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Motivating Staff Even in Tough Times

Michelle White is a Human Resources Professor at Fanshawe College in London Ontario where she designs and teaches courses in training, supervision and performance management. Here she tackles the issue of employee motivation:

What is motivation? I have heard people say "you can't motivate people, they have to motivate themselves" is that true?

If you define motivation it really is anything that stirs someone to take action toward a desired goal. As a manager you cannot force someone to take the action, what you can do is make the goal so appealing that they want to move toward it. It is like the carrot and stick approach. The goal of the manager is to find out what type of "carrot" will motivate a particular employee. Typically the right "carrot" will be anything the employee values. The important thing for a manager to do is figure out what that is.

What are the 3 most important things a Manager can do to ensure staff is motivated day to day?

In my workshops on motivation many of the managers I talk to are looking for that one tip or technique or "silver bullet" they can use to help them keep their employees motivated. What they realize rather quickly is that there is no one best solution. Motivation really is a moving target. The good news is there are some best practices you can follow to make sure you are hitting the mark. I recommend:

  • Set clear goals for your employees
  • Provide specific, timely feedback
  • Ask your employees what they value, not once, but often because it changes over time

What are the most common motivation blockers?

The most common motivation blockers usually come from management practices that can have a negative impact on your employees such as:

  • Unclear expectations
  • Unnecessary criticism especially in front of customers or other employees
  • Perceived unfair treatment
  • Not allowing your employees to make a decision
  • Assuming that the only thing that motivates your employee is money

How do you keep staff motivated over time, i.e. day in day out, year over year? Even in tougher times when tips may be lower?

The key to keeping your staff motivated over time is to realize that motivating your employees is not an isolated event; it should be the focus of your daily management activities. Your goal should be to determine what each of your employee's values and provide it for them. Remember, it is not the same for everyone. People value different things at different life stages and life circumstances. For example; a person just entering the work force may value money because it gives them financial independence and the means to buy things they desire. As they mature and, let's say, start a family, they may value other things like benefits or even time off to spend with family. Even if an employee is in a certain stage in their lives they do not all value the same things and, to make it even more complicated, they can change what they value from day to day. The best way to keep staff motivated over time is to get to know them, and ask them what they value.

Many of us believe that motivating staff is an isolated event, something that we need to do outside of the regular day to day of managing our people. In reality managing your employees' performance can take you a long way in motivating your staff.

All of the suggestions listed will go a long way toward motivating your staff. If you have a motivated staff what you will discover is they have a sense of loyalty to working for you. This will help you keep good people over time, even when times are tough.

In these tough economic times I don't have any extra money to provide different incentives for my employees. What are some "no money motivators?"

There are many creative ways to provide ongoing incentives for employees. In general you want to look for ways to add appreciation, fun, variety, challenges and responsibility into the employee's day. For example:

  • Regular praise for a job well done
  • Acknowledging a personal milestone such as someone's birthday
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