In my experience, the single greatest mistake made by leaders at any level of the organization is to focus too much attention on attempts to motivate individuals rather than create a motivational work environment.
Usually, we have one or two individuals who seem to be our greatest motivational challenges. So our natural leadership tendency is to focus most of our motivational attention upon those few. This can be a serious mistake, for without a concerted, top-of-mind approach to creating and maintaining a motivational environment you are likely to create more under-motivated employees.
The Need for a Dual Approach
Front-line leaders must have a dual motivational focus of both the environment and the individual. If you only focused on one, the other would suffer, which would then again negatively impact the first. For this reason, a thoughtful, well-balanced approach is needed to achieve great results in the trenches.
Environmental incentives are those things that contribute to the general atmosphere of the workplace. From the way people are treated to the actual physical space, creating the right environmental incentives is critically important to maintaining a highly motivated workforce.
Here is a list of some of the best practices for creating a motivational environment.
Ask your team what motivates them. Gather your team and ask them as a group what motivates them to put forth their best efforts. Keep that list handy. Use this as your guide for what to never eliminate in the workplace. Also see how you can improve or modify them to be even more visible, available, and easy to receive.
Ask your team what demotivates them. Same concept as above, except begin working on this list immediately. Take the biggest demotivators on the list and do something. Fast action, even if small action, inspires employees since they see you actually doing something to get rid of the stuff that they hate or that drains their initiative. Keep that list handy and work on it!
Simplify processes. Stop requiring your signature on stuff they can handle. For example, brainstorm ways to transform a five-step process into a four-step process. Eliminate unnecessary paperwork.
Eliminate fear. The single biggest fear in the workplace today is your (the boss’) reaction to your employee’s mistakes. Let your team know that you are not to be feared as much as you are to be respected.
Tear down the speed bumps to productivity. Ask your employees what are the key roadblocks to productivity. Start slicing those speed bumps until they all but disappear.
Listen – really listen – to all employees. Perhaps the most underutilized and yet most powerful leadership tool available to you is to simply listen – really listen – to your people.
Reward teamwork. If you want teamwork, reward actual teamwork. A big mistake is to talk, preach, and shout teamwork, teamwork, teamwork, but end up paying for individual contributions. If you want your team to work as a team, then create incentives that reward teamwork.
Break the monotony. Throw a party on Tuesday…just because it’s Tuesday. Take your team out to lunch on June 10th…just because it’s June 10th. Encourage your people to take a break just to take a break. Your people work so hard for so long that sometimes they just need a break. So break the monotony and do something a little different – just break the monotony.
Celebrate success. Obvious, right? But too often in our hurried workplace we overlook the obvious. It is essential to your success that you celebrate your team’s successes – fast. Create an environment that is not afraid of success and the celebration that accompanies it.
Stay focused. You are responsible for keeping the focus of your team on achieving great results. If you allow too many competing priorities to cloud and confuse your team, the environment becomes stale, hectic, and unproductive. Remind yourself and your team of the essentials. Stay focused.
In my over twenty years in business, the single biggest change I have witnessed in the arena of motivation is that traditional, generic incentives and awards (e.g. - Employee of the Month) are no longer as powerful or as meaningful to employees. Instead, they are more impressed with how much time, energy, and effort the company (that means you) takes to personalize the incentives.
Think about it this way. Which of the following is more meaningful to you? Your six-year old son:
- Buys you a beautiful birthday card with a magnificent poem, or
- Takes crayons and scratch paper and draws a picture of you and him with the words, “Happy Birthday, Dad – I love you.”
Which one is the keeper?
Here are my two best, favorite, and most powerful individual incentives I have uncovered to date – a Favorites List and the Michelin™ Approach.
Assume that I have just achieved some great results on a project or special assignment. You know that my favorite candy bar is Snickers™, my favorite hobby is golf, my favorite color is blue, and my favorite soft drink is Diet Dr. Pepper™.
Armed with this information, you could create several individualized incentives, such as wrapping a coupon for a free round of golf around a six-pack of Snickers™, set it on top of a six pack of Diet Dr. Pepper™, and tie it to a blue helium balloon that says “Thanks.”
Create your own Favorite’s List with 10-15 categories. Ask your team to fill it out. Keep the list handy and use it to generate individualized incentives that are meaningful, memorable, and motivational.
Focus on a Significant Other
Remember the Michelin™ tire commercials with a rotating tire on a stage? Can you picture who was sitting in the tire? That’s right, a baby. Michelin™ has successfully sold millions of tires through a marketing technique focused not on the direct consumer (me) but on a significant other I wish to protect (my baby).
The Michelin company leverages a very powerful motivational technique when they place a baby and not an adult inside the tire. Michelin knows that it can be a far more powerful motivator to focus on a significant other than to focus on the actual buyer.
If you were my boss and I just achieved some great result that made you look really good, I would love you forever if you said to me, “Because of your great work toward reaching our purpose/creating a great culture, I’m personally taking your kid to Chucky Cheese™ on Saturday – why don’t you go play some golf!”
Now THAT’S an incentive! And you would not even have to pay for the golf!
Through focusing some of your incentives on the significant others of your employees, you create powerful individual incentives. Ask yourself - is there some meaningful way to demonstrate your thanks to your employees by doing something special for their
- Charity they support?
Effective motivation in the trenches must combine both environmental and individual incentives. Remember that employees motivate themselves, so through combining a motivational environment for everyone with individualized incentives, front-line leaders can maintain both the commitment and motivation of their team.