Motivation is one of the primary concerns and challenges facing today’s supervisors and managers. This article will introduce you to techniques for creating a proper motivational climate. You will also learn how to apply the techniques for motivating employees, prepare individual action plans to solve on-the-job problems, and identify causes of low morale and strategies for improving overall employee behaviors.
Your staff members are the key to your success, and motivation affects employee performance that ultimately affects the departmental, divisional and organizational objectives. Only satisfied employees lead to satisfied customer.
• Motivated Employees Make Your Job Easier
To be a successful manager/supervisor, you must first understand that you cannot motivate anyone; you can only create an environment that encourages and promotes the employees’ self-motivation. Motivation is getting people to do what you want them to do because THEY WANT to do it. The challenge is to give them a reason to want to do it because doing it will satisfy a need they have. You have to tune in to their needs, motives and reasons, not yours.
Secondly, you must also know what kind of behavior you want the staff to demonstrate. In other words, what do you want the employee to do differently ? For example: Do you want your staff to be punctual, more committed to work; co-ordinate with others in a friendly manner; meet deadlines; assume more responsibilities etc. You must first be clear about your objectives and expectations before you can communicate them to your staff.
• You Are the Motivator
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are the most critical component in the motivation process. Your actions set the tone, trend and tempo of the process. Many managers / supervisors embrace a ‘carrot-and-the-stick’ approach to motivate their staff. These practices take the form of incentive programs, promises of promotions, rewards and bonuses. Some others employ the symbolic ‘whip or club’ by emphasizing the negative results of their behavior. For example, a manager might say: If you do not start coming to work on time, you’ll be fired ‘ or ‘You will never get ahead if you continue to make these kinds of mistakes’. All these methods are just short-term and create no permanent behavior change.
Executives whose management style is dictatorial, uncommunicative and non-participative, need to revise their work style. Today’s environment requires them to be more empathic, communicative and more trusting of employees. An executive will be a ‘difference-maker’ if he can make his subordinates feel important and successful. Therefore, managers need to create a positive and caring workplace that encourages employees to become the best they can be. When staff feels good about themselves, they will perform better and be more productive.
There is no quick fix solution to a behavioral problem. Changing employees’ attitude takes time and patience. You will notice that what works well for one person may not work for another one. You may have to use the ‘trial and error’ until you identify and match the right method, or a combination of methods, to the relevant employee.
• Understanding Motivation
Can you motivate someone? The answer is NO! Motivation is some thing that comes from within the individual to prompt him to an action. Motivation is a function of individual will. We do things because the outcome is appealing to us and serves as an incentive.
People are motivated by their unmet needs, and those needs differ from person to person. People’s needs are determined by their unique set of circumstances, culture, values, background, education, work experience and their personality styles.
Besides, motivation is directly related to the morale of the employees; that is, attitude of the staff toward their work, department, environment, management and organization as a whole.
• Assessing Your Approach
You may find yourself puzzled by an employee’s apparent lack of motivation. You pay a decent salary and do not understand why this person is not performing well. The first step to real understanding is to accept the fact that what motivates you may or may not motivate your subordinates. Take a moment and priorities the following motivating factors according to what is important to you:
• Job security
• Good salary
• Fringe benefits
• Pleasant working environment
• Interesting and challenging work
• Recognition for doing a good job
• Cooperation of people I work with
• Feeling of personal accomplishment
• Participation in decisions that affect me
• Opportunities for promotion and growth
• Clear understanding of what is expected of me
• Loyalty and fairness of my manager/supervisor
Now go back over the same list and identify the order you think your subordinates would choose.
Research proves that executives are often totally wrong in predicting how their subordinates would rank the list. What is the outcome? Simply put, if managers misinterpret what is important to their subordinates, they will choose methods of motivation that are entirely off base. For example, a manager may believe that all employees are motivated primarily by money. So, the manager gives everyone a bonus. Much to his surprise, employee performance does not improve. What the manager does not realize is that there may be some other factors that are more important to the employees.
So, how do you find out what motivates your subordinates? Well, you could ask them to complete the above assessment as a start, although you may not get accurate data. The best way is to talk to your staff and really listen to them. They will let you know indirectly or sometimes even directly what is important to them. For example, if you have an employee who frequently asks you, “How am I doing? ” or “Did you like the way I handled that project?” It indicates that particular employee wants and needs recognition.
