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How To Motivate Your Employees

How To Motivate Your Employees

There are a hundred books and probably a hundred thousand websites dedicated to the topic of motivating employees. It’s subject that’s close to every leader’s heart. And the truth is that one technique might work one day, but not the next, and you find some things incentivize one particular set of employees, but not others.

However…I know the secret. And I’m pleased to say that it’s completely foolproof, fail-proof, and 100% accurate.

What’s more, it’s really simple: If you want to inspire and galvanize your team, then the trick to understanding what motivates them is understanding first what demotivates them.

Time and again, studies reiterate that employees feel disengaged and unmotivated when they don’t feel valued. Studies also show us that this is where leaders focus their time and energy – on the team members who aren’t performing as well as they could, and who generally just "show up" each day without too much enthusiasm.

The interesting part of this equation is actually the reason why leaders do this. Is it because leaders know the engaged employees are just "getting on with the job"’ Yes, and no.

For the most part, it’s because leaders fear that the disengaged employees have the power to rock the boat and hold everyone back…and that they’ll never change. Leaders spend their time helicopter-managing the demotivated employees so nothing untoward ever happens.

Now, on the face of it, there’s a kind of logic to this. But there is also a much easier, much more productive, and much more effective way of dealing with the problem of disengaged employees.

[Related: You’ve Just Become a Manager! Now What?]

Get to the root cause.

The best way to get the most out of people is to help them find their talents and to use them. That disengaged, "lazy" database administrator might be yearning to be an accountant. That disengaged, disgruntled sales administrator might be yearning to be a copywriter.

When you understand what makes people "light up," then you can use this to your advantage. Your company may not have opportunities for an accountant or a copywriter right now, but there are still ways that you can show that you’re supportive of their ambition and make them feel valued just the same.

You can let your team member know that you’re perfectly okay with this current job being an interim stepping stone for them. You can encourage them to find vocational courses or mentors in their dream careers and help them to move forward. Even showing someone that you believe that they’re destined for greater things than what they’re doing right now. I promise, they will improve their attitude towards work (and you!)

They will stop resenting the 9-5 grind, and by taking positive actions towards the life they’re meant to lead, you’ll see them become happier and more motivated (yes, even in areas where they were previously bored and "bummed out").

In this way, not only can you turn your low performers into  higher performers, but you’re forewarned, too, that this person will be leaving your team or your organization. So you’ll be better prepared to minimize the impact of this when the time comes.

[Related: Motivate Your Team & Business with Three Basic Behaviors]

The power of little things.

For those employees who are engaged and highly motivated and achieving results (you know the ones – those ones you’ve been ignoring while you’ve been worrying about the low performers), you need to check in with them often, too. Because if you overlook them, they will soon become demotivated.

It’s easy to celebrate the small wins, and a heartfelt "thank you" is very powerful. When was the last time you received a handwritten note? That’s my point, exactly. A little personal effort and a sincere gesture of appreciation are all that’s required.

Of course, some people like the big fanfare and ticker tape parade, and that’s okay, too. You’ll have a good understanding of which employees prefer which style of acknowledgement, as well as what suits the culture of your company. Get creative and get personal – find out what people want and give it to them.

[Related: Want to Be a Better Manager? Sweat the Small Stuff]

Passion that fuels you to jump out of bed.

As leaders we have to keep in mind that we all have different motivators and – most imperatively – not everyone is driven by money. Some people want the connection they get interacting with others at work, some people want the opportunity to do what they love, some people are primarily motivated by routine.

But at the end of the day, what we all have in common is that fact that happiness motivates our hearts and fuels confidence and self-esteem. We are all guilty of taking our work too seriously. Let's have a bit more fun in our day. Let's bring more joy and increase our productivity by making sure our teams are satisfied. Above all, never assume your employees are satisfied in their work. Ask them...and never assume you can’t turn their attitude around.

[Related: Make Your Team a Place People Want to Work]


Catherine Plano works one-on-one with women to help them reconnect with themselves. In 2012, she launched the I AM WOMAN Project, which is now a global weekly podcast where women from all over the world share their stories.

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