Igniting Passion and Motivation to Keep Yourself and Your Employees Moving

Employers are often accused of killing the motivation of their employees, sucking the inspirational juice out of them so to say. At least that's how many of the employees that leave a company would word it. I have witnessed this first hand on numerous occasions, and recently started to read up on the topic.

I have just finished reading three awesome books and want to tell you about what I have learned. This article is inspired by these books, punctuated with my own personal experiences. I will warn it is not a short one, as this is a topic just too important to gloss over. 

I have been both an employee and an employer.

As an employee I have seen myself at low points because of work-related stress and pressures. It took a fair share of introspection and reflection to regain my passion for a company or job that might have lost its luster over the course of time. It happens to the best of us.

As an employer, I have relentlessly tried to create an environment that allows my employees and colleagues to sustain their groove, kindle their passions, and learn more about themselves. This, without a doubt, is one of the biggest challenges that today's companies face. The bright side is that when it is done right, the rewards are endless. 

In order to address these crucial issues of life and career, I set about trying to figure out what great companies do with their employees that allow them to stay motivated and passionate.

Work Culture Is Always in Flux

“You are the company you keep.” Personal success and business success are functions of the company you keep. This ancient wisdom packs so much practical information and insight into the nature of human relationships that it is astounding how quickly we can forget it. The motivations and abilities of the people that you surround yourself with can push you far beyond your potential. In a company, this can mean greater success not only for you but also for everyone in the company. Overtime, the habits and values of mutually shared success can mature into a full-fledged culture: A culture that places emphasis on sharing visions and goals, on communication and transparency, and on growth and innovation. A culture like that is much better equipped to thrive in today’s economy and workforce. The reason is that in this environment certain values lose their appeal while others come to the fore.

Old School

In the old school model of corporate success, time and effort are construed as functions of money. Employer and employee are bound by a system of financial rewards devoid of fundamental satisfaction. Aside from the socio-emotional aspects, the model is simply unsustainable. The efficacy of this model is inextricably tied to the market. When there is job scarcity or the proffered wage is above market rates, for example, workers will acquiesce despite reservations. Conversely, when there is a market upturn, then employers find themselves in direct competition for workers. Whatever the economic reality, however, the common denominator is that workers are usually unhappy with their work when their sole reason for being these is money. I do not believe this is because people reflexively dislike work. I believe people can derive profound fulfillment from work, just not when it is solely about money.

New School

Employers should endeavor to stoke the passions of their employees with other means than monetary incentives. There are many ways to do this that trigger higher levels of gratification, of satisfaction, and of loyalty. When that happens, engagement is born, and that is a force to reckon with. When employees are engaged their passion ignites, ideas flourish, and the people around them are sparked into action. Their energy increases too. That yields great productivity, creativity and performance. As you, the employer, see this all manifest, you’ll be prompted to reward the person, to promote them, to invest in their developments. This wonderful dynamic is the passion and motivation cycle: also known as positive reinforcement.

Engagement and Passion Starts with You

The triumph of a passionate and motivational employer employee relationship lays in commitment, focus, and effort. This triad of feel-good experiences stems from you, the employer. Why? “You are the company you keep.”

Without deciding what kind of employer you want to be, what sort of culture you want to create, and what needs to happen to succeed, you won’t choose the right people to surround yourself with. This isn’t to say that everything is about you, but it surely starts with you.

Employees also have needs and desires. Those should be acknowledged. They should be respected. They should be adsorbed into your relationship. On the main, there are seven prevalent employee expectations that when nurtured can engendered passion, motivation, and commitment.

  1. Compensation
  2. Alignment
  3. Atmosphere
  4. Growth
  5. Acknowledgement
  6. Autonomy
  7. Communication

Consider them the pillars of a transparent and human-oriented work culture. They are the cradles for success in today’s economy. Google is an excellent example. So is Apple. They have a culture so successful that other companies strive to emulate them. 

Quid Pro Quo

The right compensation structure can yield tremendous gains in your company. As I mentioned above, that alone won’t guarantee motivation. But, the wrong compensation structure will invariably yield unhappiness. It’s an easy wager, really.

The goal shouldn’t be to provide only monetary incentives, however. Those are easy to disregard and easy to compete with. If the only advantage you have over your competitors is pay, there are many ways a competitor can outdo you. 

Compensation goes in various directions. It isn’t limited to money. Compensation also means promotions, benefits, awards, and bonuses. There are three vital facets of a satisfactory compensation model. 

Transparency. Some organizations—and people—are quite mysterious about their finances. This opacity undercuts transparency. When resources and praise are being distributed equally, don’t hide it! Let everyone know what wages are like, what it takes to ascend within the company, and specifically what someone could do to reach their next benchmark. 

