How to motivate your employees

Nearly every manager I know has asked herself that question: how do I get my team onboard with this new vision or strategy? How do I get them motivated to come in and put their best into the job?

There are answers out there. Certainly books like Drive by Daniel Pink or Start with Why by Simon Sinek give great context, practical tips, and solid recommendations on how to approach it. But, if we had to sum it up in less than a thousand words…

1. Allow your employees to be motivated… by verbally permissioning it. This is not a statement to tell someone “go forth and be motivated” – you are not Moses and these are not the Ten Commandments. Rather, sometimes it is necessary to tell your employees that being passionate, that getting fired up, is okay.

Why? Because, in the corporate environments that many of us work in, we are often told that these things are not okay. We often use incredibly stilted, neutral, consultant-speak goobleydook; we are given the goal to never make anyone uncomfortable; lastly, smile a lot and be nice. Many of these things make for an unflaggingly pleasant work environment, just not a super-productive one.

Therefore, as managers, re-learn that discomfort is not necessarily bad. Re-learn that disagreement is not, either. Invite your employees to challenge you and others. Don’t suppress passion, support it. Say so.

2. Allow your employees to be motivated…by telling them the truth. In times of difficult market environments, choppy waters so to speak, there are two types of leaders: Leader A says: “Nothing to worry about, just a little bad weather, carry on” and Leader B says: “We have some rough waters ahead and here is what I need you to do to keep us afloat.”

I would say the statistics are 4 to 1, these days, on Leader As versus Bs. An environment of pleasant and nice (see above) has led to a focus on positive thinking and Leader As believe that is they always show a smiling, positive face, their team will take that as the only cue and keep chugging along.

Wrong. Your employees absorb more than just your decided cues as a manager; they are human beings and human beings are sensitive, intuitive creatures. They may not have the full story, but when the water coolers gets active, and the hushed conversations start taking place in little dark corners, it is because they know when a re-org is in the works. They know when a merger is imminent. They know when something is up and when things are out of control.

However, most importantly, your employees are the ones doing the day-to-day work, so why not harness that? Leader Bs inform without breaking confidentiality, but are then able to motivate their employees by investing them in the outcome. Instead of patting them on the head, bring them into the fold.

3. Allow your employees to be motivated…by giving them time. Motivation is not an on/off switch. “Give the team some beers, do a town hall, have a rah-rah moment, and boom!”

No, no, there is no boom. That is the equivalent of an oil and shine job, but people are not machines and they don’t just produce just because they have been surface buttered up.

It takes time for people to get into the groove, to get into a cadence of productivity and success. It does not happen overnight and it also requires an environment to which they can get into that cadence. What makes up that right environment?

Autonomy. Purpose. Safety.

It almost seems too simple but if:
A) You give your employees flexibility to figure out their own problems, and
B) You tell your employees the truth of the goals they are working for, and
C) You give them both room to succeed but also room to fail and try again

They will motivate themselves to come to work every day and do good work. It will not always be smooth sailing — thorny work relationships exist, and everyone needs reminders and corrections — but if real, genuine motivation has been given room to grow, it will all take care of itself. With time.

*   *   *

So how do you motivate your employees to do great work? You allow them to be motivated.

  1. By verbally permissioning it (say yes to being passionate, even disruptive!)
  2. By telling them the truth about things: people are sensitive to when they are not getting the whole story and that feeling of being coddled also suppresses motivation, so don’t do it.
  3. By giving them time to develop their own cadence of success by granting
    them autonomy, purpose, and giving them a safe space to sort it all out

Whether you are a direct manager or a manager of managers, motivation of your employees is your primary goal and certainly within your control to execute. Get it right and things on along swimmingly. Get it wrong…

Originally published on LinkedIn on June 12, 2016.

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