How much influence do you have on your employee's motivation? You're the one cutting the checks, that should be enough to keep them working their hardest, right?
While motivation is ultimately internal, the people you hire will be looking to you for guidance, recognition, and consistent values. Depending on how engaged with your employees you are, you'll be able to inspire them by your example alone. But to get the absolute most from each and every employee, you need to understand what drives them to perform and succeed at a deeper level.
Here are five ways to delve into the motivational psyche of your company:
1. Ask Them
No two people fit into the exact same motivation box. What sets one employee's internal fire ablaze might cause another to retreat or revolt. While you should maintain a consistent leadership style to inspire trust among your team, the particular tactics you use to motivate should vary from person to person. And the only way you're going to find out which ones to use is by asking them directly.
You always want to put your employees in the optimal positions to succeed. This can mean literally - some workers gain energy from working in close quarters with their peers, while others require a nice, quiet place. Figuratively, it hinges on the answer to the question "how do you like to work?" You don't have to make every concession (like if they say "from home, every day") but sometimes reshuffling the furniture, relaxing the dress code or scrapping the open-office floor plan can satisfy many needs at once.
It's also important to be in tune with the system of rewards that best motivates your people. General behavior studies show that people take action based on desired outcomes - the reward they expect to receive for a job well done. However, instituting blanket rewards based on your own perception of "desired outcome" can't satisfy everyone, and may actually backfire. For example, an invitation to Friday happy hour at 4:30 might be no reward at all for an employee with a young family, or a more reserved member of the team. Again, simply ask each employee which type of reward motivates them, and hand them out accordingly.
2. Champion Successes
When you point out the victories by certain employees or departments within your company, you're indirectly inspiring other employees to prove themselves in the future. "Nothing motivates like success," says Bob La Loggia, CEO of AppointmentPlus. "When our sales team is setting records, other departments take note. It's a huge motivator for them to also put some wins on the board."
While you don't want to set up an overly-competitive workplace and sink morale, rewarding select individuals for their successes can be a healthy challenge, especially for younger employees looking to show their value.
Of course, it goes without saying that recognition, whether public or private (depending on the preferences of the individual), has a strong correlation to overall happiness at work and creates an even more motivated employee. It's not always money either. Verbal praise and acknowledgment on a consistent basis has been proven to be good for business as a whole, and excellent for strengthening the trust between management and employees.
3. Nuance based on culture
There are plenty of personality assessment tools available for companies to categorize people in the workplace. While they have some value, they can't be relied on entirely to understand how people fit into the culture you're trying to create or maintain at your company. That's why cultural fit should be a major deciding factor during the interview process, and why regularly checking in with employees to see how it's going helps you figure out who's still bought in, and who's disengaged.
You can still maintain a distinct overall culture and tailor your system of leadership to meet individual preferences. There should be an understanding that your employees will meet you somewhere in the middle and make some small sacrifices in the name of overall company health. For example, if you value innovation strongly, find out which employees work better in groups and send them out for a team brainstorming/bonding session out of the office. If an employee's brain is more creatively active at night, have them come in an hour later provided they share their after-hours ideas.
4. Get personal
You can draw many parallels between a person's hobbies and interests outside of work and their motivation at the office. An employee in a basketball league probably thrives on friendly competition. An artist might be a great person to include in an open-ended brainstorm. Oftentimes the after-work activities of your employees will completely surprise you, shedding new light on their habits at work. By getting to know your team members on a personal level, you'll be better equipped to set them up for success.
5. See what's working
As a leader, you have to know what motivation actually looks like. It's not good enough to check things off a list and say you've done your part to inspire your company. Like anything else, you should prototype and user test your system of motivation. Constantly be looking for ways to tweak your process and make it even more personalized. Surprise and delight your employees just like you would your customers.
Good leaders need to self-reflect and decide if they're willing to put in the effort to figure out what motivates their employees. Can you meet the specific and nuanced motivation needs of everyone in your company? Building trust with your employees by treating them like real people is the fastest way to inspire them to greatness, and they'll be motivated to live up to the standard that you've set.