6 Secrets of Motivating Employees

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What you don’t know can hurt your leadership

I travel all over the country facilitating leadership programs for companies, and I have come to a conclusion: most managers do not have a clue about how to motivate employees.

They ask me why employees aren’t motivated, why they won’t work harder and why they aren’t loyal. Managers often say to me “well you know this generation of workers isn’t like they used to be.”

My next question is–what are leaders and companies doing to motivate employees?

Here are some secrets to motivating employees most leaders don’t know or at least don’t seem to, based on what I see.

1. Talk to them and find out their goals

The best way to lead someone is to determine what they want now and in the future. Meet with them and discuss their career goals and dreams. Then try everything in your power to provide resources to help them get there.

You can also tailor their assigned work to what they want to do. Explain that you are assigning that work because it is aligned with their goals.

2. Show appreciation for their efforts

When I was an executive in corporate America, every time I asked someone to meet with me, they came to my office thinking they were in trouble. I had to assure them that they weren’t in trouble, but I just wanted to meet with them to talk about a project.

The reason why they had this reaction is because of history. The managers they reported to in the past only met with them when they were in trouble.

I have people all over the world tell me that their leaders never, ever give them a compliment. Ever. People work super hard and never get any acknowledgment.

3. Keep them in the loop

I think that most people are willing to do what they need to do at work. They are even more likely to do work willingly and with enthusiasm if they know why they are doing it.

I meet people every day who say “our policy on this has changed, but we don’t have any idea why.” They don’t know why because management doesn’t tell them, or they use that awful classic phrase “because we said so.”

Please take the time to communicate why something is happening or being done, or not happening.

4. Find out what motivates them

Take the time to learn what motivates each person. Motivation is not one size fits all. Each person is motivated by something different. Ask them what motivates them.

Ask them who the best manager they have ever reported to was and why. Ask them what kind of work gets them excited.

When I took over a team of sixteen people, I met with each one individually and discussed with them what kind of work they wanted to do, and what management approach worked best for them. I think they were shocked I was asking.

5.Follow Up

The biggest flaw that I see in leadership is managers who have a discussion with a team member and then never follow up because they get busy.

For example, if a manager meets with an employee to talk about their development, and says that it is important, but then they never follow up, it is a signal that it is not important.

Don’t give people lip service. Do what you say and say what you do by following up with them. It shows that you are serious and have a real interest in helping them.

6. Be sincere and care

Many leaders act arrogant and often behave with an air of superiority. I once saw a group of executives walk into a cocktail reception with hundreds of employees, go to the bar and get a drink and walk to the back of the room where they remained talking to each other.

An employee pointed this out to me and said “our executives don’t talk to the “little people.” The great leaders that I see talk to everyone and they know everyone has value.

Chat with your team members and take an interest in their lives personally and professionally. Show that you care about them as a person.

Try these techniques as a leader, and you will have people that are more motivated, more engaged and more productive. As Chris Hadfield once said ” Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high, and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”


Originally appeared in Inc. Magazine

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