Clearing Up Common Myths About Employee Motivation
The topic of motivating employees is extremely important to managers and
supervisors. Despite the important of the topic, several myths persist --
especially among new managers and supervisors. Before looking at what management
can do to support the motivation of employees, it's important first to clear
up these common myths.
1. Myth #1 - "I can motivate people"
Not really - they have to motivate themselves. You can't motivate people
anymore than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower
themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they best motivate
and empower themselves. The key is knowing how to set up the environment
for each of your employees.
2. Myth #2 - "Money is a good motivator"
Not really. Certain things like money, a nice office and job security can
help people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don't help people
to become more motivated. A key goal is to understand the motivations of
each of your employees.
3. Myth #3 - "Fear is a damn good motivator"
Fear is a great motivator -- for a very short time. That's why a lot of
yelling from the boss won't seem to "light a spark under employees"
for a very long time.
4. Myth #4 - "I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my
Not really. Different people are motivated by different things. I may be
greatly motivated by earning time away from my job to spend more time my
family. You might be motivated much more by recognition of a job well done.
People are motivated by the same things. Again, a key goal is to understand
what motivates each of your employees.
5. Myth #5 - "Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance"
Research shows this isn't necessarily true at all. Increased job satisfaction
does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the
organization are not aligned with the goals of employees, then employees
aren't effectively working toward the mission of the organization.
6. Myth #6 - "I can't comprehend employee motivation -- it's a science"
Nah. Not true. There are some very basic steps you can take that will go
a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves toward
increased performance in their jobs. (More about these steps is provided
later on in this article.)
Basic Principles to Remember
1. Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself
It's amazing how, if you hate your job, it seems like everyone else does,
too. If you are very stressed out, it seems like everyone else is, too.
Enthusiasm is contagious. If you're enthusiastic about your job, it's much
easier for others to be, too. Also, if you're doing a good job of taking
care of yourself and your own job, you'll have much clearer perspective
on how others are doing in theirs.
A great place to start learning about motivation is to start understanding
your own motivations. The key to helping to motivate your employees is to
understand what motivates them. So what motivates you? Consider, for example,
time with family, recognition, a job well done, service, learning, etc.
How is your job configured to support your own motivations? What can you
do to better motivate yourself?
2. Always work to align goals of the organization with goals of employees
As mentioned above, employees can be all fired up about their work and be
working very hard. However, if the results of their work don't contribute
to the goals of the organization, then the organization is not any better
off than if the employees were sitting on their hands -- maybe worse off!
Therefore, it's critical that managers and supervisors know what they want
from their employees. These preferences should be worded in terms of goals
for the organization. Identifying the goals for the organization is usually
done during strategic planning. Whatever steps you take to support the motivation
of your employees (various steps are suggested below), ensure that employees
have strong input to identifying their goals and that these goals are aligned
with goals of the organization. (Goals should be worded to be "SMARTER".
More about this later on below.)
3. Key to supporting the motivation of your employees is understanding
what motivates each of them
Each person is motivated by different things. Whatever steps you take to
support the motivation of your employees, they should first include finding
out what it is that really motivates each of your employees. You can find
this out by asking them, listening to them and observing them. (More about
this later on below.)
4. Recognize that supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task
Organizations change all the time, as do people. Indeed, it is an ongoing
process to sustain an environment where each employee can strongly motivate
themselves. If you look at sustaining employee motivation as an ongoing
process, then you'll be much more fulfilled and motivated yourself.
5. Support employee motivation by using organizational systems (for example,
policies and procedures) -- don't just count on good intentions
Don't just count on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with
employees to help motivate them. The nature of these relationships can change
greatly, for example, during times of stress. Instead, use reliable and
comprehensive systems in the workplace to help motivate employees. For example,
establish compensation systems, employee performance systems, organizational
policies and procedures, etc., to support employee motivation. Also, establishing
various systems and structures helps ensure clear understanding and equitable
treatment of employees.
Steps You Can Take
The following specific steps can help you go a long way toward supporting
your employees to motivate themselves in your organization.
1. Do more than read this article -- apply what you're reading here
This maxim is true when reading any management publication.
2. Briefly write down the motivational factors that sustain you and what
you can do to sustain them
This little bit of "motivation planning" can give you strong perspective
on how to think about supporting the motivations of your employees.
