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How to motivate your staff

When your staff feel motivated they’re more likely to care about your business and do their jobs well. Find out what people value and use these different motivators to help them be happy at work and achieve more.

The power of motivation

Taking the time to find out what motivates your people can help you:

  • Reduce employee turnover — motivated people are loyal, engaged and less likely to move on.
  • Take your business where you want to more quickly — being motivated makes people work harder, smarter and go the extra mile.
  • Reduce costs — motivated employees care about your business. They’re more likely to be cost conscious and follow your business processes.
  • Create a thriving and happy workplace — doing their jobs well adds to people’s wellbeing. They develop professionally and personally, and so are happier overall.
Economists at Warwick University found being happy at work made people 12 per cent more productive.

Economists at Warwick University found being happy at work made people 12 per cent more productive.

Unhappy people by contrast achieved 10 per cent less.

Read about the study (external link) — Warwick University

Different personality types

Knowing your team personally will help you find the right motivators for different people and how to apply them.

For example, an outgoing team member may value being thanked in front of the team. A more introverted employee may prefer an email or private word of thanks.

Some employees may feel motivated when you regularly check in to see how they’re doing, while others may feel it’s micro-managing.

Personality tests

Tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire is a popular way of uncovering people’s preferences.

By answering a set of statements, people can identify how they make decisions and perceive the world around them. This will be based on sensation, intuition, thinking or feeling.

Use these tests:

  • As a team building tool.
  • When shaping your culture, eg to help you decide if you need more of a certain personality type on your team.
  • When performance managing team members and giving feedback.

Don’t be too rigid in how you interpret the results. Remember they’re preferences. Try to avoid putting people in boxes based on how they scored. These types of test are meant to be conversation openers.

Remember too that many people can adjust their default behaviour when they need to, eg recognising when they need to think with their heads instead of their hearts.

Take a Myers Briggs personality test (external link) — 16 Personalities

Make sure your employees have the right tools to do their job.

Make sure your employees have the right tools to do their job.

If they’re battling with out–of–date software or inefficient tools, they’ll soon feel frustrated and results will start to slip.

How to motivate people

Manage expectations

Having to redo work because people have misunderstood what you’ve asked can chip away at your bottom line. It will frustrate employees too.

Give clear briefs when assigning projects or tasks. Be sure to consider people’s skill level and what motivates them as well as their base of understanding.

Be clear too about how you’d like your people to behave. What is and isn’t ok in your business culture?

For example:

  • Is it ok to wear jeans to client meetings?
  • Are people expected to come to monthly team lunches?

If employees don’t know or don’t understand your expectations they are more likely to ‘get it wrong’.

Demonstrate fairness

Cast a lens over every part of your business to make sure it’s fair on customers and employees. Most people have an inbuilt sense of justice. If employees think you are running your business unfairly, it can seriously affect morale.

For example:

  • Do people feel Saturday night and holiday shifts are shared evenly across employees?
  • Does everyone have the same chance of being promoted if they shine?
  • Do customers get good service and value for money?
  • Are people paid roughly the same for doing the same jobs with the same skills?

Set goals

People generally feel happier when they have purpose. Agree on goals that support both the aims of your business and employees’ professional and personal aspirations.

Give people ownership

Feeling like they own projects can be a great motivator for many employees. You can:

  • Ask people to take part in business planning and strategy development.
  • Let them make decisions and take on more responsibility, eg leading a project or managing a new store.
  • Encourage them to share ideas, eg new ways to approach health and safety.

Be careful not to give employees more responsibility than they’re ready for. Delegating decisions or tasks to people who don’t have the right skills can reduce people’s motivation if they feel overwhelmed.

Promote learning

Give people the chance to grow. Ask them how you can help them achieve their personal and professional goals. It could kick start someone whose motivation is flagging, or stop a star employee from looking for work elsewhere. Your business will benefit from their new skills, as well.

