I’ve been to many, many seminars on management and supervision. I’ve read hundreds of books and talked with more people than I care to admit. For many years, I searched for the answer to the question: “What motivates employees?”
All of these people, books, magazines, articles and courses had many bits of advice and so-called “facts”. Many managers seemed to believe employees are greedy SOB’s, wanting only money and vacation time. Others believe it’s one minute pats on the back that keeps people going and still others don’t think the question is important at all.
None of them had anything close to the answer. In fact, virtually all of these so-called experts were looking in entirely the wrong place. They were almost unanimous in their belief that the company was “king” and doled out rewards and niceties like some benevolent god (or goddess). The company was king and the employees were subservient.
One day I looked around my own office and gazed on my own people, and realized the answer was much closer to home than I had imagined. In fact, the answer was staring me straight in the face.
My people are highly motivated, they out-produce anyone else that I could compare them to, and they always come through when they are needed. In fact, I’ve never seen a group of more highly motivated people anywhere.
So what are the secrets? After much thought, here are some of the things I’ve realized that a true manager, a real leader, does in order to build and maintain an incredibly motivated group of people.
Stay in communication – Believe it or not, the number one thing that motivates people to work is not money or time off or anything like that. No, it’s something much more simple, and something totally free.
Just keep communicating with them. Talk to them openly and honestly. Discuss their goals and objectives, and your thoughts on how they should build their careers. Don’t hide problems in the workplace – talk about them. Tell them how they fit into the organization, and discuss their performance.
By communicating you show them how they fit in, tell them what they can do to help, and explain how they can achieve their own goals. They will learn what you expect and dislike, and will fit better into the organization.
Most important of all, your employees will feel comfortable with you and the organization, and as long as you are honest they will be more willing to follow your directions.
Keep your word – I had a boss once, named Gary, who made many promises. He said he wanted to create a big company. At that time we needed to “tough it out”, but he’d be sure to see that we got our reward when the time was right. When the company got bigger and more profitable, we’d all see more money. Gary said he would be sure we all received the proper rewards for our hard work.
Sigh. I was young and dumb and believed (hook, line and sinker) the lies of this man, my old boss. I worked long hours (60 to 80 per week) and sacrificed virtually everything for a half dozen years of my life (if a person lives to 60 a half dozen years is 10% of his life) for the dream.
One time I worked myself almost to death, doing an incredible job of analyzing a client’s needs, writing up an awesome proposal, and actually getting them to sign the contract. The most embarrassing thing was I kept having to apologize for Gary – he was not impressing them at all. But they believed in me and signed the contract because I was the one who presented it.
Now, I was the VP of consulting, not a salesman. Selling was Gary’s job, but he lost this contract from the get-go. He was completely incapable of making that sale. Yet, when I approached him for a small piece of the pie (I just wanted 1%), he said “no”. He explained I was paid a salary and thus was not entitled to more compensation. The fact that I was not a salesman, the fact that I did his job, the fact that I put in a month of 90 hour weeks – none of that was important to Gary.
I learned at that time that the word of this “man” was worth the paper it was written on (it was an oral agreement).
And I learned the most important lesson of my life: keep your word. It does not matter what it costs, if you make a promise, then you keep it. If you believe there is a chance you cannot keep your word, then don’t make it (or make it clear it is dependent on something else).
Keeping you word is highly motivating to your employees. Not keeping your word will cause them to look elsewhere (which is what I did). This is a direct cause and effect relationship.
Fairness – Want to destroy your organization and totally demoralize your people? Just be unfair with them. Treat people unequally and they will quickly turn against you. At best, they will be unwilling to take necessary risks and will work hard to “cover their behinds” instead of doing what’s important – their jobs.
On the other hand, if you are fair you will find them to be willing to work as hard as you want. They will go the extra mile for you and your company.
Fairness means thanking them when they have done a good job, and disciplining when necessary. Treat people with respect and give them what they are due.
On the other hand, slackers and people who are malicious need to be treated with the appropriate harshness. Don’t ever put up with anything but the best that people are capable of.
