6 Employee-Motivation Strategies to Try (and 3 to Avoid)

According to a 2013 Gallup study, unhappy workers cost the U.S. economy as much as $550 billion. That’s because workers who aren’t feeling their best are less productive than those who consistently wake up on the right side of the bed.

In a piece about the study’s implications, Entrepreneur contributor Catherine Clifford encourages bosses to do more to motivate down-in-the-dumps employees. She notes that it’s “not rocket science.”

Motivated employees

“Workers want to be recognized when they do good work, have their personal life respected and have friends at work,” she writes.

Clifford identifies three important facets of what’s increasingly become a core concern for managers and business owners: employee motivation. Let’s explore some related strategies to improve workplace morale and drive better outcomes for all — and a few to avoid at all costs.

Employee Motivation Strategies to Try…

1. Make Team and Organizational Priorities Clear

Set and clearly communicate team and organizational goals and priorities. It’s all too common for rank-and-file employees to fall into ruts simply because they’re not sure how best to allocate their time and effort. In fact, you’re probably falling short on this front right now.

“Only 10 percent of frontline leaders are effective at conveying performance expectations and facilitating clear agreement on next steps,” writes Inc contributor, Peter Economy.

Use standing meetings, quarterly level-sets, and annual reviews to set out priorities at the organizational, team, and individual level. Make clear your expectations and the metrics on which you’ll hold each stakeholder accountable.

2. Improve Intra-Team Communication

Poor intra-team communication is responsible for countless failures. While there are plenty of ways in which it can contribute directly to missed milestones or goals, poor communication is also responsible for failure in a less direct, more insidious way: by weakening the bonds of accountability between team members, leads, and external reports. The less your team talks, the greater the likelihood that individual members will row in different directions. No issue is too small to raise.

3. Foster Fearless Accountability

Make it a priority to build teams that operate on the principle of “fearless accountability.”

For more on what fearless accountability looks like on the ground, check out Keith Ferrazzi’s presentation at GoalSummit, a performance management conference organized by BetterWorks. Ferrazzi notes that “the highest-performing teams hold each other accountable [by committing to provide] candid feedback” on a continuous basis. Rather than direct, managers coach — and that makes all the difference for rank-and-file employees who want their voices to be heard.

4. Make Meetings Count

Is your company’s schedule thick with team, department, and all-hands meetings?

Most of those confabs probably don’t need to happen, at least not in their current form. Slim down your meeting schedule by eliminating redundant check-ins and level-sets. Small teams can and should hold standing meetings on a regular basis, but larger get-togethers — especially call-ins through which most participants sit silently — simply aren’t the best use of your employees’ time. As long as everyone knows what they should be working on and when, they’ll be happier on their own.

Eliminating unnecessary meetings doesn’t mean giving up operational visibility, of course. Use a continuous performance management suite to maintain and improve visibility into subordinates’ work and deliver targeted feedback as needed. It’s a lot easier — and more productive — than going around the table.

5. Offer Legitimate Opportunities for Professional Development and Self-Improvement

One of the most effective ways to show your employees that you want them to succeed is to give them legitimate opportunities for professional development and self-improvement. If you haven’t already done so, allow time off and reimbursement for continuing education opportunities, and provide reasonable tuition allowances for employees who need additional educational credentials to advance in their careers.

6. Organize Appropriate Team-Building Activities

“Appropriate” is the operative word here. Your human resources team definitely needs to be on board with whatever your “social team” cooks up. Restrained happy hours are probably okay; after-hours house parties or trips to the club are likely to backfire.

Discussing coworking

And here’s what not to do…

1. DON’T Harp on Relatively Minor Mistakes

Continuous feedback is an unfettered good. Harping on preventable but minor mistakes is not. Couch warranted criticism in qualified praise, and move on quickly from unavoidable redirects. An employee should know what needs to happen next time without feeling obligated to dwell in a regrettable rut.

2. DON’T Infantilize Adult Employees

And they should all be adults, or you have bigger problems on your hands.

There’s a fine line between effectively managing underperforming employees and infantilizing everyone on your team. Approach unavoidable coaching conversations as meetings of the minds, not dressings-down. If your interlocutor walks away feeling deflated, he or she is not likely to produce excellent work in the near term.

3. DON’T Enact or Enforce Workplace Policies Unevenly

Everyone on your team needs to play by the same rules. That’s how teams win.

When you enact or apply workplace rules and policies unevenly, you risk alienating employees who rightly or not feel as if they’re being singled out for unfair treatment. The most important thing you can do as a leader is to lead by example and follow policies to the letter. The second most important thing you can do is to ensure that everyone in the organization is held to the same account, regardless of their position or clout.

Happy and motivated employees

Whatever Works for You

Your company’s workforce is unlike any other. It’s made up of unique people with their own unique proclivities. Its unique strategic goals — unlike any peer’s or competitor’s — ensure that its team rows together (or separately) in a unique direction. And its unique market position makes it virtually certain to encounter a unique mix of competitive pressures along the way.

All this is to say that — you guessed it — your mix of employee motivation strategies needs to be, well, unique. Do your company a favor and develop a holistic approach to motivation based on your company’s singular needs, not the conventional wisdom of the day or the management theory buzzwords of the hour. As long as you iterate continuously, taking care to keep what works and throw out what doesn’t, you’ll find that your workplace can be very productive indeed.

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