Maybe the most challenging part of being the owner of a business is in managing your employees. The balancing act you must perform is formidable and daunting: how do you compel good work from your employees without alienating, demoralizing, or just plain losing them (the final option is admittedly, in this economy, more remote)? What does it take to be a truly good leader? It frequently comes down to intangibles, but two recent articles go some of the way in at least pointing in the right direction.
One piece contains a detailed, helpful list of ways to reward your employees that, crucially--again, given the economy--don't involve, you know, actual money.
The best thing you can do, the article says, is give praise. Importantly, you should take care not to be promiscuous in your praise, or vague. Be specific, and be sparing. That way, those whom you praise will know for sure that you mean it, and it will have its desired effect of motivation and of rewarding strong behavior--because praise from a superior, done right, is a reward.
You can give talented employees more freedom. Free them somewhat from your direct supervision. This is also usually good management anyway--frequently, another word for this is "delegation". But if you frame your management decisions as being clearly connected with superior performance and as clearly intended to reward said performance, then it can have the effect of praise as well.
Give out new job titles, even if they're honorary. (Hey, why not make that assistant to the regional manager the assistant regional manager?)
Publicly recognize excellence. Even if it's just an employee-of-the-month type of things, such initiatives can go a long way, especially adjusted for the fact that they don't cost you a penny.
Meanwhile, a Fortune attempts to answer the age-old question of governing, animal-management, and, yes, being a boss: what works better--carrots or sticks?
The article's worth a read, but we'll give you the answer right now: both, and neither. Both, in the sense of you can't just offer one without the other; rather, a comprehensive and predictable system of incentives and discouragements must be in place for either the one or the other to have a real effect on employee behavior.
But the real answer is that such concrete things as carrots--maybe an extra day off--or a stick--a pay freeze or some such thing--are simply not as effective and smooth managerial techniques as are those certain intangible qualities that just make some people great managers. As Fortune quotes one small-business owner, "I think it comes down to leadership, honestly. Incentives work to a degree, but you run the risk of good employees getting everything and having mediocre ones get resentful."
So above all, work on honing those qualities we associate with leadership, and go motivate your employees to excellence. That technique, too, is free.
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