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5 Cheap Ways to Motivate Employees

Sometimes the right kind of recognition works better than a higher salary.
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How do you get people excited about work without paying them more money? It turns out that it's relatively easy, as long as you understand why money works as a motivator.

In fact, nobody works simply to get money. Nobody. Why would anyone want a collection of identical engraving of dead presidents?

Furthermore, once you get past the minimum "food, clothing and shelter" level, nobody works in order to buy more stuff. Nobody.

The only reason that people use extra money to buy "stuff" is because they believe that owning it and using that "stuff" will make them happy.

In short, once you get beyond the survival level, the only reason money works as a motivator is that people see money as a vehicle for feeling good.

That's why it's easy to motivate people without paying them more. All you need do is figure out how to make them feel good when they're working!

The way you do this is to create opportunities that both recognize good performance and connect employees to each other and to the larger purpose of your firm.

Here's how:

1. Let employees reward other employees.

Whenever an employee accomplished a major goal, allow that employee to formally recognize the employee in another group who provided the most assistance in achieving that goal.

For example, in one company whenever somebody made a big sale, the successful salesperson could choose somebody in sales support spin (in the presence of both teams) a "prize wheel" prominently displayed in the lobby.

Even if the prizes are relatively small (maybe with one really big prize), it both provides extra motivation (i.e. recognition) for both top performers and for the often unsung people who support them. Plus it's fun.

2. Hold weekly "Quality Assurance" meetings.

The term "Quality Assurance" (aka Q.A.) comes from the world of high tech and is something of an inside joke. The typical Q.A. meeting is always held on Friday, at around 5:30pm, ideally in the back room of a local restaurant/bar.

Employees (and especially managers) sit where they want, order what they want, and pay for themselves or others, as they choose. What inevitably happens is that the discussion turns to work and people naturally get "looser" as the evening wears on.

Not only does this ensure better communications between employees in different groups, over time it creates a sense that everyone is not just working with colleagues, but with personal friends.

3. Give perks for performance not position.

Most companies have visible perks, like favored parking spaces and catered offsite meetings, that are typically reserved for managers and executives.

If you provide perks like this based upon position in the company, you're motivating people to vie for that position, a goal that few will attain and which may not be an appropriate career path for them.

On the other hand, if those perks are earned through individual performance, you're motivating people to excel at the job in front of them, regardless of whether they're likely to ever become a manager.

4. Make work more like a game.

Management consultants, who are always ready to make a simple idea more complex, have started calling this "gamification." What it means in plain language is setting up a point system and displaying the results where everyone can see them.

Sales groups, of course, have been doing this kind of thing for decades, but now companies are beginning to apply the same concept to other activities. For example, if you're managing a group of programmers, you might award points based on how well their software passes a suite of quality tests.

Experience says that the most effective "gamification" strategies involve competition between groups rather than individuals. Otherwise, you can accidentally end up motivating employees to grandstand and steal credit.

5. Connect employees with happy customers.

People feel better about themselves, and therefore happier, when they can see that what they do is making a positive difference in the world.

However, employees who don't work directly with customers are usually unable to see the end result of their labors, and those who DO work with customers (like in customer support) only get to hear complaints.

Therefore, if you know a really happy customer, ask them either to visit your facility or record a video that thanks your team for their efforts and explains how what the team accomplished has made a difference in that customer's life.

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Last updated: Oct 26, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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