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Fire 'Em Up! 5 Simple Steps to Inspire Your Employees

They won't admit it, but a solid majority of workers are disengaged. But a smart boss can motivate workers to really lean in. Here's how.

Here's a simple truth: really inspired employees get a lot more done for your business and for your customers than employees who don't really care about the job they do. Uninspired employees don't necessarily telegraph the full extent of their disengagement, but that doesn't mean they don't pose a huge problem for American businesses today.

Think your business is immune? Don't bet on it. According to the Gallup Organization’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged and inspired at work. This leaves 70 percent falling somewhere along the phoning-it-in to completely-tuned-out spectrum.

The good news is that employees want to be inspired, and they want to get good things done for great organizations. Here are 5 simple ways to help them.

1. Paint an Inspiring Vision

Whether you are a company founder, CEO, top executive, or senior manager, your job is to paint an inspiring vision of where your organization is heading. According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, coauthors of the bestselling book Built to Last, an effective vision has two parts: core ideology and envisioned future. Core ideology is the enduring character of your business, the glue that holds it together, and it includes your core values and your core purpose. Why does your company exist, and how does it do business? Envisioned future includes what Collins and Porras term "BHAGs" (big, hairy, audacious goals), the huge, inspiring kinds of goals that get people excited about coming to work. To get employees truly excited it's important to provide a vivid description of what the world will be like when the BHAGs are achieved.

2. Connect People to the Vision

Once you communicate the vision, explain to everyone exactly what their roles are in making it a reality. For example, if your vision is to bring clean, healthy drinking water to third-world countries, then everyone in your company needs to know how what they do helps to bring that about, from administrative assistants to product designers to salespeople to accounting and HR staff, right up to your board members. When your people understand what role they play in achieving your vision, they will feel a sense of personal pride and engagement that will help drive your business forward. It's your job to draw the dots and then help your people connect them.

3. Build a Culture of Courage

When your people are afraid to make mistakes, they will avoid taking any chances at all. Risk-awareness is good, up to a point, but a tight embrace of the status quo often results in organizations that can't respond to changes in the marketplace, and can't innovate. Competitors pass them by. The antidote is to first remove the sources of fear and then to build organizational courage. Instead of punishing or discouraging employees from taking risks or trying new approaches, teach, encourage, and expect it. Throw out your old fear-based culture and replace it with one where employees aren't afraid to take risks.

4. Reward Accordingly

Once you establish a culture of courage, put your money where your mouth is by rewarding employees who are courageous and who take smart risks. Even failure can be a positive thing, when your people learn lessons from these failures that help them ultimately achieve the organization's goals. Richard Zimmerman, the former chairman and CEO of Hershey Foods, famously established what he called “The Exalted Order of the Extended Neck,” a highly sought-after award for employees who were willing to take risks in pursuit of ideas they really believed in. Determine the best and most effective ways that you can reward smart risk-taking in your organization, and then do it--regularly, and in a way that is highly visible.

5. Thank Them. A Lot. 

As your employees embrace your vision and step up to the plate by being courageous and taking risks, don’t forget to express your gratitude. Inspired, engaged employees are worth their weight in gold, and you should and must do everything possible to keep them happy--and on your payroll--for as long as you possibly can.

 

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Last updated: Jan 13, 2014

PETER ECONOMY

While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest Inc.com columns, and visit him anytime at petereconomy.com.




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