Reward your staffers in ways they'll find meaningful, and you'll convey that keeping them motivated is important to you.
As a business owner, it's my job to make my business grow. There has never been a doubt in my mind that most of that growth comes not from mysterious market forces, but rather from my most precious internal resource: my employees. To that end, I've always tried to make sure my employees are treated well with paid health benefits, three weeks' vacation from year one, a matching 401(k) plan, and even homemade (by me!) birthday treats.
All of these things help build a great team. But to really keep the team intact--and working together to grow the business--I've learned and tried to master these five effective and genuine techniques:
Personal growth trumps a bonus.
I make it my business to closely note the things that interest my employees and try to give them every opportunity to pursue those activities. For instance, a hard-working member of my staff was clearly interested in the world beyond the one she knew. Each time I traveled overseas for the company, she would ask about the details of the trip; it was clear that she, too, would like to go. However, her position did not require much travel. I kept her interest in mind, all the same, and when the opportunity arose to send someone to Europe to represent the company, I sent her in my place. Even in advance of the trip, the opportunity motivated her to work even harder than usual to make sure that all of her responsibilities were completed pre-departure. Once overseas, she found opportunities that helped my company to develop a presence in a new market. But the true motivation for her was the chance to see the world and prove she was capable of handling an important mission.
Status means more than money.
Sometimes motivating an employee is as simple as giving him authority. One of my employees loved talking with his customers on the phone and wanted to meet them face-to-face more often. He felt that showing up in person could have a great impact on the sales of his accounts, as well as on prospective ones. He suggested that we start attending more small regional trade shows to get the face time he wanted. I told him to find the shows he thought would be best, create a budget and plan, and if it looked feasible, we would do it. Motivated by the prospect of getting to meet his customers in person, he took our company out to five shows the first year. He felt important as the recognized face of our company, and his presence helped us become a top supplier in the piercing industry.
Perks pave the way.
When our order-fulfillment staff grew, I had to find a way to motivate them to control errors as well as build team unity. Unlike my sales team, which was often most motivated by opportunities to earn bonus money, the order pickers were most galvanized by exhilarating experiences. With this in mind, I bought two tickets for a concert they had all been talking about for weeks and put them on the line for the two employees with the best record for errorless order fulfillment. At the end of the month, I was so impressed with the effort and the progress the team had made, I purchased two more tickets so that all four teammates could go. The motivation and the memories of the concert lasted long beyond the contest end date.
Recognition is priceless.
Last year, our sales manager hit a sales milestone a company employee had never reached before. At midyear, she was on target to make the goal, and she knew it. Jokingly, she told me that if she did it, she wanted a plaque with her name on it. In October, we started watching her numbers closely, and just before she cleared the milestone, I ordered not one, but two plaques--one for the hall of fame we installed on the wall, and one for her to keep at home. On the day she hit the goal, just before lunch, we stopped the entire company, blasted "We are the Champions," and presented her with a standing ovation as well as the plaque she thought we had forgotten. Not only did she feel well compensated, but the public recognition also motivated the rest of the team to push hard toward the same milestone.
The most vital lesson I've learned as I look to motivate my employees is that it's always best to ask them individually what motivates them. Whereas one employee may think that getting an extra day to explore a city on a business trip is a huge plus, another may value getting home earlier each evening to her children. It helps me both to make sure they are rewarded in ways that continue to be meaningful and to let them know that keeping them motivated is important to me.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg