Since the industrial revolution and the theories of Fredrick Taylor, employers have tried countless ways to improve employee performance and drive motivation and moral. Company environments differ significantly. The nature of knowledge work has rendered much of Taylorism inadequate. Some organizations are driving employees through fierce competition while others strive to ensure a congenial, team-based atmosphere. No one can claim with total assurance that they’ve found a method for driving performance that works consistently.
Motivating your employees is a delicate and purposeful challenge that requires more than an annual review or jotting a few notes in someone’s personnel file. Just like getting in shape or learning a new language, bolstering the motivation and performance levels of your employees won’t happen overnight. Here are six ways you can improve performance and motivation in your workplace.
1. Make Expectations Clear
Employees without goals will be naturally aimless. Provide them with clear achievable goals and make sure there are measurable standards in place to evaluate their performance. Victor Vroom’s work on expectancy theory supports the concept that employees must know what action they are expected to take and that it will yield the desired performance. Your employees should understand what they are expected to do, how they are expected to do it, and how they will be judged on it.
2. Provide Continuous Feedback
Immediate, continuous feedback lets an employee know that their actions affect the company. It’s hard for you, and the employee, to remember specific incidents when employee performance review time rolls around. Goal-setting theory predicts (quite obviously) that employees are motivated by setting goals and by receiving continuous feedback on where they stand relative to those goals. More recent research shows just how motivating it can be when employees know they are making progress.
Always be specific in your feedback. For example, instead of telling an employee he, “did a great job,” compliment him on the way he organized his presentation, the citations he used, or his public speaking style. He’ll be more likely to apply these strengths to his next project if you point them out specifically.
3. Correct Privately
Most people are not motivated by negative feedback, especially if they feel it’s embarrassing. The only acceptable place to discuss an ongoing, performance-related issue or correcting a recent, specific error is in the employee’s office or your own, with the door closed.
Don’t think of correcting an employee’s performance or behavior as punitive. Instead, consider it a learning opportunity for the employee. Keep an open mind, remember Deming’s 85/15 rule, which suggests that a majority of performance problems are actually outside of an employees control. If it is something the employee can change, it’s up to you to present the issue in such a way that the he feels he can correct the mistake.
4. Believe in Your Employees
Whether you tell him so during an employee performance review, or in the breakroom, an employee whose boss constantly calls him worthless, or a screw-up will feel a lot of emotions. He will not, however, feel particularly motivated to improve his performance.
Present weakness or errors in the context of, “I know you can do better. You’re smart and capable…and that’s why I expect more from you.” The perception of leaders’ trust is a key component of transformational leadership.
Encourage your leadership team to take this same approach when you’re trying to motivate your employees for a major event, “This is the most talented, hardest working group I’ve ever had, and that’s why I know you can win this sales competition.”
5. Praise Publicly
Feeling under-appreciated encourages complacency – there’s a reason so many companies celebrate an Employee of the Month. People love praise; they thrive on it. Some research even suggested we’re willing to sacrifice incentive bonuses for public recognition. Make it a standard practice in your office to recognize positive people and trends within the business.
Announce publicly when one of your employees made a particularly outstanding presentation, sale, or other notable achievement. Tie an incentive to accolades, such as a bonus or a gift certificate. Praising your employees in front of others helps motivate their continued stellar performance.
6. Make Rewards Achievable
Everyone is familiar with the annual bonus trip awarded to the top-performing employee. The problem is, such rewards usually go to one or two employees. This leaves the rest of your staff feeling like there’s not much point in working hard because the same few people always reap the rewards. Remember the other end of Vroom’s expectancy equation, which offers that individuals must also see the desired performance and linked reward as possible.
Set up a series of smaller rewards throughout the year to motivate ongoing performance excellence. For example, instead of an annual trip, award several three-day getaways for each quarter. Vary the basis for the awards. Top sales might be one category, but so can top research or most diligent. Recognize that several types of excellence motivate your employees to focus on additional areas of their performance.
Wikipedia defines motivation as, “The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” Motivation is a need within us that inspires us to take action. In leadership, motivation theories play a key part in organisational behaviour and creating team success. It forms the centre of influence and therefore effective and inspirational leadership.
To be in a position to motivate your people, first you must understand what actually motivates them in the first place; what makes them tick and what inspires them.
As stated in other articles, the large misconception is that most people come to work just for the money; however, if you delve deeper into the psyche of people and the many supporting motivation theories, you would find that this is far from the truth.
Some quick examples of other factors that can motivate people are:
- Recognition of ability
- Sense of achievement
- Learning and growth
- Stimulating work
- Responsibility and empowerment
- Feeling of being a part of something
Due to the complexity of humans and the associated aspect of motivation, many gurus over the years have created a number of motivation theories to try to identify and understand the factors that influence our enthusiasm levels, and therefore our driving force behind our actions. The following are the key theories that have been created over the past century.
