When it comes to motivation, keep it simple

By Gale Mote | Guest Column

Frequently, I am asked the question, “How do I motivate my employees?” My first response is always, with a smile, “good luck with that!”

While some argue that external motivation – pay increases, promotions, an office with a window – is a tool managers can use to inspire extra effort, I believe it is short-lived at best. Real, impactful, lasting motivation is intrinsic. The best a manager can do is create a relationship and work environment where an employee chooses to give their discretionary effort to the cause.

Employee engagement happens at a local level, not as a corporate enterprise. The Gallup mantra that people don’t quit their companies, they quit their bosses is true.

Let’s begin by discussing how to build a relationship that inspires others to give their best. It starts with an outward mindset. As a manager, you recognize that you need your employees more than they need you. Connection is a priority – getting to know each person’s strengths, personal preferences, goals and challenges. You see them as people, not objects – they matter to you.

Next, make the most of every touchpoint and conversation to learn more about what makes this individual unique. Look for opportunities for her to bring the best of herself to the team and the organization. When that employee is recognized for her expertise, she will develop confidence and feel satisfaction knowing who she is and what she does makes a positive difference.

It is often difficult for employees to see how their role and contributions fit into the bigger picture. In large organizations, it is frustrating to believe that no matter how hard I try, I cannot move the needle or affect change. As a manager, you need to help connect the dots so employees can see how their work aligns with the overall purpose of the organization. Sometimes you need to help buffer the employee from the bureaucracy that defeats even the most spirited of souls. Help them focus on what they control and influence – celebrate the small wins.

Employees excel in a work environment where there is psychological safety – where they feel accepted and respected. Knowing their vulnerability is valued builds trust and creates an environment of openness and exploration. Managers need to role model the behaviors they want to see more of and recognize when team cultures are not welcoming and inclusive.

Coaching and meaningful feedback, both positive and constructive, are essential for creating engaged work environments. Employees want to know how their contributions are perceived, what they can do to improve and how best to move in the direction of their goals. Timely, specific and well-intentioned conversations help employees know that you care. A handwritten note that expresses your gratitude and admiration helps your team members want to go that extra mile.

Coaching helps employees to perform with more autonomy. When you respond with a question rather than an answer, you help to develop their problem solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills. When your employees come up with a solution, there is more ownership and commitment to seeing it through.

Ensuring team members clearly understand what is expected, why it matters and that they have the resources to do their work right is foundational. When employees operate in a constant state of confusion about what is a priority or feel frustrated because the tools they work with are ill-equipped for the task, it is easy to become demotivated.

Managers can blame a lack of motivation on budgets or not having the latest cool perks to offer employees. The best place to look, I believe, is in the mirror. •

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at galemote@galemoteassociates.com.