Often, it can feel as though you are only one who cares and is willing to do the “heavy lifting” in your company. So, how do you get your employees to care enough to work hard like you and treat customers with care like you do?
Well the research has been around for decades, actually almost 100 years, but for some reason you might be fighting it. What seems to be the case is that your employees are already motivated to get out of bed each morning and do something they love. That’s called “intrinsic” motivation. You know, but might not want to admit, that you don’t motivate anyone but yourself, so stop trying to “make” your employees do things. (Want to see your employees go passive aggressive really fast? Try to put your thumb on them to control them. They’ll subvert you every time – and with smiles on their faces pretending to conform to your wishes.)
“Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — Dwight Eisenhower
Alfie Kohn in his book Punished by Rewards, reviewed decades of research that showed that Skinnerian behaviorism might work well on dogs and birds, but really doesn’t work on people. He boiled down what gets employees revved up to: Content (say over what they do), Control (say over how they do it), and Collaboration (be able to work with others to get it done). Daniel Pink did a similar review of the research in his book Drive, summing up the salient factors as Autonomy (self-direction), Mastery (develop and hone talent), and Purpose (have a really impactful reason for why they do the work).
In the late 1960s, an actual researcher, Frederick Herzberg concluded there were two factors required to keep people happy and productive, companies needed to (1) get rid of “dissatisfiers”, like bad policies, bad supervisors and unfair pay that caused employees to gripe about work, then (2) build in “satisfiers”, like meaningful work that gave employees a sense of responsibility and provided job opportunities appreciation, recognition and continued skill development.
So what can you do to unleash your employees’ natural intrinsic motivation?
First, set your ego aside.
Have you examined your abilities as a leader? Are you someone who others want to follow or work for? Or maybe your ego comes into play when you hire or promote people and they don’t work out. Are you willing to admit your mistake and let them go or move them back to a position that fits their skills and temperament?
Same goes for making sure that the company culture you created is not squelching your employees’ natural inclination to do something great. Make sure you don’t have restrictive or nonsensical policies, procedures, or pay structures that may be administered inconsistent or unfairly.
Second, focus on building relationships.
To build relationships with your direct reports. You should do things like:
- Take stock their talents, current performance level, and long-term potential. This helps to determine what trajectory each employee is on — promotion, move to another position, redeploy, monitor more closely, etc.
- Treat your people like people, not cogs or machines. Get to know them personally to a certain degree.
- Appreciate their talents and the roles they might play in your company: devil’s advocate, trickster, historian, herald of danger ahead.
- Set and communicate clear expectations for each direct report, tied to company goals
- Acknowledge contributions made and note where they need to contribute more, better, or more often.Determine frequency and type of feedback they to hear from you.
- Acknowledge their good work and willingness to go the extra mile when it happens. A simple thank you is good enough usually.
- Reward them for their performance and commitment.
- Develop their skills and competence.
As Zig Ziglar said, “You don’t build a business – you build people then the people build the business.” Spend time building your people, and their motivation will shine through.