Whether you call it motivation, engagement or satisfaction, finding ways to help employees connect with and care about your business goals is a major challenge for today’s business leaders - especially among companies that hire younger workers. A recent poll by Gallup found that only 29% of millennials felt engaged in their jobs and older generations aren’t doing much better; according to the same poll, only 35% of all workers report feeling engaged at work.
So, what can you do to create a more motivated workforce, or tribe? We looked at some of the business practices of some employers who are leading the way in employee motivation and came up with five takeaways you can use to drive higher levels of motivation in your workplace.
The five keys to motivation include:
- Hire the right people,
- Develop relationships,
- Make people accountable,
- Emphasize the pack, and
- Clarify your purpose.
Read on to learn more about why motivation matters and how to unlock your tribe’s motivation.
Motivation Matters - Keys to Unlocking it in Your People
Motivation is about understanding why people do the things they do, whereas engagement refers more to an employee’s sense of ownership or connection with your company and its purpose. Both concepts are ways to learn what makes an employee do their best work.
Surveys show organizations that understand how to motivate and engage employees have higher productivity and lower turnover. So motivation and engagement aren’t just about feeling good, they have the potential to make a real difference in your organization’s bottom line.
Hire the Right People - One of the best ways to build a motivated workforce is to hire people who tend to be motivated in the first place. Chicago-based Coyote Logistics has built their business around hiring smart people and training them to become future leaders. This approach helped the company go from a startup freight brokerage in 2006 to more than 2,000 employees valued at more than $1.8 billion in under a decade.
According to Coyote Logistics’ Chief Marketing Officer Jodi Navta, “The right fit is so important. The freight brokerage business is one where you’re always on. You have to find people that can handle this kind of fast-paced environment; people who can hustle, who want to make a difference and aren’t afraid to fail or to lead.”
That takes experience and a solid recruitment strategy. Navta said, “For us, we look for people that fit our culture. We hire a lot of athletes, people who worked multiple jobs at a time through college, or who’ve held leadership positions in student organizations. We look for smart people that can handle pressure, then we train them to do the right things and give them a chance to contribute.”
Develop Relationships - As people spend more time at work, coworker relationships can be a huge motivating factor. According to Gallup, 62% of millennials who feel they can talk with their manager about personal issues plan to be with their organization for more than a year.
Yet maintaining those personal relationships becomes more challenging as companies grow. A strong internal communications program helps to ensure that those connections remain strong no matter how large or spread out your workforce becomes. At Coyote Logistics, an internal media hub called “The Den,” delivers a platform that helps solve this problem by sharing stories about people who are making a difference around the company.
The idea for the Den came from a series of love letters that Navta wrote after seeing how Coyote employees pitched in to move emergency freight during Hurricane Irene in 2011. “A call went out from our CEO to the employee floor to see who would be available to help our customers move things like water, generators, and other emergency goods. Within 30 minutes we had 180 people letting us know they were available to work. They worked three days straight, slept on floors in the office, whatever it took. It impressed me so much.”
Navta continued, “So I went home and wrote a love letter about everything I saw that weekend - the communication, motivation and leadership. This generated tons of responses from others around the company thanking us for sharing those stories, and telling us about the things I didn’t see. I got responses from more than 75% of our employee base at the time. People really wanted to recognize each other.”
Navta says, “That spirit of recognition and supportiveness has continued with The Den. We hire a lot of Millennials, so we designed the Den to appeal to them. It’s very visual - lots of photos and videos. The content and story ideas are coming directly from the employees themselves; they let us know about what people are doing, then our marketing team tells those stories across different mediums. There’s also a monthly newsletter covering all business news across the company and CEO letter to maintain connections with leadership.”
Make People Accountable - Accountability isn’t about taking a punitive stance when employees make mistakes. In fact, you might argue it’s the exact opposite. It’s really about assuming competence and encouraging employees to take ownership of their jobs. This means hiring capable people, training them appropriately, and trusting them to do their jobs.
Cofounder of corporate leadership training and research firm Vitalsmarts, Joseph Grenny, writes that accountability is an important trait in high performing teams, but it isn’t solely a matter of leaders holding underlings accountable. In the best performing teams, peers hold one another accountable and work together to resolve conflict. In teams with mediocre performance, managers hold employees responsible. In teams with the weakest performance, there is no accountability.
Accountability is tightly linked to motivation because without it, execution suffers. And in teams where poor execution is an acceptable norm, low motivation is a predictable result. Employees need to feel that their actions matter, that what they do makes a real difference to other members of their teams, until ultimately, that their actions matter to the customer. That’s why the best managers don’t just hold their people accountable; they teach their team members to understand how their work impacts the organization as a whole, and encourage them to hold themselves and each other personally responsible.
Emphasize the Pack - Motivation is about understanding what makes people tick. Some people may be motivated by money and rewards, but for many people, what makes them feel motivated to come to work every day is really the relationships that develop between people. In the military, this is referred to as “esprit de corps.” In the business world, we call it team spirit.
According to Navta, “At Coyote, we pride ourselves on what we call the pack mentality. Everything is team based. It’s essential, that’s why we prefer to hire people who’ve shown they thrive in and understand teamwork - they’ve already shown they’re used to that team mentality.”
Of course, teamwork starts at the top, with a sense that management cares about the individual members of the team. Navta said, “At Coyote, one of the things that we’ve found works well is the sort of “mom and pop” approach that our founders took when it came to building the company. We have a lot of people here who have deep personal relationships - some with long-standing friendships through our referral recruitments, and so there’s a close linkage between our team’s work and personal relationships.”
Clarify Purpose - Another key to motivation is the idea of working toward a common goal, or purpose. Yet, while many companies spend a lot of time and money generating mission statements, all too often that purpose or mission doesn’t resonate beyond the leadership level. When this happens, the profit motive becomes independent of purpose, which leads to low motivation, poor quality, and other performance problems that can ultimately impact the bottom line..
Why does this happen? Because real motivation isn’t based on a tit-for-tat, do this task and receive that reward type of arrangement. Employee motivation comes from doing work that is perceived to be important. Every business exists to fill a need or fulfill a purpose of some kind, whether it’s a physical human need like the need for food or shelter, an emotional need like the need to belong or to be understood, or a business need such as moving freight or handling money. Employees need to understand how the business fills those needs and impacts the customer. Only then can they understand why what they are doing matters and feel motivated to perform at a higher level.
A recent study by Harvard Business Review indicates that in fact, purpose is strongly linked to financial results: according to the study, 58% of companies that prioritized purpose experienced growth rates in excess of 10% over the last three years, while 42% of companies that did not prioritize purpose reported flat or declining revenue.
Motivation: It’s About Caring
What makes an employee care about more than a paycheck? What makes them perform at a level that ensures an amazing experience for every customer, every time? Ultimately, this kind of motivation is about understanding what really matters to your people. More often than not, this isn’t money, but feeling like part of something and making a difference. When your people understand why they do what they do, and care about the people they’re doing it with and for, they will be naturally motivated to fulfill that purpose and maintain those relationships that matter to them.