Advice From a CEO: How to Motivate Your Employees

by | Aug 3, 2021 | Podcast

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“Management is nothing more than motivating other people,” said Lee Iacocca, who served as CEO of Chrysler Corp. in the 1980s. Sounds easy, right? Hardly. There is nothing easy about managing others. Lee is correct, though; great managers have an uncanny ability to tap into the motivations of others and use persuasive communication techniques to influence winning outcomes and high performance. Unfortunately, too many managers have no idea how to motivate their teams effectively. So, where do well-intentioned but ineffective managers go wrong? How do you motivate your employees?

Mistake 1: Telling employees how to do their work. Many managers believe they will save time if they tell their teams how to get things done. This is frustrating and demoralizing, as most employees want to be more self-directed and have the autonomy to make choices about their work. Great managers motivate their teams by clearly defining success, removing roadblocks, course-correcting when needed, and otherwise getting out of the way.

Mistake 2: Talking too much, listening too little. Truly hearing people is essential, and good managers know how to ask the right questions to draw out meaningful and informative dialogue. Make your employees feel valued by asking questions such as, “What do you suggest?” or “I’d like to hear your opinion; what do you think?” Most people will give you clues to what motivates them if you stop talking long enough to hear what they are trying to tell you.

Mistake 3: Not holding regular tag-ups. In today’s world of too many meetings, it’s easy to blow off weekly tag-ups with each employee. Don’t do this. Most people find interaction with upper management to be motivational. Encourage your team members to come prepared with work-clarifying questions, problem-solving ideas, requests for information, and information that keeps you in the loop.

Mistake 4: Failing to share the “why.” Managers who fail to share meaningful information with their teams will fail to motivate them. People want to feel like they are “in the know” and important enough to be informed about what is happening within the organization and, more importantly, why it’s happening. Be transparent, ask for feedback, and always share the why behind actions and decisions.

Mistake 5: Not recognizing contributions. There is nothing worse than doing great work and having it go unnoticed or unappreciated. Motivate your employees by recognizing their contributions. Give them a “power thank you.” A “power thank you,” as defined by Mark Goulston, author and psychologist, has three parts:

  1. Expression of sincere and specific thanks.
  2. Acknowledgment of the effort or personal sacrifice made.
  3. Statement about what it means to you personally. Expressing gratitude in this way is memorable, touching, and motivating.

Mistake 6: Failing to deal with issues in the workplace. Many managers don’t know how to effectively deal with conflict, performance issues, and other morale-sucking behaviors within their teams. Failing to listen to and address these issues will turn your best performers into mediocre ones; therefore, commit to effectively handling employee complaints. Keep the feedback loop healthy by providing regular updates on how you are addressing their concerns. Ask them to be part of the solution and give you feedback on what is and isn’t working. This shows your team that workplace problems don’t fall into a black hole and it’s safe to bring up problems.

Mistake 7: Not creating growth opportunities. It’s hard to motivate people if they feel like they are in dead-end jobs. Give your employees opportunities to expand their skills and take on new challenges. Allow your employees to attend important meetings, let them cross-train in other functions, give them special projects, and encourage them to participate in external seminars and courses. Ensure each team member has a career development plan that outlines their long-term goals and plans to help them get there.

By avoiding these mistakes, you will increase motivation within your team, and everyone will reap the benefits. With motivated and engaged employees who contribute real value to the organization, you’ll be more likely to achieve your goals and be successful.

Question of the episode

This question comes from a Reflect Forward listener who asked, “Kerry, what do you think are the biggest problems with leadership today?”

Great question. There are so many it’s hard to choose from. But if I had to pick one, I would say it’s a lack of clear and honest communication. Many of the problems we face in life, leadership, and politics all come down to how we are communicating as leaders. Leaders typically aren’t transparent enough and fail to communicate with the right level of context and sense of urgency. We assume people know more than they actually do. We want to hide mistakes or hard truths or bend facts to see in a more favorable light. We forget that people will fill the void with their own stories in the absence of information – stories that are usually incorrect and negative. We don’t lay out a clear vision and game plan, so people are confused and left wondering how their work fits into the bigger picture. We fail to communicate expectations, ground rules and shy away from giving feedback leaving people to wonder where they stand in the organization.

In today’s complex business environment, leaders have to communicate well on all levels. It takes commitment; you have to make it a priority, and you have to create a structure and a cadence to make it easier to keep up with it.

I don’t believe that a leader can over-communicate. Sure, they can fumble communication, say the wrong things, and make a mess of it, but people need and want to hear from their leaders. So don’t be afraid of communicating. Being a transparent and frequent communicator will make you a better leader.

Like this? Check out my blog on the power of positive feedback.

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