How to motivate employees is an ongoing concern for business owners. When it comes to keeping employees happy and engaged, a paycheck isn't always enough. Employees need to feel connected to the work that they're doing, too. After all, your company has ambitious goals—you need your employees to set goals of their own.
When employees have their own goals, they may be likely to work more efficiently than ever. And those goals can benefit you if they're in sync with the company's objectives. If you're looking for strategies on how to motivate employees, consider some of these ideas.
1. Give your employees the freedom to create goals.
Having a culture of bureaucracy and micromanaging may affect your employees to think creatively and share great ideas.
People want to do their jobs. If they think part of their duties is to not be brilliant, they won't be, so encourage that brilliance, urges Alexis Haselberger, a San Francisco-based time management and productivity coach with over 15 years' experience in managing employees and running human resources and operations.
If you allow your employees to talk about their life's goals well beyond just the time they will be employed by you, it's amazing how free, alive and filled up with hope they are every day they come to work.
—Emilie Dulles, owner, Dulles Designs
Simply telling your employees that they're expected to set their own goals—and that you'll be there as a support system and sounding board—is very effective, Haselberger says. Most people, she says, will rise to the occasion.
“A lot of the time employees—especially those new to the workforce—are accustomed to being told what to do," she says.
But there's some possible psychology at play, too, according to Haselberger.
“When people feel as though they have autonomy in their roles, they take more ownership. When they take more ownership, the role becomes more closely associated with their identity," she says. “Most people really want to do a good job, and if they associate their jobs as part of themselves, they will be more likely to set ambitious goals."
2. Ask your employees how you can help them set goals.
You don't have to hide the fact that you want your employees to set goals to help them do their jobs better—and you definitely want to let them know that you'll be happy to give them whatever support they need.
Heather Gray, a leadership coach in Long Beach, California, says you can give your employees a pep talk that goes like this:
“Team, I get it. It's summertime and we'd all rather be on the beach right now. The tasks in front of you are monotonous and repetitive. I want to remind you of why they are essential. Because you come into work each day and do X, the company is able to A, B and C. If you weren't here, none of that is possible. But I get it. That can't be the only reason to come into work and you might not always be motivated by our bottom line."
Consider asking your employees what you can do to make the working environment more pleasant and efficient, Gray advises, listing a few to start with:
- Are there ways you would like to do this job differently while also adhering to the expected and necessary outcome?
- What do you feel you need from me to be able to own this project/task independently without feeling like you have a helicopter boss?
- How can we best communicate about this project, so I know deadlines and expectations are being met but your time isn't wasted in endless meetings?
“Transparent communication can go a long way in improving morale," Gray says.
Transparency, she says, takes employees away from the dreaded and old-fashioned motivator that plenty of bosses use: “Because I said so."
“[It] implies trust and respect, and when people feel these things, they are more likely to be internally motivated to take action," she says.
3. Provide your employees with incentives.
Chris Smith recently founded a personal finance website for millennials, I Am Net Worthy. Before that, he spent a lot of time in the corporate world, including being a CFO and spending 27 years working as an executive at Hewlett-Packard.
Smith points out that people get inspired in different ways. Some people like thank yous and compliments, he says, but plenty of employees appreciate monetary gifts, too.
“These prizes don't necessarily have to be a big hit for your pocket—[they can be] things such as gift cards, a free lunch, access to the employee of the month parking spot and so on," Smith says.
He also suggests rewarding teams of people for their achievements.
“For example, if the team reaches their monthly goals as a whole, there will be a team-building event the following month," Smith says. "Some activities could be a team picnic, a trip to a local museum, a bonfire, a local sports game or even a fun game night."
Whatever employee recognition ideas you come up with, making it clear that your staff is appreciated is paramount, Smith says.
4. Link your employees' personal goals to the company's.
Jeff Reynolds is the president of Reynolds+Myers, a management consulting firm in Boise, Idaho. Over the years, Reynolds—a self-described former "top-down manager—says he has completely changed his view on helping employees set goals.
Back then, he set the goals, not the staff. Or, as he puts it, he was “allowing my employees to outsource their brains to me. It was painful for all involved."
Now, Reynolds not only encourages autonomy and independent thinkers, “every employee review starts with the discussion that our company is a platform for their personal goals and dreams, not just a job," he says.
"So much of our work is a grind, filled with spreadsheets and repetitive tasks," he continues. "We motivate by connecting our work goals to the higher purpose not just of the company, but of the individual. I approach every employee relationship like we're going to know each other for the rest of my life."
While talking about everybody's personal goals, and how their jobs are a tool for achieving those goals, Reynolds also teaches everyone the mechanics of how the business operates. Employees understand the ratios that need to be maintained for the company to stay profitable in order for them to get what they want out of their career (including better salaries or a flexible schedule) and ultimately, reach their personal goals.
5. Help your employees set goals for themselves.
Your employees can't attach goals to your company if they haven't identified personal goals for themselves. According to Emilie Dulles, her company benefits when she works to help her employees think about their personal goals. (Dulles is the owner of Dulles Designs, a full-service design and printing services business headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina.)
“We know full well that our company is a three to five-year holding pattern job between college and graduate school or from being single to getting married, so we encourage talking about goals beyond the Dulles stationery and invitation business," she says.
“If you allow your employees to talk about their life's goals well beyond just the time they will be employed by you," she continues, "it's amazing how free, alive and filled up with hope they are every day they come to work."
While it may sound counterintuitive to talk about what your employees want to do in a future that may or may not include working for you, it's an effective strategy in how to motivate employees, according to Reynolds.
“We must recognize that the best employees have lots of options," he says. “If we don't build our companies around them, we don't get the best employees. It's that simple."
Read more articles on motivating employees.
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