Motivating Employees

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I've been to many, many seminars on management and supervision. I've read hundreds of books and talked with more people than I care to admit. For many years, I searched for the answer to the question: "What motivates employees?"

All of these people, books, magazines, articles and courses had many bits of advice and so-called "facts". Many managers seemed to believe employees are greedy SOB's, wanting only money and vacation time. Others believe it's one minute pats on the back that keeps people going and still others don't think the question is important at all.

None of them had anything close to the answer. In fact, virtually all of these so-called experts were looking in entirely the wrong place. They were almost unanimous in their belief that the company was "king" and doled out rewards and niceties like some benevolent god (or goddess). The company was king and the employees were subservient.


One day I looked around my own office and gazed on my own people, and realized the answer was much closer to home than I had imagined. In fact, the answer was staring me straight in the face.

My people are highly motivated, they out-produce anyone else that I could compare them to, and they always come through when they are needed. In fact, I've never seen a group of more highly motivated people anywhere.

So what are the secrets? After much thought, here are some of the things I've realized that a true manager, a real leader, does in order to build and maintain an incredibly motivated group of people.

Stay in communication - Believe it or not, the number one thing that motivates people to work is not money or time off or anything like that. No, it's something much more simple, and something totally free.

Just keep communicating with them. Talk to them openly and honestly. Discuss their goals and objectives, and your thoughts on how they should build their careers. Don't hide problems in the workplace - talk about them. Tell them how they fit into the organization, and discuss their performance.

By communicating you show them how they fit in, tell them what they can do to help, and explain how they can achieve their own goals. They will learn what you expect and dislike, and will fit better into the organization.

Most important of all, your employees will feel comfortable with you and the organization, and as long as you are honest they will be more willing to follow your directions.

Keep your word - I had a boss once, named Gary, who made many promises. He said he wanted to create a big company. At that time we needed to "tough it out", but he'd be sure to see that we got our reward when the time was right. When the company got bigger and more profitable, we'd all see more money. Gary said he would be sure we all received the proper rewards for our hard work.

Sigh. I was young and dumb and believed (hook, line and sinker) the lies of this man, my old boss. I worked long hours (60 to 80 per week) and sacrificed virtually everything for a half dozen years of my life (if a person lives to 60 a half dozen years is 10% of his life) for the dream.

One time I worked myself almost to death, doing an incredible job of analyzing a client's needs, writing up an awesome proposal, and actually getting them to sign the contract. The most embarrassing thing was I kept having to apologize for Gary - he was not impressing them at all. But they believed in me and signed the contract because I was the one who presented it.

Now, I was the VP of consulting, not a salesman. Selling was Gary's job, but he lost this contract from the get-go. He was completely incapable of making that sale. Yet, when I approached him for a small piece of the pie (I just wanted 1%), he said "no". He explained I was paid a salary and thus was not entitled to more compensation. The fact that I was not a salesman, the fact that I did his job, the fact that I put in a month of 90 hour weeks - none of that was important to Gary.

I learned at that time that the word of this "man" was worth the paper it was written on (it was an oral agreement).

And I learned the most important lesson of my life: keep your word. It does not matter what it costs, if you make a promise, then you keep it. If you believe there is a chance you cannot keep your word, then don't make it (or make it clear it is dependent on something else).

Keeping you word is highly motivating to your employees. Not keeping your word will cause them to look elsewhere (which is what I did). This is a direct cause and effect relationship.

Fairness - Want to destroy your organization and totally demoralize your people? Just be unfair with them. Treat people unequally and they will quickly turn against you. At best, they will be unwilling to take necessary risks and will work hard to "cover their behinds" instead of doing what's important - their jobs.

On the other hand, if you are fair you will find them to be willing to work as hard as you want. They will go the extra mile for you and your company.

Fairness means thanking them when they have done a good job, and disciplining when necessary. Treat people with respect and give them what they are due.

On the other hand, slackers and people who are malicious need to be treated with the appropriate harshness. Don't ever put up with anything but the best that people are capable of.

Remember Richard's rule - an organization will fall to the level of mediocrity and foulness that it's members will tolerate. If you tolerate none, you will have none. Period.

Reward the producers - Your employees must believe you will stand behind them. They must understand you are on their side, but they also need to be fully aware you work for your company and that's where your loyalties lie.

What I tend to do is reward people who do their best and achieve good results. The employees who stay an extra hour to be sure the report is on my desk, who answer their pages after hours when there is a problem and who I can always count on can count on me for rewards.