Overpay. There are some companies that pride themselves on paying the highest wages in their respective industries. Research from Towers Watson shows that employees who believe they are paid fairly are 4.5 times as likely to be highly engaged when compared with their disappointed counterparts. Money isn’t everything but it is important.

Achievement. Share success throughout the company in a genuine and palpable way. Employees who feel their efforts are tied to the company’s success tend to engage more in the company as a whole. An outcome-based approach focused an employee’s self-improvement and development can lead to relationship building and heightened levels of motivation.

I Walk the Line

Values are valueless when they aren’t followed by action. Company’s today are expected to uphold certain social values beyond consumer satisfaction. They are expected to be environmentally responsible and social conscientious. The acid test of whether companies are enacting their proclaimed values is their employee engagement. When companies enact the values that they preach, their employees tend promote the company. They advocate for it, in public, which takes numerous forms nowadays. 

This is the byproduct of employer employee alignment. It’s the byproduct of putting your money where your mouth is. No longer will consumers and employees accept empty rhetoric. You must show your true colors and let them fly. This starts with creating, revising and reviewing your company’s basic core vales, and then asking yourself, “Are you promoting these values?” When you start this process be sure to include your employees and to call upon your customers. You won’t know what the distance between your self-perception and public perception is until you ask other people.

Once you have assessed and diagnosed your state, begin deploying strategies to sustain and enforce your values. Here are a few strategies of my own making:

Interview. Interview based on your values. You should prime and filter people from the get-go.

Train. Train in accordance with your values. Make sure they permeate every job function.

Reprimand. Delineate clear consequences for violations of core values. You mean business.

Evaluate. Provide employee evaluations that make reference to your core values.

Demonstrate. Lead by example. Hypocrisy is intolerable from authority figures. You should embody your company’s core values.

Morality alone won’t keep employees motivated, but it’s an important ingredient. Once you have a proper compensation system guided by core values, your employees will feel secure and at ease. They will also begin to feel more engaged.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Atmosphere is an elusive concept. It’s the result of myriad factors, including personal ones that you can’t control for as an employer. Relativity notwithstanding, it’s an important component of motivation and passion, and one that shouldn’t be left to happenstance. Atmosphere is a choice, it is deliberate, and even if it isn’t playing out as planned, the intention to create a particular environment can suffice to motivate and impassion employees. 

A good starting point in this case is not you but rather your employees. There are 7 questions that employees often ask themselves about their employer:

Is my employer doing everything possible to advance my safety?

Do I have what I need to excel at this job?

Do I like, respect, and trust my employer?

How do I feel about my co-workers on a day-to-day basis?

Do I feel energized in this environment or do I just want to escape it?

Am I enjoying myself?

I am not suggesting people ask themselves these questions precisely. I imagine they ask themselves some iteration of these. They all point at satisfaction, fulfillment, the quality of interpersonal relationships, and independence. I think every human shares a positive desire for these things.

Growth Isn’t Just for Plants

Growth is about development. It is less so about the ends than it is about the means. Employees want a chance to demonstrate their worth, their talents, and their stuff. At the same time they want to feel challenged and spurred into action so that they can change. Develop. Grow. 

Growth is even better when it is a shared experience. If the employer is not growing with the employee, then the relationship shifts from fellow learners to teacher-student, and that’s a power dynamic that many employees do not enjoy. As is the norm, I have a 5-step growth formula. These are some of the tricks I’ve picked up over the years. 

Growth Agenda. Initially an employer and an employee will probably want the same things. Over time, their priorities and needs will change. Setting a growth agenda with periodic reviews can ensure you stay on the same page in a mutually beneficial way. 

Timetable. Just as a consensus of growth goals is important, so too is a consensus on a timeline. Without a timeline, there can be no accountability.

Individualization. Every growth agenda and timetable must cater to the individual who it’s supposed to benefit. Every person also has different approaches, learning styles, and milestones that work for them. This must also be individualized. 

Celebrate. Share in success together and celebrate each other’s successful attainment of predetermined growth goals. This kind of shared experience can validate efforts and help maintain a healthy employer employee relationship. 

Again. Once a growth agenda is completed, start again! 

I See You and You See Me

To defy expectations can teach us lifelong lessons. Wegman’s is a supermarket that defies all expectations yet teaches us a lesson in employer employee relationships that we should carry with us. The employees who enter this chain supermarket store often enter with a “just another job” mentality. It is there that Wegman’s has staked its claim to fame since 1998. Wegman’s has ventured to create a culture that encourages loyalty through acknowledgement and pride.

Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work for has listed Wegman’s Food Markets since the list’s inception in 1998. In 2012 and 2014, it was named best supermarket chain in the United States. The culture of acknowledgement and pride is ingrained into everything they do. 