• Identifying Your Managerial/Supervisory Role
At this stage, this crucial question might be vibrating in your mind: As a supervisor/manager, what is my role in the motivation process? Your responsibility in motivating the staff is to create an environment that promotes motivation within the individual. Good leadership is getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. So, you must first understand employees’ needs and then show them the benefits of moving them from where they are to where you want them to be. In other words, find out the WIIFT: What’s In It For Them.
Times have changed and so have employees. What worked ten or fifteen years ago is not appropriate for today’s employees. In order to be effective in creating a positive motivational climate, we need to take a look at what characterizes today’s employees. The following points are the hallmark characteristic of contemporary employees :
• They desire developmental opportunities
• They want work to be challenging, interesting and creative
• They want to participate in all those decisions that affect them
• They see remuneration as the outcome of their performance and, consequently, they expect to be rewarded accordingly
• They are more concerned with organizational recognition than their recognition at the managerial/supervisory level
• They expect and appreciate communication from management and the opportunity to communicate to management
Take a moment and think about the implication of these characteristics on the workplace and your responsibility to motivate.
Research shows that the employee motivation falls into two categories: maintainers and motivators. Maintainers are factors that must be kept at a satisfactory level and include the following:
- Salary and fringe benefits
- Organizational policies
- Working conditions
- Job security
True motivators are factors that create an inner desire to work by satisfying certain needs that are important to the individual employee such as…
- Job position
As an enterprising supervisor/manager, take a few moment and analyze your department/organization based on these two above categories.
• What Motivates Your Employees?
Do you know what your employees really want ? Their answers could surprise you. Talk to your staff members to find out what you think employees want and what employees really want are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Rank the following most common motivators in terms of how effective they would be for motivating you and your employees:
Motivational Ranking Ranking for
Factors for you your employees
1. Money …… ……
2. Job Security …… ……
3. Fringe Benefits …… ……
4. Promotion …… ……
5. Self-improvement …… ……
6. Working Conditions …… ……
7. Interesting Work …… ……
8. Recognition …… ……
9. Appreciation …… ……
10. Feeling Informed …… ……
Your response to this list will highlight fact that what you, as a manager or supervisor, consistently see yourself as being motivated by different factors than your subordinates. You will also feel that the best ways to motivate employees are the traditional trio of motivators: job security, financial rewards and promotion. But these traditional motivators are scarce resources for the manager/supervisor, and cannot be provided by every organization under today’s working conditions. Consequently, the majority of the employees remain unsatisfied if these are the executives’ primary means of motivation.
• Motivating Through Self-Esteem
Research shows that employees do want to make a difference at work; they want more meaning and fulfillment from their job. A manager or supervisor motivates his staff members by getting them involved and committed to the tasks that need to be done, not by forcing them. He uses the natural desire of people to make a difference at work and moulds it into focused activity. Besides, he also applies the following time-tested formula for motivating his people :
Motivating employees by VIP: Validation, Information and Participation
• Respect for employees as people
• Flexibility to meet personal needs
• Encouragement of learning, growth and skills
• Knowing why things are being done
• Getting inside information about the organization
• Involvement in decisions that affect them
• Employees having control over how they do their work
• Applying Techniques
In order to become an effective supervisor/manager, use the following techniques to create an environment which excites staff member to work:
• Use appropriate methods of reinforcement. Rewards should be tied directly to an individual’s performance. If you have determined that meeting deadlines is important, then the employee’s performance in rendering that service should be rewarded; e.g., the employee who goes an extra mile to complete the project should be acknowledged and rewarded accordingly. However, keep this fact in mind that reinforcement is personal. What reinforces one person may not at all reinforce another one. It is also important to dispense reinforcement as soon as possible after the desired performance.
Think of a recent incident when one of your employees went above and beyond the call of duty. Did you reward him in some way? If not, what could you have done to reinforce the behavior you want repeated?
• Provide the staff with flexibility and choice. Whenever possible, give employees a chance to make decisions, particularly when they affect them in some way. Choice and the personal commitment that results are essential to motivation. People who are not given the opportunity to choose for themselves tend to become passive and lethargic. For example, if you are thinking of rotating the employees’ work, give them the parameters and then allow them to rotate themselves.
• Provide staff with support when it is needed. One key characteristic of the achievement-oriented staff is the willingness to use help when it is needed. Employees should be encouraged to ask for support and assistance; otherwise, they will become frustrated. Asking for help should never be considered a sign of weakness; it should be considered a sign of strength. When an employee comes to you for help, be careful not to turn him off with comments such as ‘ You still don’t know how to do that? I already explained it to you.’ Instead, ask: ‘ Tell me where you are having problems. How can I help you?’
