How to Motivate your Team

Posted on October 21, 2011.

“People do work for money – but they work even more for meaning in their lives. In fact, they work to have fun. " - Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Six Dangerous Myths About Pay," Harvard Business Review

There are countless studies and theories on what motivates people. One of the more widely known and accepted is Herzberg's Two Factor Theorywhich concluded that like Jeffrey Pfeffer, money does not motivate people to performance. Finding out what does motivate your employees is one of the hardest and most important responsibilities you have as a manager. Here is what I learned over the years:

  • Recognition and praise is critical. Studies show that the more complex the task, the more important acknowledging accomplishments becomes. Everyone is different so it’s your responsibility to determine what the recognition looks like. It might be “employee of the month” parking spots, an article in the company newsletter, or a call from a senior executive. At a minimum, you need to thank people on a regular basis. And speaking of everyone being different:
  • Get to know the people that work for you. I don’t mean you need to be nosy and get into their personal business. But you do need to know what their interests are. Do you know where they vacation? Where they live? Who they hang out with in the office? Do they like sports or the theater? It’s much easier to create a recognition plan when you actually know the person. Giving ballet tickets to a sports fanatic is not a meaningful reward.
  • Trust them to do the job. No one likes a micromanager. The more independent you allow people to work, the more motivated they become.  One of the best years I had as a manager was when I allowed everyone to create their own personal strategic plan and left them alone. People want to feel they are in charge of their own success. Give them as much flexibility as your company will allow, including working from home or working hours more suited to their most productive times.
  • Keep them challenged. If you want to be able to leave them alone, you have to provide the tools they will need to complete the job at hand. That means providing on going training and not just for your top tier performers, but for everyone.  You need to give them ever-increasing responsibility to match their increasing experience. Boredom and motivation can never co-exist.
  • Financial rewards.  Money may not be a prime motivator, but providing a basic, fair salary and bonus system is critical. Lack of money is clearly a de-motivator.  You need to make sure everyone feels they are making a competitive salary so that money is never part of a discussion.  Once they find out the competitor down the street is paying thirty percent more, motivation wanes.
  • Remove obstacles. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to do your job. A constant complaint I heard as a manager is that “we don’t make it easy to do business”.  People can’t succeed, get recognition and feel intellectually challenged if they are constantly putting out fires or navigating their way through piles of bureaucracy.  That’s your job as a manager. Make their life easy. Remove as much of the nonsense as possible.

Learning how to motivate your team takes some time. But in the end, you'll reduce turnover, have happy, engaged employees and achieve consistent success.

What ways have you found to motivate your team?