Remember Richard’s rule – an organization will fall to the level of mediocrity and foulness that it’s members will tolerate. If you tolerate none, you will have none. Period.
Reward the producers – Your employees must believe you will stand behind them. They must understand you are on their side, but they also need to be fully aware you work for your company and that’s where your loyalties lie.
What I tend to do is reward people who do their best and achieve good results. The employees who stay an extra hour to be sure the report is on my desk, who answer their pages after hours when there is a problem and who I can always count on can count on me for rewards.
These people get what they want, because they have proven they will produce. If they need a day off, they get a day off. I know I can depend upon them and thus they know they can depend upon me. If one of these gems has a routine doctor’s appointment, they can take the necessary two hour lunch or leave a couple of hours early without any comment from me. They have earned freedom.
On the other hand, the slackers, the 9-5’ers and the people who never seem to be able to get anything done don’t get rewarded. If they need to go to the dentist, the response from me is “don’t they have Saturday appointments?”
Show respect – The people who work for you and your company are people. They have desires, hope, dreams and ambitions, just like you do. They want to achieve something in life, and, unless they are a criminal or just plain stupid, they want down to the depths of their soul to contribute to their organizations.
The best way to get people to be motivated is to show respect. Treat them as human beings, as living, breathing, intelligent mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
Don’t chew people out in public. Don’t berate them where their fellows can see it happening. Don’t belittle their personal life (what they do on their own time is absolutely none of your business).
Strive to build up their character and support their strengths. Don’t allow them to be mediocre and don’t put up with anything but their best.
Very importantly, let your people shine. You are their boss – this means you shine when they shine. If “Joe” does something good, tell him in front of people. If your own boss notices your team did something good, don’t hog the glory – take the opportunity to make your people shine.
Now that’s showing respect.
Be clear and firm – Make decisions fast and without being wishy-washy. Yes, you may need to take some time to get your facts, but once you have what you need, just make the decision. Then begin planning and implementing it, immediately.
Little will ruin your effectiveness as a leader and a manager as fast and as thoroughly as being unwilling to make a decision. Putting off decisions until the last moment is one of the absolute worst things you can do for your own career, your department and even your company.
When you make a decision, communicate it well and stick with it (unless facts come up which indicate you made the wrong decision). There is no need to check out your boss to see what he wants to do or how much he is willing to spend on the project. Tell him what the project will cost and tell him how it will be done. Then go do it, and succeed.
Manage up the ladder – Now this is very subtle but very true. You have to manage up your organization board as well as down (and also to the sides). This is critical for your survival.
What does this mean? This means you make sure your boss has the information he needs to make the right decision (the one you want him to make). You make sure he’s getting what he needs from you and your people at all times.
So when a decision needs to be made, you don’t say “boss, what do you want me to do?” That’s weak and submissive. You say, “boss, here’s what’s going on and this is my plan. Permission to proceed?” That’s strong and assertive, and it invites your boss to go along with you – because the decision has already been made. All he needs to do is say yes. By the way, before doing this, be sure you’ve done your homework. Have your facts and supporting data ready, just in case the boss wants the information. It’s bad to say, when your boss asks why it’s the best decision, “uh, well, I don’t know…”
A few years ago I worked for a man named “Fred”. This guy avoided his boss at all costs. He didn’t talk to the man and dreaded any conversation. He also built a wall between our department and the other departments in the company. No one could talk to us without his approval and we couldn’t talk to anyone else unless we cleared it with him.
Needless to say, Fred didn’t have a clue what his boss wanted. He had no idea how to manage his group, and he was constantly undermined by his peers throughout the company. No one had any respect for him, and finally he simply could not achieve anything at all – except to stop things. He became an expert at stopping projects and making plans just, well, cease to move forward.
Were we motivated to do a good job for this man? Hardly.
Conclusions – Ignore all of the silly management and leadership theories and practices. Virtually all of them are useful only for fertilizing plants. Just treat your people with respect, listen to them, talk to them, build them up and don’t let them fail. And remember, manage everyone up and down your organization board – your career (and the career’s of each and every one of your people) depend upon it.
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at http://www.internet-tips.net – Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.