Acknowledgement is an important word to apprehend. Acknowledgement has a unique psychological texture: It is active, congratulatory, and exalting. When you acknowledge someone for something you communicate its extraordinariness and its worth. Furthermore, acknowledgement goes beyond accomplishments and gets at a person’s admirable attributes. It indicates their character. 

There are 4 touchstones of acknowledgement.

Personal. Any acknowledgement must be evaluated against the backdrop of that individual person’s capabilities. Not everyone should be weighed on the same scale. 

Proportional and Pertinent. An acknowledgement must be proportional to the thing acknowledged. The same goes for rewards. It must also be related. 

Prompt. Don’t wait too long. It’ll seem disingenuous.

Public. Tell the world.

Wegman’s couples this acknowledgement model with a customer first model. This is a killer combo. When you have a happy employee who puts your customers first, then you have happy customers.

I Am My Own Person

Independence is a correlate of freedom and most people crave it from the moment they begin to walk. There are numerous societal guide posts that ever-increase the range of our freedom. As we get older, that freedom decreases. For some people, entering the workforce marks a significant reduction in their independence, and consequently, in their freedom. 

Employers are sometimes nervous to confer increased independence in the workplace because of the potential risks. The notion that oversight is necessary to assure that employees will do their jobs properly and efficiently is endemic to most industries. The downside is that employers who operate under this assumption tamper with trust building. Employees will not feel autonomous, they will not feel trusted, and so they will not feel connected to the company or to their employers. All this will undermine motivation and passion.

To undo this vicious cycle, employers should strive to cultivate a more entrepreneurial environment in their workplace, where employers provide conditions to empower their employees. The conditions should be conduits for self-direction and expertise building that channel them toward mutual success.

The basic tenets of company entrepreneurship are independence, creativity, passion, and a desire to succeed. When you find ambitious employees, they will tell you where they want to go. What you need to do is figure out how to help them get there, and, concomitantly, how they can help you along the way. It’s autonomy with a mutually assured benefit.

Companies that promote autonomy need to set concrete goals and parameters. Jointly established rules, expectations, and areas for growth are requisites. There are 10 ways to nurture a culture of autonomy in the workplace: 

Our Vision. Employers and employees must have overlapping visions.

Goal Setting. Delimiting concrete and realistic goals, meeting them, and celebrating them is key.

Tell Me Why. Don’t just bark directives. Explain your reasoning. You’d be surprised what explaining your madness can accomplish.

You Decide How. Let your employee decide how they accomplish something. They know themselves better than you know them. You should provide guidance whenever necessary.

Delegate. Many hands make for light work. Learn to leverage your resources. Let your employees identify where they could use assistance and help them delegate accordingly. 

Trust First. Be upfront about giving your employees trust before they have earned it. It places the burden of reciprocity on them.

Problem-Solving. Encourage employees to find solutions to their problems first. Self-sufficiency is key.

Accountability. When you set goals with another person and hold each other responsible, accountability is generated. That is a good way to stay on track.

Acknowledgement. I said a lot about it above. Tell people when they have done something well.

Talk to Me

I’ve written on the importance of communication at the personal and organizational levels. We all know—or so I would like to think—that this is old hat by now. The problem with conventional wisdom is that we usually stop at recognizing its significance and don’t actually parse it out in implementable terms.

To make a long story short, here are a few basic points about communication that I think stimulate healthy employer employee relationships and instill motivation and passion in employees.

Need to Know. There are certain things that employees need to know, like safety protocols, legal procedures and contract terms. (Mostly legal and liability information.) 

Want to Know. Employees do not like being in the dark. In fact, most people dislike being in the dark: Fear of the unknown and such. Employees want to know what their work amounts to. They want to know what your plans for the future are and how they might fit into them. Employees want to know how they can improve. Employees want to know things that you might not be able to foresee, so you should ask. Ask them what they want to know. It’s communicative and transparent.

Should Know. Employees should know that you are invested in their success. They should know that you are always willing to listen, or make time. Employees should know that your relationship is professional but it doesn’t just stop at work outputs and paychecks. The most successful companies rely on strong interpersonal connections and sharing information to cultivate trust, open communication, and long-lasting bonds. Those are the ties that resist change. 

You Are the Company You Keep

I said it above, and I have now said it below. As an employer you are in control of the people who surround you. You can decide the kind of team you want to build. That team can grow its own unique culture that meets the needs, desires and aspirations of its constituents. It can also take you on a journey toward success and fulfillment. When you find a group of people who want to take that journey with you, with a clear set of values aimed at growth, open communication, fair compensation, and collective spirit, innovation can happen.

For me personally this is how I keep myself inspired and motivated.

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