OWNER'S MANUAL

How to Motivate Employees? The Best Answer Ever

Effective motivation comes down to one surprising word... which might be why so many leaders fail to do it right.
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No business is better than its employees, which is why engaging and motivating employees is so important.

Too bad it's rarely done well.

Maybe that's because all the theorists and strategists and experts make motivating people seem much more complicated than it needs to be. Is it possible there's a simple and straightforward answer to the question, "How can I motivate my employees?"

It turns out there is, and Dick Cross, an eight-time turnaround CEO, founder of The Cross Partnership, founding partner of Alston Capital Partners, and the author of Just Run It!: Running an Exceptional Business is Easier Than You Think, has it.

According to Dick, motivating employees—or anyone—is based on one word.

Patience.

Say you want to instill a sense of urgency. The best way to get people to go fast is to let them know why there's a need to go fast, and then be encouraging and patient with their progress.

How many times has a boss or coach ranted and raved about what needs to happen by when, "Or else!" Probably more often than you like to remember.

And how often did the ranting and raving achieve the intended result? Probably less often than the ranters and ravers like to remember.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, because it's a pattern we learned to follow as children. People, including kids, don't like to be threatened. Threaten me and I'll resist. Spank me, ground me, reprimand me, put a letter in my file, demote me, and you'll fail to change my attitude. In fact, you'll increase my resolve not to comply.

Physically you might overpower me, but you'll never get me to do any more than the minimum required to get by.

And that's a huge problem, because minimum compliance efforts never produce great organizational accomplishments.

But if employees like how you treat them, know you believe in them, understand what needs to get accomplished and understand why it's so important... they'll generally accomplish great things.

The key lies in getting them to want to help you, which is only possible when you 1) exhibit an understanding of what is possible, 2) care about them, and 3) are willing to accept the absolute best they can deliver.

Under those conditions, most people will give you their all.

Do the opposite and they won't. There are few things more de-motivating than feeling you are trying your best but still letting someone down. You've been there. No matter what you did, it wasn't good enough. Eventually you decide hard work isn't worth it.  That's why there is little more motivating than the prospect of amazing a person who genuinely cares about us.

Who do we generally care about the most? The people we feel believe in us the most, which makes them the people we least want to disappoint: Moms, favorite teachers, best friends... and remarkable bosses.

Those are the people to whom we give our all; they believe in us... and we don't want to let them down.

And that's why motivation ultimately comes down to patience. Showing patience is an extraordinary way to let people know you care about them. By showing patience and expressing genuine confidence in them, your employees naturally will be motivated to find ways to do things that will amaze everyone—including themselves.

And how do you make motivation last?

The key is to understand that sometimes your employees must go slow in order to go fast.

A burst of speed that drains physical and emotional energy is not worth the effort because it's not sustainable. Speed that builds gradually, that forgives mistakes along the way, and that allows people to figure out for themselves how to maximize their potential—that kind of speed, and patience, creates a feeling of motivation that lasts forever.

Motivation? It's all about patience.

Adapted with permission from Just Run It!: Running an Exceptional Business Is Easier Than You Think by Dick Cross (Bibliomotion, 2012).

IMAGE: Mamboman1/Flickr
Last updated: May 21, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

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



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