How Good Managers Motivate Their Employees

How Good Managers Motivate Their Employees
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In your experience as a manager, what practices have helped you to motivate and influence your team to be productive and fulfilled employees? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by John L. Miller, Software Engineer/Architect at Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Oracle for 25 years, on Quora:

Keeping your team motivated as a manager is a skill, and an incredibly valuable one at that.

The first time I managed, I was a dictator. I knew how everything should be done best, and if people didn't do it my way, I made them change it. We produced good quality work, but morale was low and people were unhappy.

After a break, I came back to managing, this time with a simple rule: manage people the way I would want to be managed.

Here's the main things I've done that have been successful with my employees.

  1. Get them bought in to our goals. People work better when its toward a goal they consider worthy. I ensure everyone understands what we need to do, why, and why it matters. It's a dialog, and I try to be flexible about revising when there are better ideas.
  2. Let them own what they own. The way they prefer to do things is the way they should be done, as long as it meets team goals. It's not worth making them unhappy and impinging on their ownership just to squeeze out an unneeded and theoretical 1% gain. I also let them make mistakes and learn from them, as long as they aren't fatal to the project.
  3. Focus on the person, not the project. Projects are shorter than careers. People work on many projects, and good people are hard to find. I almost always prioritize their happiness and career goals if there's a reasonable compromise between those and short-term project needs. This helps keep them happy, engaged, and productive.
  4. Prepare them for their whole career, not just my part. I remind them that they're the only person who can ensure they're rewarded well, that they need to ask for what they want, depending upon their manager. I suggest skills they can develop and motivate them with past successes and failings of my own. I do my best to help them understand where they are in their career, what's needed to move forward, and the value of moving forward.
  5. Build team cohesion. I'm not as good at this as I should be. BUT, you need to ensure your people talk to each other regularly, engage with each other for learning and mentoring, and treat each other with respect. Encourage socializing as well as purely functional interaction. For example, my current team goes to lunch together several times a week, and we talk about a mix of personal and work stuff. We stop by and joke about this or that when we want a break. When there's a problem, people pitch in even when it's not THEIR problem.
  6. Treat people according to their needs. Each person has different needs in terms of how things are communicated, and how they are managed. Don't be afraid to individualize according to their needs. A mistake I made early on is trying to treat everyone identically. This was paradoxically unfair: only the person with the communication and work style most similar to my own actually benefited, the rest were hurt.
  7. Recognize and reward achievement. When someone does something good, I acknowledge it directly to them, and to people who care about it. If the person make a mistake, I try to reassure them that it's not the end of the world and mention a few truly hideous mistakes I've made.
  8. Be a good conduit and filter. As a manager, one of my jobs is to insulate my team from (needless) uncertainty, for example not telling them the org is considering a reorg for the tenth time, again without acting upon it. I communicate down to them relevant things that are happening, and give them insight into what's actually being done in the org. I trumpet their achievements to my manager, underscoring great work, and mitigating any issues that came up.

I'm by no means a perfect manager, but I want to be better, and the items above have proven to be useful, positive tools in creating a healthy and productive team.

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