The Main Motivation Theories
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was created by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. He attempted to create reasoning among different motivation levels, stating that motivational needs range from the basic physiological needs like air, food etc to self-fulfilment, like helping others and growing as a person. He identified that our motivational factors influence what we are aspiring for and are in sequential order. Therefore, if you are struggling to find food, then your motivation is to find food and sustain it. You wouldn’t at this point, be concerned with growth and bettering yourself as an individual, but as each need is met, the desire to grow and develop is evident, towards the level 5 need of understanding your worth and true potential.
Herzberg’s Hygiene model – The next of the major motivation theories, Herzberg argues that there are two main factors that people take into consideration when they are motivated. Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory (sometimes known as Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory.) , directly attempted to answer the question, “How do You Motivate Employees?” The conclusions he drew were extraordinarily influential, and still form the bedrock of good motivational practice nearly half a century later.
His findings revealed that certain characteristics of a job are consistently related to job satisfaction, while different factors are associated with job dissatisfaction. The goal of this theory is to do two things:
1. Eliminate the factors of dissatisfaction (the term Herzberg uses as hygiene factors) – which include things like:
- Fixing poor and obstructive company policies.
- Providing effective, supportive and non-intrusive supervision. .
- Creating and supporting a culture of respect and dignity for all team members. .
- Ensuring that wages are competitive, and so on.
2. Create conditions for job satisfaction – Herzberg referred to this as job enrichment, and aims to provide more satisfaction in each individual’s jobs. Typical areas to improve are:
- Providing opportunities for achievement. .
- Recognising workers’ contributions. .
- Giving as much responsibility to each team member as possible. .
- Providing opportunities to advance in the company through internal promotions. .
McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y Model is another of the key contributors to motivation theories. His theory states that there are two ways of managing and motivating individuals.
McGregor’s ideas suggest that many managers tend towards theory x, and generally get poor results. On the contrary, enlightened and successful managers use theory y, which produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop in their roles.
McGregor’s ideas significantly relate to modern understanding of the Psychological Contract, which identifies that there are many ways to understand the unhelpful nature of x-theory management and the positive benefits of the y-theory alternative.
Theory x (‘authoritarian management’ style) –Associated with the following typical points:
- The average person dislikes work and will avoid it if he/she can.
- Therefore most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organisational objectives.
- The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security above all else.
Theory y (‘participative management’ style) – Associated with the following points:
- Effort in work is as natural as work and play.
- People will apply self-control and self-direction in the pursuit of organisational objectives, without external control or the threat of punishment.
- Commitment to objectives is a function of rewards associated with their achievement.
- People usually accept and often seek responsibility.
- The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organisational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
- In industry the intellectual potential of the average person is only partly utilised.
Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory – The fourth contributor to motivation theories, Vroom’s Expectancy Theory was developed in 1964, and demonstrates a link between expected results and reward, which follows a similar path to Transactional Leadership. The motivational levels that Vroom suggests are based on how hard an employee wants an outcome. If they want it enough, they will put the effort in to achieve it.
In this sense, managers must find ways to provide achievable goals that inspire the team members, whilst linking the appropriate rewards to those goals.
There are many ways a leader can motivate and inspire their people. The nine most common methods that have been proven to work are:
- Show confidence in each person
- Encourage a ‘take charge’ attitude, whereby people make things happen
- Encourage involvement and empowerment with each person
- Give credit and praise to each individual that deserves it
- Foster team work and encourage a togetherness
- Help to build pride in individual’s contributions
- Encourage team work and for each person to help each other
- Provide opportunities for everyone to learn new skills and abilities
- Lead and personally contribute to the development of each person
Common Workplace Demotivating Factors
In tandem with the motivational guidelines, there are common factors to avoid when trying to inspire and motivate people. These common pointers span across any of the motivation theories you may prefer to use, and again, are tried and tested pointers to avoid when leading your teams.
- Poor personal engagement with individuals
- Poor communication – lack of regular reviews, both on a team level and one-to-ones
- Lack of clear goals and direction – What constitutes success to each individual? Do they know how they contribute to the company’s objectives?
- Uninteresting work – Employees that are not being stimulated and developing can be demotivated. The trick here is to empower individuals and enlarge their roles to create variability and growth.
- Poor Feedback and failure to recognise achievement
Understand Your Team – Using Motivation Theories
Apply the simple steps below to help inspire, motivate and influence your team to success.
- With your team, start to think about the general motivation guidelines and the nine principles of good motivation (above). Highlight those that are not evident or weak in evidence.
- Put a plan together, complete with actions and timescales, to include these factors into your team and leadership practices.
- Now look at the key demotivating factors above, and highlight those that are evident in your team.
- Add tasks to the action plan, to begin to eliminate these demotivating factors.
- Now start to think of additional ways you can motivate, inspire and reward members of your team – think of three additional ideas.
- Add two additional de-motivating factors that you can see in your team and add these to the action plan.
- Now score each factor and associated action in priority order.
- Tackle the first three highest priority actions first and complete them.
- Then tackle the next three actions, and so on until the action plan has been completed.
- Monitor your results. Do the team members feel more engaged and motivated?
- If not, return to the above steps and go again.
- If they do, continue to conduct one-to-one reviews and maintain your leadership practices, whilst always looking for new ways to keep your team inspired.