learn to praise themselves for a job well-done and that no doubt will take them one step closer to liking what they do and how they feel about themselves. 

In my perspective and experience, getting someone one step closer to loving their job might represent a more sustainable model for achieving self-motivation which will likely lead to more success for the individual and the organization. 

If this is not realistic given your context, I have come to realize that if someone is not motivated at all by the work they do, there really are only a few options. One being they quit or are fired but if that is not in the cards, they need to develop a very good daily routine. 

To achieve this, sit and map out the daily routine with the individual and plan the steps and ensure they know how to do each step properly. If they come in and do steps 1 to 10 in the proper order and do the steps at a certain well-defined quality and expectation and level, they will have a better chance of success.

This is not about micro-management, it is about helping someone develop a better routine in order to have success, which, hopefully will act to motivate them in a positive way or at least get the necessary work done properly.

I have done this exercise several times with several staff and I have always found this exercise very interesting and very revealing and in most cases, we were able to mitigate mistakes and problems when self-motivation was lacking. 

This exercise is not easy and can take at least an hour to do with each employee with a lot of follow-up, but it was always well worth the time. This can also be particularly useful to try and identify aspects of their work that they really enjoy. 

Although a work environment might not be ideal if it is too standardized and routine, for some instances this routine development might be an option even if not ideal. 

Leadership needs to be proactive rather than reactive and we need to practice like any discipline.  

I hope you will practice and come back and practice with me some more in the future; such is my routine.