These people get what they want, because they have proven they will produce. If they need a day off, they get a day off. I know I can depend upon them and thus they know they can depend upon me. If one of these gems has a routine doctor's appointment, they can take the necessary two hour lunch or leave a couple of hours early without any comment from me. They have earned freedom.

On the other hand, the slackers, the 9-5'ers and the people who never seem to be able to get anything done don't get rewarded. If they need to go to the dentist, the response from me is "don't they have Saturday appointments?"

Show respect - The people who work for you and your company are people. They have desires, hope, dreams and ambitions, just like you do. They want to achieve something in life, and, unless they are a criminal or just plain stupid, they want down to the depths of their soul to contribute to their organizations.

The best way to get people to be motivated is to show respect. Treat them as human beings, as living, breathing, intelligent mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.

Don't chew people out in public. Don't berate them where their fellows can see it happening. Don't belittle their personal life (what they do on their own time is absolutely none of your business).

Strive to build up their character and support their strengths. Don't allow them to be mediocre and don't put up with anything but their best.

Very importantly, let your people shine. You are their boss - this means you shine when they shine. If "Joe" does something good, tell him in front of people. If your own boss notices your team did something good, don't hog the glory - take the opportunity to make your people shine.

Now that's showing respect.

Be clear and firm - Make decisions fast and without being wishy-washy. Yes, you may need to take some time to get your facts, but once you have what you need, just make the decision. Then begin planning and implementing it, immediately.

Little will ruin your effectiveness as a leader and a manager as fast and as thoroughly as being unwilling to make a decision. Putting off decisions until the last moment is one of the absolute worst things you can do for your own career, your department and even your company.

When you make a decision, communicate it well and stick with it (unless facts come up which indicate you made the wrong decision). There is no need to check out your boss to see what he wants to do or how much he is willing to spend on the project. Tell him what the project will cost and tell him how it will be done. Then go do it, and succeed.

Manage up the ladder - Now this is very subtle but very true. You have to manage up your organization board as well as down (and also to the sides). This is critical for your survival.

What does this mean? This means you make sure your boss has the information he needs to make the right decision (the one you want him to make). You make sure he's getting what he needs from you and your people at all times.

So when a decision needs to be made, you don't say "boss, what do you want me to do?" That's weak and submissive. You say, "boss, here's what's going on and this is my plan. Permission to proceed?" That's strong and assertive, and it invites your boss to go along with you - because the decision has already been made. All he needs to do is say yes. By the way, before doing this, be sure you've done your homework. Have your facts and supporting data ready, just in case the boss wants the information. It's bad to say, when your boss asks why it's the best decision, "uh, well, I don't know..."

A few years ago I worked for a man named "Fred". This guy avoided his boss at all costs. He didn't talk to the man and dreaded any conversation. He also built a wall between our department and the other departments in the company. No one could talk to us without his approval and we couldn't talk to anyone else unless we cleared it with him.

Needless to say, Fred didn't have a clue what his boss wanted. He had no idea how to manage his group, and he was constantly undermined by his peers throughout the company. No one had any respect for him, and finally he simply could not achieve anything at all - except to stop things. He became an expert at stopping projects and making plans just, well, cease to move forward.

Were we motivated to do a good job for this man? Hardly.

Conclusions - Ignore all of the silly management and leadership theories and practices. Virtually all of them are useful only for fertilizing plants. Just treat your people with respect, listen to them, talk to them, build them up and don't let them fail. And remember, manage everyone up and down your organization board - your career (and the career's of each and every one of your people) depend upon it.

About the Author

Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at - Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.


Aaron 27.11.2010. 04:36

What should an organisation consider before implementing financial rewards as a way of motivating employees? Financial rewards as a way of motivating employees to perform, which factors must be considered and what advice would you give to an organisation that is considering to implement this in order their working staff to perform much better?


Admin 27.11.2010. 04:36

Any such money would be better spent in improving the conditions under which the people are working. Bonus related awards only have a limited effect over a limited time period.
Much better to tell the team that you have X amount of cash available to improve their working environment and let them tell you how and on what it should be spent.


B S 13.12.2009. 22:47

Is there a universal way to motivate employees? Is there a universal way to motivate employees? Can you explain your answer please. A friend and I are having a debate.


Admin 13.12.2009. 22:47

One method of motivating employees is by giving awards, bonuses, and other incentives to employees who perform well. Positive affirmation is a great method to influence behavior in employees. Offering positive apraisals and evaluations are ways to motivate and ensure repeated behavior.


Cifru 04.01.2009. 16:13

How to motivate employees employees in difficult times of crisis or recession or any situation? How to motivate employees employees in difficult times of crisis or recession or any situation?
Please do you have some links to literature I can quote please? Thanks. Highly appreciated.


