The Employee-Motivation Checklist

Of course you want employees who are happy, motivated, and productive—who doesn't? Following each of these simple steps will get you where you want to be.

Great leaders make all the difference.

In business, we see the impact of great leaders such as Tony Hsieh, who took the helm of online shoe retailer Zappos.com from founder Nick Swinmurn. Under Hsieh’s leadership, the company grew from $1.6 million in sales in 2000 to more than $1 billion in sales in 2009.

Through many years of research, trial and error, and working with companies of all sizes in numerous industries, I have identified 16 critical ways to motivate your employees. Learn these techniques and adapt as many as possible in your business.

1. Make employees feel they are doing something meaningful.

A recent survey by BNET (which is now part of CBS MoneyWatch) asked the question, "What motivates you at work?"

The results showed that doing something meaningful is more important than money or recognition to your employees. Twenty nine percent of respondents said that doing something meaningful was the most motivating thing about work. Money motivated 25 percent, and recognition 17 percent.

Therefore, the number one way to motivate your employees is to make them feel that they are doing something meaningful. Now, if your vision is to alleviate poverty, as Kiva’s is, getting your employees to feel like they are doing something meaningful is pretty easy. This might not seem quite as simple for the typical for-profit company. But this, too, is relatively straightforward. Establishing your company’s vision and goals—particularly involving your employees in creating them—will motivate them to achieve these objectives and help them feel that they are doing something meaningful.

2. Effectively communicate and share information.

You also must consistently share new information to ensure that your employees make good decisions.

You must always let employees know how the organization is progressing toward achieving goals. Setting KPIs and posting the associated KPI results monthly will allow you to achieve this.

3. Give employees clear job descriptions and accountability.

It is critical that you give each of your employees clear job descriptions and accountability. It’s not enough to just state each role’s responsibilities; rather, you must specify the expected results and tasks. For example, the customer service manager’s described role might be to handle all inbound customer service calls. Their expected results, however, might be to answer all calls within 15 seconds or less, resulting in 90 percent customer satisfaction in telephone follow-up service. Only by specifying roles and expected results and accountability can you get what you want from each employee.

4. Give and receive ongoing performance feedback.

When things do go wrong, don’t blame. You want to replace who questions with how questions. For example, rather than saying, "Who screwed this up?" say, "How could we improve this process or avoid this in the future?"

5. Have—and show—faith and trust in your team.

Most humans have relatively fragile self-esteem. If you don’t believe your employees can do something, they won’t believe they can either, and they won’t do it. You must have faith in them. You can’t just say you have faith: you need to show you do to enhance their confidence in their ability.

To achieve this, give your employees some autonomy to make decisions. Let them take ownership of challenging projects and decide how to complete them. Although it can be a challenge for almost any manager, you must let them fail sometimes and not get angry about it.

6. Listen to, focus on, and respect your employees’ needs.

You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s worth repeating that in leadership, listening is more important than speaking. I love this quote: "Questions unite. Answers divide." Asking questions of your team will get them to participate; dictating the answers will cause them to tune out.

7. Provide recognition to worthy employees.

Recognition is an amazing motivator. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton authored a book called The Carrot Principle in which they discuss a study of more than 200,000 employees that they conducted over a 10-year period. The study showed that the most successful managers provided their employees with frequent and effective recognition. In fact, they found that managers realized significantly better business results when they offered employees recognition in the form of constructive praise rather than monetary rewards.

8. Provide fair compensation and pay for the performance you seek.

First, you must pay a wage that employees believe is fair compensation. Second, you must pay for performance whenever possible. This does not mean 100 percent contingent compensation. It means that you set expectations for base pay while also providing bonuses and clearly defining success. This will compel employees to strive to achieve the goals you have outlined.

9. Foster innovation.

Managers must realize that the vast majority of innovations come from frontline employees. They come from the people who are manufacturing your products or designing your services, who are interfacing with customers, and who are solving problems on a daily basis. As such, innovation must be encouraged.

10. Establish fair company policies that support the company’s goals.

Developing fair company policies that adequately support the company’s goals will motivate your employees even more. For example, you cannot treat attending a seminar as a personal day if you want to encourage continuous learning. Rather, ensure your policies and practices encourage employee feedback, collaboration, decision-making, and so on.

11. Get ongoing input from employees.

You want to invite your employees to help set goals so that they really buy into them. Seek employee input on key decisions and plans on an ongoing basis.

Understand that as the leader, you will make the ultimate decisions and plans. Even if you don’t follow your employees’ advice or take their suggestions verbatim, however, the very act of soliciting their feedback will give you more information and ideas and will make them feel involved.

12. Manage, but don’t micromanage.

Employees do not like to be micromanaged. It’s disempowering. It’s therefore important to distinguish the difference between checking in and checking up on your employees.

Likewise, when managing, don’t dictate every detail of how to complete a project. Remember, employees can’t grow and gain new skills if you’re telling them exactly what to do for every project they work on. They need a sense of autonomy to feel that they’re succeeding.

13. Encourage teamwork.

Most projects you complete will require input from several employees within your organization. Encourage these employees to work as a team rather than a collection of individuals to complete these projects. The easiest way to do this is to set up an initial meeting for the team, refer to them as a team, and give them enough autonomy so they act like a team.

14. Modify your management approach for different types of employees.

Great leaders let the employees they’re managing dictate the management approaches they use. Some employees may need or desire more handholding and coaching, whereas others will want or require less. It’s important to think about each key employee and determine the best way to lead him or her.

15. Give employees opportunities for personal growth.

Because people who get the chance to grow their skills and expertise take more pride in their jobs, you want to encourage employees in your organization to gain new skills. You can do this in many ways, such as providing on-the-job training and other opportunities to teach your employees new skills.

16. Fire people when needed.

The final technique for motivating your team is to fire people when needed. Underperformers can kill an organization; they can become cancers. When other employees see these individuals getting away with underperformance, then they start to underperform. Therefore, firing—as long as you explain to your team why people were fired—can actually motivate your employees.

Related:

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Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Start at the End: How Companies Can Grow Bigger and Faster by Reversing Their Business Plan by David Lavinsky. Copyright (c) 2012 by David Lavinsky. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Author Dave Lavinsky is the cofounder of Growthink, a consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and business owners identify and pursue new opportunities, develop new business plans, raise capital, and build growth strategies.

[Image: Flickr user Max Sang]

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