If you send someone on a training course, ask them to share what they learn with the rest of your team. Remember to give them the chance to use their expertise.

Offer financial rewards

Aim to pay as close to market rate as you can. Your employees may feel undervalued if they’re underpaid. Keep an eye on job advertising sites to see how you match up on rates.

If you can’t afford to pay market rates, offer other rewards.  Remember that your employees are likely to have a good idea of what the market rate is for their skills.

Tread carefully with performance-related pay, eg bonuses. It doesn’t work for everyone and can backfire. Some employees find the pressure to perform outweighs the benefit of getting the bonus. Others who are used to getting a regular bonus may come to see it as part of their wage — especially people working in sales. 

Interesting work can be a great motivator.

Interesting work can be a great motivator.

Case study - when pay isn't everything

Case study

When pay isn't everything

Keith runs a small garden centre in Timaru. He takes on an assistant, Jason, who doesn’t know a lot about plants but is keen to learn.

Jason is fresh out of college. He studied computer science, but a summer planning for the Department of Conservation has spurred an interest in native plants.

Keith, a natural coach, is willing to teach him everything he knows. This makes Jason feel good about working for Keith, even though he can’t afford to pay as much as the garden centre chains. When Keith asks Jason to take the lead on choosing which native plants to order, Jason’s enthusiasm soars.

Jason works hard. He’s a natural with customers and goes out of his way to be helpful and courteous even when he’s rushed off his feet. Customers notice. Keith makes sure he thanks Jason for his can-do attitude, especially on cold weekend mornings.

When Jason signs up for horticulture evening classes, Keith lets him finish early when he has class. Jason repays Keith by helping him set up a new database to catalogue his stock on a couple of his days off.

Be there and be available

When you’re stretched in many different directions, it can be difficult to always be around. But if you’re never there, it’s easy to become disconnected from your employees. When people don’t feel confident enough to make decisions, work may slow down or even grind to a halt. Or they may simply believe you don’t care.

Being around and visible helps you build relationships. It’s a chance to walk the talk and get a sense of how motivated your employees are feeling. Let people know it’s ok to talk to you about things. 

Have set open door times when people can come and have a one-on-one conversation.

Have set open door times when people can come and have a one-on-one conversation.

Having certain times when people know they can approach you with their questions can make it easier to be available and get through your to-do list.

Case study - Helping a go-getter

Case study

Helping a go-getter go further

Barry’s dry cleaning business is growing fast. He’s opening two new sites and has another planned. He’s advertised for two new managers but has star employee Sharon lined up to manage store number three.

Barry has noticed Sharon getting itchy feet and thinks she may be bored. She’s a real go-getter and Barry fears she may be on the lookout for her next challenge. Barry doesn’t want to lose such a high performing member of staff. Helping her step up could be just what’s needed to make sure she stays.

Sharon is thrilled when Barry asks her to manage one of the new sites. Even more so when he sends her on a retail management course and offers her a pay rise. Barry makes a big deal of sharing how much Sharon deserves the promotion in their next team meeting, which leaves Sharon pumped.

During this intense growth period, Barry is juggling a lot of balls. But he’s careful to make sure he’s available to answer Sharon’s questions so she doesn’t feel abandoned and overwhelmed.

Common mistakes
  • Being absent — staff can feel rudderless or that you don’t care. Studies show that attention from their employer is very motivating.
  • Giving people who are not ready too much responsibility — feeling like you’re failing because you don’t have the right skills can be very demotivating.
  • Ignoring employee’s concerns — the longer you leave things, the worse they generally get. Leaving issues to stew can seriously damage morale.
  • Not paying people market rates — keep an eye on job sites, or talk to recruiters to see what other people are paying.
  • Relying on bonuses to motivate staff — some people find the pressure to perform outweighs the benefit. Others may assume they’ll get a bonus without putting in the extra work.
Remember to thank employees for their work.

Remember to thank employees for their work.

It’s simple and very effective. Make sure your thanks is genuine and deserved.

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