The Magic of Motivating Employees

Business meeting
Business meeting

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I was facilitating a leadership program in Ohio. A manager in the back row raised his hand and said "I have a question I can't figure out. How do I motivate my people? They don't do what I tell them to do. " I get this question all the time, it is the number one question I get as I travel around the country as a speaker and trainer - how does a leader motivate their team? It seems like a puzzle to many leaders and they just don't know how to solve it. What is the magic?

Having worked with hundreds of companies, here is what I believe to be the magic of motivating employees:

1. Thank them for their work. Here is an idea- how about actually thanking people for their hard work? Imagine that. Far too many leaders are very stingy with giving compliments. Come on- do you have a thank you budget? How much does it cost you to say thank you? (They are free by the way) If they are free and cost nothing- why are you so stingy in giving them out? Leaders tell me that they don't give out compliments because "I don't need them myself." Well I am sorry- but it is not about you. They also tell me they are afraid if they give someone a compliment then "they will stop trying so hard"- what? Don't they know if employees feel their work is appreciated they will work harder? Most people I meet tell me they feel very under appreciated at work. Take the time to thank people when they exceed expectations, stay late or put in extra effort.

2. Celebrate success- When people achieve their goals, when people set a sales record, when people do something amazing over and above what is expected of them, when someone is retiring or leaving the company.- have a celebration. People love celebrating success and important milestones. Take the group out to lunch or dinner and tell them you are celebrating someone's special accomplishment and acknowledge them in public with a celebration. Celebration is a form of appreciation.

3. Ask them about their goals- Meet with each employee and ask them what their career goals are short, mid and long term. Once there is clarity around what it is they want. Help them create an individual development plan to help them get where they want to go. Tell them you want to help them get there. Let's say someone says they want to be the CEO in the future- then identify what they need to learn and what skills they need to develop to be a future CEO in your organization or a CEO somewhere else. When you help people get where they want to go- they will be more motivated and excited.

4. Have a positive office environment- Be cheerful upbeat and positive yourself, and have fun at work. Say good morning to people and ask how they are doing. Believe it or not- you can have fun and work hard at the same time. As a surprise, buy breakfast or lunch for the group every now and then and tell them that you appreciate their hard work and effort. Surprise them on a Friday by having a cookout and grilling burger and hot dogs for the group. Have fun contests in the office and have teams compete to win prizes.

5. Find out what motivates each person- Ask people on the team what motivates them. What gets them excited and fired up at work? Observe and notice what motivates each person. Then try to let them do more of the kind of work and tasks they love and enjoy. What motivates people isn't really a secret or some sort of magic, all you have to do is ask them. They will also be impressed you bothered to ask. In their history many people have worked for bosses who didn't ever bother to ask, they only cared about their own self interest.

6. Take an real interest in them personally- Ask them about their wife or husband. Ask how their kid did in the soccer tournament, or how their son is doing in his first year of college. Listen and care about their life and their struggles and victories. When you care about employees and their lives, it is really motivating. Another part of that is empathy, and really showing it. When they are sick and drag themselves into work and they are coughing nonstop- tell them you are concerned about them and you need them to leave and go home and rest. Showing empathy builds loyalty and trust and when you care about people they care back. As Pete Hoekstra once said, "Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead."

Re-review this list and ask yourself - how many of these do you do? You can be a great leader and you can motivate employees - it just take effort, focus and your attention each day. You will see people really respond when you take these approaches - but it isn't really magic, it just called being a great leader.