Admin 04.01.2009. 16:13

Since beating them with a stick isn't an option, and telling them that their pay check should be motivation enough to come to work everyday, involve them. Have a round table discussion and let them come up with ideas for increasing business. If they become part of the solution, it becomes harder to complain about the problem. Remember, motivation can sometimes be as simple as recognition and/or acknowledgment.


Penguin Lover 13.11.2008. 18:40

How can financial data help motivate employees? I answered the first question which was "What are the advantages and disadvantages of having companies make their financial information available to employees?"

However, I could use some help with the second question "Other than knowing if they will receive a bonus, how could financial data help to motivate employees in companies?"

Penguin Lover

Admin 13.11.2008. 18:40

Job security is one thing. Also shwoing them how their efforts have affected things like OPEX spending, profit margins, or sales can go a long way to motivating employees. Some just get a sense of pride when they can see how their efforts have translated into a more profitable company.


simon_sez28 04.12.2006. 18:15

Describe in your own words how the need theories of work motivation are used to motivate employees? Describe in your own words how the need theories of work motivation are used to motivate employees?


Admin 04.12.2006. 18:15

Fear of unemployment motivates.



Darius Smuckers 22.01.2009. 14:33

Motivating an employee to pursue self development activities? I have a project I am working on. The goal is to figure out some rewards (besides money) that will motivate employees to want to further their education outside of work. The company already has monetary rewards in place if an employee completes a certification. I am just looking for some other ideas of potential rewards that will motivate the employees.

Darius Smuckers

Admin 22.01.2009. 14:33

Titles. People love to have new titles. It doesn't even have to necessarily change their job description.


Heather C 28.02.2008. 21:53

What are good incentives to offer employees to motivate them and make them feel good? I am the Assistant Customer Service Manager of a finance company. I am looking for different ideas for motivating employees and making them feel good with rewards. They can be monetary or otherwise.

Heather C

Admin 28.02.2008. 21:53

You have some wonderful ideas already and I can add. One of the most rewarding incentives is "praise". Too often employees are criticized for something done wrong. Good employees that show on time, do their job, don't complain need "encouragement" knowing their work and presence is appreciated. "Praise" three times more often than criticizing each week.

Personnel files often contain the "negative" ONLY. These files effect income, promotion, etc. Any "well done" or exceptional work needs documenting and put in the files as well. Another "wrong doing" to employees that will effect performance is the "performance review". Too often management grades below actual performance to "allow room for improvement". This will "deflate" a good employee fast if they are doing a great job NOW.

Georgia Pacific in Atlanta conducted an experiment in one of their many departments. Management praised employees often, properly graded performance reviews, placed positive "beyond the norm" remarks in personnel files. These simple acts increased moral and overall production improved.

Good Luck, stay positive, give employees the attention they deserve.


Muhamma Irshad 09.12.2010. 17:50

How are Employees motivated in Information Technology industry? Hi, I would like to know what are the schemes introduced in Information Technology industry to motivate employees work more efficiently.

Muhamma Irshad

Admin 09.12.2010. 17:50

If you do it wrong you're going to be working during the company's downtime (in other words, all night long) until the problem is fixed. If you value your personal time and sanity, you do it right the first time.

This is the main factor motivating efficiency in my opinion.


krs10 26.08.2010. 12:39

What are some fun games or competitions to motivate restaurant servers throughout the shift? Our managers are trying to find new ways to motivate employees during their shift. Any suggestions on games or competitions to promote TEAMWORK and bring some fun back into their jobs?


Admin 26.08.2010. 12:39

bring in a lot of business and the kids will motivate themselves.
also what you need to keep an eye on is the chemistry between your servers and how they interact with one another. I am not saying that they all have to get along swimmingly but if there is one person that is causing a majority of the problems both among the staff and customers you may need to reassess their position on the staff.


ROHIT 29.05.2013. 04:13

What is the difference between employee satisfaction and employee motivation? Is satisfied employee a motivated employee? How is motivation done?


Admin 29.05.2013. 04:13

Many years ago people thought that job satisfaction caused employees to be better motivated but it turns out not necessarily to be the case. For example, employees who have a low work ethic (who place little value on doing productive work) can be perfectly satisfied doing very little.on the job. If their working conditions are comfortable and they're well paid then they're satisfied but not motivated.

Most of the time, productive employees are motivated and satisfied (the cause of direction might be opposite from what people used to think) but there are no sure-fire techniques for making people feel motivated. Organizations that try to "plug in" motivating techniques often wind up doing more harm to morale than good. The reason is that the nuances and subtleties will be absent on the part of managers who try to manipulate employees through artificial means.


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