Request a Catalog.

Avoid Motivational Bankruptcy: Six Tips for Motivating Your Staff

The president of an office supply company recently lamented that his sales people were not operating at their full potential. “They’ve become motivationally bankrupt,” is how he put it.

This is a very common business complaint these days. Yet many managers would be surprised to learn that they themselves may be unconsciously de-motivating their employees.

People want to succeed in their jobs. When they sign on they’re psyched to do well in the company. Even very experienced employees who are new to the company need guidance. If you don’t make a conscious effort to show them the way your organization and department do business, they will do it their own way—and they’ll probably be less effective than either of you had hoped. They’ll then become unhappy and unmotivated—strike 1. That will lead to poor job performance—strike 2, which could eventually lead to the loss of what could have been a valuable employee. Strike 3, they’re out.

These six tips will help keep your staff motivated, enthusiastic and playing their best for your team:

1. Set Clear Expectations

People aren’t mind readers. Tell your staff members what results you want and how to get them. Don’t assume they know what you think they should know because of experience, intelligence or whatever. Make your desires perfectly clear. They won’t be insulted by this; to the contrary, they will be relieved to have a clear game plan to follow. You will have to take the initiative because most employees will be afraid to ask for guidance, fearing that they may appear foolish if they ask for instructions.

If your employee has a different approach, listen intently to his or her suggestions and work things through together. Show that you value his or her opinions and expertise. People who feel empowered and valued will go the extra mile for you.

2. A Well-Trained Employee Is a Happy Employee

Employees—especially when new or entering a new role—are like sponges. What they absorb is up to you. You can fill that sponge with good liquid or let them fill it with whatever they pick up. This applies even to your best people—they are looking for new liquid that will give them a competitive edge.

Unless a person has learned how to sell your specific product or service he or she cannot be optimally effective. I hear all the time, “They don’t need guidance; they are experienced.” I always retort that I am an experienced golfer, but I am still a 17 handicap. Experience doesn’t mean they know how to do the job as it should be done (i.e., your way).

Everyone can learn something new or refresh their old knowledge. So invest in a good training program to make sure your people have the tools they need. The business world is constantly changing and your people need to remain on the cutting edge of your industry.

Consider bringing in a professional to train. In-house people, unless doing or managing the task, may lack the knowledge and credibility to be effective. For example, in many companies the marketing department presents training for new salespeople—not a good idea. Marketing emphasizes product advantages, features, benefits and competitive differentiation—rather than selling skills. This indoctrination makes salespeople feel they should go out pushing prospects to buy, rather than finding out what the customer really needs. This prevents them from building long-term credibility with customers.

3. Coach Your People Until They Get It Right

People cannot coach themselves. If Tiger Woods needs a coach, your people need one too. Go on sales calls together. You should take the lead the first time, to demonstrate how you would like things done. Then let your new person do the next one. It is crucial to give ongoing, positive feedback. Keep accompanying the person until he or she gets it right. Better comes before perfect.

4. Recognize Good Behaviors

Telling someone he or she has done well—no matter how small the deed—is a big deposit in the person'd motivational bank account. Your first impulse will be to tell an employee what he or she did wrong. Keep in mind that this leads to motivational withdrawal. You have to exert an extra effort to spin negatives into positives. Say, “I really liked how you did X. But when it came to Y, consider doing it this way in the future, because...” This will be tough because it takes more energy to find positives, or to restructure poor behaviors into constructive suggestions than it is to just say something negative.

5. Pay Attention to Your Bad Days

Here’s a typical situation. You’re up to your ears in alligators. It’s a bad day and you want to strangle someone. Now your subordinate comes in and lays on another frustration. Be very careful. Your day is not his or her issue and a negative reaction will inadvertently be a drain to the motivation account. Be alert to how your attitude influences others. If you do slip up and take out your own frustration on your staff, apologize immediately and promise not to do it again.

6. Motivate People through Rewards

Rewards are catnip to employees’ self-esteem. Salary, benefits and bonuses are part of the job. Rewards are special, personal and very energizing. They are public acknowledgements of your appreciation for a job well done.

Two caveats: First, don’t presume to know what will please a person. Everyone is different. Ask what special something would excite the employee. If the employee says something monetary, probe to see what else he or she might like. Second, the cost of the reward is not important. Just make it tangible—something for him or her and others to see. This amounts to a lotto-size deposit into the employees’ motivation account. Also, include everyone in the rewards occasion. This creates a team atmosphere of cooperation and group motivation.

In summary, de-motivating is like going down a slide—fast and without effort. Motivating is like crawling up a flight of stairs covered with broken glass. So check your negative reactions and your employees will stay motivationally high with little effort on your part.

Although intuitively obvious, the implementation will require you push yourself into behaviors that are different—and nobody likes to change. However, if you make the shift you will stop the motivational withdrawals and your portfolio of satisfied, highly productive employees will keep paying you dividends.