Figuring out how to motivate employees is a task all managers are faced with, and it’s by no means an easy one. With so many different personalities on your team, trying to motivate everyone at once can feel like herding cats.
So, how do you do it?
In this post, we’ll discuss how to motivate employees, including why employee motivation is vital to the success of a business, a fresh take on inspiring motivation, and how to maintain it long-term.
A lack of motivation and engagement in a workforce torpedoes team morale, productivity, efficiency, and your bottom line. If an employee doesn’t feel motivated or fulfilled by their job, they’re more likely to leave it and find work somewhere else.
A team that’s always in flux means team members constantly need to adjust and form new relationships, which makes it very difficult for teammates to build rapport with one another. A team that hasn’t learned to trust each other won’t be able to trust in the effectiveness of each other’s decision making.
📚 Learn more in our article on the 5 stages of team development, which includes how to apply the stages to a modern workforce to build team cohesion.
Employee motivation is vital to the success of a business. Without it, everything falls apart. Unfortunately, there’s no secret sauce or single magical way for a manager to motivate the employees on their team since a team is always made up of individuals, each with their own unique motivations, values, and dreams.
Nevertheless, motivation and engagement must be achieved in order to keep a business running smoothly.
Ask questions and learn about your team
If you want to understand how to motivate an employee, you should start by asking them. What are they looking for from their job? How are they hoping to advance in their career? Do they hope to be a manager one day? Are they excited by the thought of group work, or is it something they actively try to avoid?
Consider asking your team to each complete a personality assessment, such as the Enneagram or the DiSC personality test. While these tests aren’t necessarily scientific, they do ask important questions surrounding communication preferences, values, work habits—and yes—motivations. The results will provide insight for both you, the employee, and the team at large. This improved mutual understanding will aid communication and help you to understand what makes your employees tick—and how to motivate them as individuals.
Gather and record the feedback you receive, so the insights are never lost. You can’t hope to motivate an employee if you don’t understand who they are and what they’re looking for. Most people are hoping for more fulfillment from their job than a simple paycheck.
Motivation should never be a one-size-fits-all scenario. Each member of your team is motivated by a differing set of values, desires, and goals. Once you know what inspires each individual team member, you can tailor your approach to meet the needs of every employee.
Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. If someone excels at giving presentations and being on stage, allow them to pursue this in their work. At the same time, help people learn and build upon their weaknesses to become more well-rounded and capable employees.
While employee recognition is vital to the success of a business (more on that below), it’s also important to tailor the recognition to the employee. Everyone wants to be recognized for their good work, but not everyone wants to be singled out in a crowd. Recognize employee achievements in a way that best suits the employee. If an employee is on the shy side, recognize their efforts in a one-on-one meeting or in a personal message. If an employee loves to be the center of attention, feel free to recognize their success in front of the entire office or in a group chat.
At the end of the day, you’re all in this together, and you’re all working toward the same goal. Utilize honest and transparent communication and always make sure the entire team knows how the business is performing and what your goals are. The more included they feel, the more they will see how they fit within the business, the value they provide, and how they can best contribute further.
Motivate team members to work together to achieve business goals. Employees should not be competing with each other. Whenever you can, drive home that your success is your teammate’s success, and your teammate’s success is your success. If the business is performing well, it means the team is performing well.
This mindset helps promote a supportive, collaborative work environment where teammates can rely on and trust each other because they know their team members have their best interests and the best interests of the business at heart.
As a manager, it’s up to you to provide the conditions that allow each person to succeed. Flexible work conditions help people work in the ways they work best, which results in enhanced productivity, team morale, and improved work-life balance.
Everyone works differently. The 2020 pandemic forced many workers to become accustomed to working from home; they’ve grown used to utilizing asynchronous communication with teammates as well as other online communication tools, whereas others are itching to get back into the office for more human interaction.
How will you accommodate each of your employees and foster the proper conditions for their own engagement and motivation? Will you force them to work in the way that best suits you as their manager, or will you work with your employees to discover how they work best and how they can be the most productive?
Gather feedback from your team to learn how they prefer to work, and then do your best to reach a reasonable compromise. If you’re concerned that your employees won’t get their work done without you watching over them, you’re not a manager—you’re a babysitter. Have trust that your team is capable of working even when you aren’t directly watching them. Putting your trust in the team will give them the freedom to work in the ways they find most productive, and that trust will motivate them to continue working hard for you, the team, and themselves.
Feedback shouldn’t be reserved for quarterly performance reviews. Feedback works best when it is provided consistently, and it can be as easy as offering an employee or fellow team member a simple kudos.
Continuous feedback builds a culture of open dialogue, which accelerates employee development and confidence, boosts morale, fosters collaboration, strengthens a team’s relationship, and helps teams achieve goals. When every team member is committed to helping each other improve, innovation and effective decision making soon follows.
It’s not only up to the manager to provide feedback. Employees should be encouraged to recognize each other across departments to create an overall culture of feedback. 360 degree feedback brings peers, reporting staff, and customers, in addition to supervisors and managers, into the performance review process. This way, an employee can receive multidirectional feedback on all aspects of their job performance instead of only hearing their manager’s perspective.
With continuous, 360 degree feedback, employees gain a more well-rounded understanding of the impact they have on the business as a whole. It enables enhanced accountability and gives employees plenty of opportunities to recognize the effort and value each of their teammates brings to the organization. Motivation increases the more an employee feels like a valued part of the team. The more they feel valued, the more they’ll want to improve and gain recognition for their efforts.
📚 Learn more: The importance of employee recognition and how to do it well.
As a manager, all you can really do is create the conditions for self-motivation. Extrinsic motivators, like a bonus, healthcare plan, or the threat of termination, are motivating, but extrinsic motivation is not as successful as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual; an employee is motivated to complete a task because doing so aligns with their personal drives, values, and self-image.
When the work is personally meaningful to an employee, they’ll be much more motivated to complete it to the best of their ability. Open, consistent communication and full transparency give employees the space to own their own work and successes.
In order to create a space for employees to self-motivate, it’s important to consider your own managerial style. Do you live your ideals, listen to employee feedback with an open mind, and lead by example? Or do you feel that a paycheck is sufficient motivation for an employee? It’s the difference between a transformational leader and a transactional leader.
Even if you relate more to a transactional leader, it’s important to remember that transformational leaders aren’t born—they’re made. Anyone can become a transformational leader by looking at examples of business, cultural, and political leaders and committing to your own self-improvement. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you want to empower your employees to self-motivate, you must deeply consider your own managerial style and create the space to facilitate intrinsic motivation.
📚 Learn more in our article on transformational leadership.
Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t assume that just because your team was motivated six months ago means everyone is feeling the same way today. Regularly assess your own systems and processes. What’s going well? What could be improved? Gather feedback from your team and continually endeavor to understand how you can improve.
Schedule one-on-one meetings with your employees and direct reports regularly to determine their motivation and engagement levels. Are they feeling stagnant in their position? Is there anything you can do to help their professional development? Does an employee simply need to vent? Do employees feel that you’re having too many meetings?
There is always, always room to improve. Continually assess your systems and gather feedback from employees to ensure you never take your success for granted and are always innovating and moving forward.
Charma is the best practice toolkit for managers to organize, motivate, and engage their teams, beloved by managers, HR, executives, and ICs alike. Find tools to help manage agendas for one-on-one meetings and team meetings, action items, team collaboration, continuous feedback, recognition, and goals — all in one place.
Our platform simplifies workplace motivation by keeping employees engaged, productive, and aligned around goals.
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