When I met with Rosa Melendes, the regional sales director for a Fortune 500 company and one of my best clients, I picked up on an undercurrent of anxiety in her otherwise professional, capable demeanor.
“Tell me, Paul, what do you think of Jill?”
Salesperson Jill MacPherson had been part of Rosa’s team for ten years. Jill had always struck me as a loyal, dedicated worker, and I didn’t hesitate to say so. While Rosa agreed, she was concerned. During Jill’s tenure, their company had been through a host of complex changes, including a merger, and it seemed to be taking its toll on Jill. For the last three quarters, Jill’s sales numbers hadn’t been where they should be, and Rosa was worried that Jill was losing her competitive edge. “Paul, I’m just not sure how to approach Jill about this. What do you think we should do?”
“Have you talked to Jill?” I asked. “Have you asked her how she feels about her performance?”
Rosa nodded. “Sure, I’ve asked Jill plenty of times what’s going wrong, and how I can help her. She earnestly tells me everything’s going well, and that she doesn’t need any help. Jill keeps telling me that she has lots of irons in the fire and I should be patient—but how long am I supposed to wait for her to get it together?”
When managers like Rosa can double as successful motivators, they inspire their employees to get truly excellent, breakthrough results. There are as many different ways to inspire employees as there are managers trying to inspire them! Some managers sweeten the motivational pot with contests, rewards and bonuses. Others crack the whip, using threats and punishments to keep their employees “in line.” The one common theme that runs through all of management, however, is that most managers don’t ask their employees how best to motivate them. Instead, many managers end up playing a guessing game—and often wind up losing.
I understood why Rosa came to me for advice about Jill. In my experience, most managers don’t directly ask employees about their motivation needs, because:
- They’re afraid the employee might ask for additional resources that the organization can’t provide.
- They think everyone is motivated by money, or by the same things that motivate them.
- The employees don’t know themselves! They’re not in tune with their own feelings, so they have surprisingly little insight when asked about their motivational needs
- The managers hope if they ignore the problem, it’ll just go away.
- The managers believe employees should motivate themselves.
- They wish to avoid the issue and any possible confrontation that might arise.
- They’re afraid the employee might quit, and then the manager is really left in the lurch.
- They’re afraid that, as managers, they might be part of the problem.
- They’re so swamped themselves, they just don’t have enough time to spend with each employee.
- They just plain don’t know the best questions to ask to motivate their employees.That’s a shame, because the solution to any motivation problem can be as easy as asking your employees the right questions!
Experts don’t necessarily agree on all the different ways people respond to incentives. However, as managers, we can recognize our employees’ most common needs, learn how to bring out their drive, and steer that drive to the next level. From my experience in business and consulting, I’ve found that most employees want the same things from their bosses. Employees’ “wants” fall into four categories:
Appreciation — Who doesn’t want to feel appreciated? Whether you’re in a business relationship or a personal relationship, you want to feel like you and your responses matter to your partners. Employees want to feel valued by their employers. They want to know that they’re important and that what they’re doing has a purpose, a meaning. This goes beyond a paycheck and into your employees’ emotional needs. Appreciation means that your employees feel respected and recognized for their efforts.
Guidance — Employees want direction from their bosses. They want to be clear in their responsibilities and their goals. This gives employees a sense of security, because they’re not just cogs in a machine—they know their employers consider their accomplishments vital. To accomplish this, employers must provide measurable standards and expectations for each employee’s particular position.
Communication — An employee who isn’t kept in the loop is not a happy employee! Employees want to feel included in the decision-making process. In this increasingly unpredictable world, they want to know what’s going on in their companies and when changes will affect their jobs. Managers can accomplish this by “managing expectations” when they ask for employees’ input. This means that managers should ask an employee’s opinion and make sure they let the employee know exactly how much weight that opinion will carry. Example: “I don’t know what top management will ultimately decide, Josh, but how do you feel about this issue?”
Success — Employees want to be on a winning team; who doesn’t? They want to know they’re moving in a positive direction, and if they’re not, they want to know what they can do to fix things. No one wants to be a failure or a disappointment at work. Employees want to feel they’re having a positive impact on the business. Obviously, all our employees want to take home the big bucks, but we don’t always have control over their compensation plans. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to uncover other ways to make your employees feel successful.
Start talking with your employees about what motivates them, and really listen to what they say. You’ll be able to tailor your encouragement to each staffer’s needs, jump-starting their zest to do their best.