3. Make of list of three to five things that motivate each of your employees
Read the article Checklist of Categories of Typical Motivators. Fill out
the list yourself for each of your employees and then have each of your
employees fill out the list for themselves. Compare your answers to theirs.
Recognize the differences between your impression of what you think is important
to them and what they think is important to them. Then meet with each of
your employees to discuss what they think are the most important motivational
factors to them. Lastly, take some time alone to write down how you will
modify your approaches with each employee to ensure their motivational factors
are being met. (NOTE: This may seem like a "soft, touchy-feely exercise"
to you. If it does, then talk to a peer or your boss about it. Much of what's
important in management is based very much on "soft, touchy-feely exercises".
Learn to become more comfortable with them. The place to start is to recognize
4. Work with each employee to ensure their motivational factors are taken
into consideration in your reward systems
For example, their jobs might be redesigned to be more fulfilling. You might
find more means to provide recognition, if that is important to them. You
might develop a personnel policy that rewards employees with more family
5. Have one-on-one meetings with each employee
Employees are motivated more by your care and concern for them than by your
attention to them. Get to know your employees, their families, their favorite
foods, names of their children, etc. This can sound manipulative -- and
it will be if not done sincerely. However, even if you sincerely want to
get to know each of your employees, it may not happen unless you intentionally
set aside time to be with each of them.
6. Cultivate strong skills in delegation
Delegation includes conveying responsibility and authority to your employees
so they can carry out certain tasks. However, you leave it up to your employees
to decide how they will carry out the tasks. Skills in delegation can free
up a great deal of time for managers and supervisors. It also allows employees
to take a stronger role in their jobs, which usually means more fulfillment
and motivation in their jobs, as well.
7. Reward it when you see it
A critical lesson for new managers and supervisors is to learn to focus
on employee behaviors, not on employee personalities. Performance in the
workplace should be based on behaviors toward goals, not on popularity of
employees. You can get in a great deal of trouble (legally, morally and
interpersonally) for focusing only on how you feel about your employees
rather than on what you're seeing with your eyeballs.
8. Reward it soon after you see it
This helps to reinforce the notion that you highly prefer the behaviors
that you're currently seeing from your employees. Often, the shorter the
time between an employee's action and your reward for the action, the clearer
it is to the employee that you highly prefer that action.
9. Implement at least the basic principles of performance management
Good performance management includes identifying goals, measures to indicate
if the goals are being met or not, ongoing attention and feedback about
measures toward the goals, and corrective actions to redirect activities
back toward achieving the goals when necessary. Performance management can
focus on organizations, groups, processes in the organization and employees.
10. Establish goals that are SMARTER
SMARTER goals are: specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, timely,
extending of capabilities, and rewarding to those involved.
11. Clearly convey how employee results contribute to organizational results
Employees often feel strong fulfillment from realizing that they're actually
making a difference. This realization often requires clear communication
about organizational goals, employee progress toward those goals and celebration
when the goals are met.
12. Celebrate achievements
This critical step is often forgotten. New managers and supervisors are
often focused on a getting "a lot done". This usually means identifying
and solving problems. Experienced managers come to understand that acknowledging
and celebrating a solution to a problem can be every bit as important as
the solution itself. Without ongoing acknowledgement of success, employees
become frustrated, skeptical and even cynical about efforts in the organization.
13. Let employees hear from their customers (internal or external)
Let employees hear customers proclaim the benefits of the efforts of the
employee . For example, if the employee is working to keep internal computer
systems running for other employees (internal customers) in the organization,
then have other employees express their gratitude to the employee. If an
employee is providing a product or service to external customers, then bring
in a customer to express their appreciation to the employee.
14. Admit to yourself (and to an appropriate someone else) if you don't
like an employee
Managers and supervisors are people. It's not unusual to just not like someone
who works for you. That someone could, for example, look like an uncle you
don't like. In this case, admit to yourself that you don't like the employee.
Then talk to someone else who is appropriate to hear about your distaste
for the employee, for example, a peer, your boss, your spouse, etc. Indicate
to the appropriate person that you want to explore what it is that you don't
like about the employee and would like to come to a clearer perception of
how you can accomplish a positive working relationship with the employee.
It often helps a great deal just to talk out loud about how you feel and
get someone else's opinion about the situation. As noted above, if you continue
to focus on what you see about employee performance, you'll go a long way
toward ensuring that your treatment of employees remains fair and equitable.