• Encourage employees to set their own goals and objectives. Let them participate actively in the goal-setting process. People tend to know their own capabilities and limitations. Besides, personal goal-setting results in a commitment to goal accomplishment. For example, in setting a production goal, ask your staff to come up with a realistic monthly goal and a plan to reach that number. Then you should sit down and evaluate the goal by applying the following criteria:
- Is the goal specific? Write the goal so that anyone would be able to identify exactly what you are going to accomplish.
- Is it specific and measurable? Identify the deliverable.
- Is it agreed upon? All those involved must agree. In most cases, this means the manager and the employee who make it happen.
- Is the goal realistic? Make sure that you have all the appropriate resources (that is, time, skill, equipment, environment, money) to successfully reach the goal.
- Is it time-bound? Set deadlines, interim reviews, and target completion dates.
Think of an employee you would like to involve in the goal-setting process. Then outline how you are going to approach him. What will you say to communicate the reasons you are asking the employee to set his own goals? Are there any guidelines or parameters he should consider?
• Demonstrate to the employees how their tasks relate to personal and organizational goals. Routine work can result in passivity and boredom unless employees are aware of how the routine tasks contribute to their own development and the success of the organization. Point out how their task fits into the big picture. A few extra minutes can increase productivity tremendously.
Think about a task one of your employees does routinely. Outline a plan to explain how this task ties into organizational goals.
• Design tasks and environments to be consistent with the employee’s needs. What may satisfy one employee may not satisfy another. The observant supervisor/manager is well aware of the basic needs of the employee such as affiliation, approval and achievement.
Refer back to the list of motivators. Select two employees and try to determine what motivates each of them. Then identify what you can do to meet each person’s individual needs.
• Clarify your expectations and make sure that employees understand them. Regardless of the size of your organization, you should have a job description for every position, clearly outlining qualifications and responsibilities. Also identify the expected standards of performance. For example, if you expect the secretary to answer the phone call within three rings, say so. Employees are not mind-readers. You cannot assume that just because they have experience in doing the job, they know what you specifically expect of them in that position.
Identify a position in your department/organization and write a job description for it. If you already have written job descriptions, choose one and review it to make sure it is clear and includes specific standards of performance.
• Have a flexible management style. Many supervisors/managers pride themselves on treating everyone the same. This misconception can be dangerous. Employees are individuals with individual needs. You need to treat everyone fairly but not necessarily the same.
A flexible management style also means that you vary your approach not only to the individual but also to the situation. An employee who is new to the job will need more guidance than a five-year senior. However, if the senior employee is given a new task or responsibility, that person may need additional guidance in that particular situation.
How would you characterize your supervisory/managerial style? Do you use the same approach in every situation? Think about situations or employees that would need you to modify your style accordingly.
• Provide an immediate feedback that will help staff improve their performance in the future. Feedback is most effective when it follows performance. Feedback should be relevant to the task and should indicate to employees how they might improve their performance.
Never give negative feedback without providing an informational feedback. Keep in mind that feedback should be both positive and negative. Employees often complain that the only time they receive feedback is when they do something wrong. Notice people doing something right and tell them about it. The feedback also must be specific. Just telling staff that they are doing a good job and ‘keep up the good work’ is of not much help. It is much more effective and meaningful to say something like: Ahmed, I appreciate the way you handled that challenging project. You really showed a great deal of professionalism by meeting the deadline’.
Identify a recent event in which an staff member did something outstanding. What, if anything, did you say about the employee’s performance? Would you say it differently now?
• Identify and help eliminate barriers to individual achievement. Some staff members who are labeled ‘failures or incompetent’ are simply being hindered by relatively minor obstacles that their managers or supervisors have not recognized. It may lead the employee to accept the failure label as a fact. Does the employee have the knowledge and skills to do the job? If not, it is your responsibility to provide him with the required training. Does the person have the appropriate tools or technology? If not, get it. Make sure employees have the training, information, tools and right equipments to do the job.
Identify an employee who does not seem to be as motivated as you would like. Ask yourself if there is a barrier that perhaps you have not previously considered. Then plan how you might check out your strategy.
• Exhibit confidence in employees. There is a great deal of research to support the contention that people who are expected to achieve will do so more frequently than others. Saying to the employees: ‘I know this new procedure may be uncomfortable and may be even difficult for you at first, but I know you will be able to make the adjustment’ is more effective than ‘Give it a try. If you cannot handle it, we will see what we can do about it’. The latter statement has conveyed the subtle message that you expect the person to fail.
The concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ is very powerful. Managers or supervisors who are positive create high performance expectations. They encourage employees to ask more questions; allow more time to do a job correctly and give their employees the benefit of the doubt.
Identify the possible ways in which you can demonstrate confidence in your employees.
• Establish a climate of trust and open communication. Productivity is highest in organizations that encourage openness and trust. Trust and openness are created by the way we communicate. Do you use phrases that build people and get things started or ones that destroy ideas and discourage creative thinking ?
Review the following list. Which ones do you use more frequently?
• A great idea, but I am sure it won’t work.
• We don’t have the time for these suggestions.
• We’ve tried that before; it did not work well.
• It all looks fine on paper, but can you put it in practice?
• You haven’t considered the budget limitations
• We’ve too many projects now; let’s discuss it at some other time.
• That would be interesting to try; I’m glad you brought that up.
• Job well done; keep it up ! You’re on the right track.
• That’s the first time I’ve had anyone think of that.
• I have full confidence in you, and I appreciate what you’ve done.
• I’m sure, you can do it!
• I’m very pleased with what you’ve done.
• Go ahead, try it. I can always depend on you.
Can you think of some other statements to add to this list? If you find yourself using any of these ‘killer phrases’, then reword them to be more encouraging and positive. Be careful not to give the mixed messages. Employees receive mixed messages when the verbal and nonverbal actions are not communicating the same message. The manager who says ‘Carry on; I’m listening to you’ and continues to look through papers on his desk is communicating that he really is not interested in what the employee says.
• Listen to and deal effectively with employees’ complaints. It is very important to handle problems and complaints before they go out of proportion. In addition, employees feel more significant when their complaints are taken seriously. Conversely, nothing hurts as much as when others view a personally significant problem as unimportant. By telling an employee ‘It is not a big deal’ or ‘You shouldn’t feel that way’ devalues the staff. You may not think it is important, but it is to the employee. Acknowledge the complaint and its validity then solicit the employee’s input in resolving it.
Think about a recent employee complaint that you regarded as trivial. How did you respond to the employee? Is there anything you should have done or said differently?
• Point out improvement in performance, no matter how small. This is particularly important when employees are beginning work on a new project. Frequent encouragement is very effective in improving the staff performance; however, it should be reduced as the employees become more confident and proficient.
Identify an employee whose performance needs to be improved. Identify how you are going to communicate the desired change, how you are going to monitor the performance, and what you are going to say to offer encouragement.
• Demonstrate your own motivation through behavior and attitude. Nothing turns employees off faster than a manager/supervisor who himself does not practice what he preaches. Actions speak louder than words; be a role model. If you expect staff to be on time, then you must make sure you are on time, too. If you expect employees to treat customers with courtesy and respect, you should treat the employees the same way. If you expect employees to get additional training to upgrade their knowledge and skills, you should also attend seminars and courses to fine-tune your management skills as well.
Think about any areas where you might not be modeling the appropriate behavior. What can you do differently?
• Criticize performance, not personality; judge behavior, not the staff. An individual can do a task poorly and still be a valuable employee. Always remember to respect the staff. What goes around, comes around. Love begets love, and respect wins respect. A great manager shows his greatness when he talks to a little employee. Too many employees are inappropriately labeled lazy, inefficient, incompetent, useless or unqualified. Be sure to address behavior and not attitude. Managers often have difficulty distinguishing between attitude and behavior.
Take, for example, the following statement: ‘Ahmed doesn’t take his work seriously.’ Is that an attitude or behavior statement?
The answer is attitude. An attitude is a conclusion that identifies a feeling or emotion about an observed situation. A behavior, on the other hand, is something that can be observed. To state the above example in terms of behavior, you might say: ‘ Ahmed’s reports contain errors that require rewriting. He overlooks deadlines that affect the delivery of our quarterly project reviews.’ How might you rewrite the following statements ?
- She is incompetent in filing.
- ABC is slow in his computer work
- XYZ shows lack of interest in his job
- He is rude to colleagues
• Measuring Your Success
In order to measure your managerial/supervisory success, you must first start with your own action plan. Select two or three ideas you would like to adopt and then respond to the following :
• Three things I plan to do differently in my department
• Obstacles I might face along the way and how I will overcome them
• I will know I have succeeded in becoming a more effective manager and motivator of people when .………