Mission Possible: Fostering a Motivating Environment Given Today’s Challenges
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar
No matter what’s happening with the economy our clients are always asking about how to motivate employees. The truth is, it takes a lot of work to motivate employees. If it’s not something that comes naturally to you it can seem like an awful lot of extra work.
It does take a conscious effort to create an environment that can be motivating to people – where they take pride in their work, enjoy coming to work each day, and develop positive working relationships with one another. It’s not usually something that happens spontaneously, and most certainly an environment that is motivating at one point in time may morph into something much less so at a different point in time.
The reason organizations are constantly challenged with finding ways to motivate their employees is because there are so many variables involved in what makes someone motivated to do their work.
Many leaders, managers and supervisors complain that:
- My employees are just doing what needs to be done, looking for the easy way
- We allowed jeans on Friday and now they want them every day of the week
- Everyone’s complaining that our reward structures are not fair
- Everyone wants something different, I can’t keep track
- My team wants me to be more social and really I just want to get the job done
The fact is, it takes two to tango. “Management” can put a lot of effort into creating an environment but the workplace needs to be aware of and recognize what has been done for them. More importantly, feedback and conversation about what works and what doesn’t work is critical to the success of ongoing efforts to produce a motivating environment.
Getting clear on what you want the organization or team to look, feel, talk, work like, and accomplish is an important first step in understand what needs to change to create the environment that will foster the behavior you’re looking for.
What does a motivated environment look like? What are you trying to create? Are the employees engaged in the mission of the organization? Do they actively solve problems and go above and beyond what they’re expected to do? What behavior or outcomes would you like to see?
The other important factor is getting to know what’s going on with the workplace. What does the current environment look like? What are they saying and what do they feel like?
Comments we have heard from recent employee surveys:
- I have so much to do I can’t think beyond each task
- I don’t feel I’m recognized for a job well-done, I’m just expected to keep doing more
- I’m working more, getting paid less, and not appreciated for what I do
What’s happened in the last three to four years, while the economy has struggled, salaries have frozen, promotions halted, and business has slowed; we have laid off, cut back and done what we’ve had to do to survive. But what we see now is the aftermath. We still have our core mission/purpose and we have, at best, more clearly identified where we are going from here and what we need to do to get there, but morale is at an all time low. Employees are ready to jump ship and move to greener pastures. Or they’re frustrated and angry and have no one to talk to about it. Now is the perfect time to plan for getting back on track. How can we recover from the damage and rebuild? It will take time, but we’ll tell you a secret: they’re ready.
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. – Author Unknown
Steps to create an environment where employees are motivated and engaged.
1. Let’s get clear about your role
Your role in the organization and on your team is the first piece to examine in terms of how you can approach motivational issues in your workplace. Certainly, anyone who oversees another person can have a great deal of influence over that person’s motivation and work experience. However, even if you don’t oversee someone, you can have an influence on those around you and you can find opportunities to provide feedback or plant seeds for changes that will help foster a better working environment. As a person who provides oversight for the work of others, it is part of your responsibility to create an environment conducive to productivity and achievement. If you are an individual contributor, your responsibility is to participate in creating the environment you need to be your most effective and productive at work. Recognize what it is you need and talk with your manager or others around you to create an environment that will help you succeed.
“Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca
2. Now get out of the way!
In terms of motivating others it’s critical to recognize that there are two sides to the coin. You can put all the effort in the world into creating an environment that should or could inspire productivity. But if there are factors that are de-motivating employees, those de-motivators will override and undercut any positive efforts made. Therefore, the first thing to do is identify what might be “de-motivating” the employees. In today’s economy, we hear a lot about work overload, lack of work-life balance, fear of layoffs, concern for the welfare of the family (healthcare, food price increases, gas, lack of raises, etc.) and lack of appreciation. It’s important to recognize that while many of these things can be de-motivators, they are conversely motivators. Research has shown that pay is not a primary motivator, but surely when you can’t make ends meet, it can direct attention away from work and into alternative and necessary problem solving efforts. The issues that individuals face in their personal and work lives have a tremendous impact on the commitment and effort they put into their work. It is crucial to address employee complaints, concerns, and basic necessities before placing a greater emphasis on the positive and reinforcing programs and efforts.
3. Motivating at an individual level
Let’s think about what makes an employee want to work for your organization in the first place. If you’re a .com organization, there are likely some innovators and movers/shakers; people who like to mix things up and be pushed by a goal with more immediate success or feelings of accomplishment. Alternately, in the public sector, someone may be drawn to a career for stability, long-term opportunities, equity, service orientation, and probably the fact that they are serving the public and contributing to the noble good. Non-profit organizations or companies with a strong mission frequently pull at the heartstrings. Employees are drawn because they believe strongly in the mission of the organization.
Begin by gaining a basic understanding of why an employee is drawn to work within the organization in the first place. Then talk with them about connecting them to the reason they are there. Fore example – if an employee who works for a non-profit that serves the homeless is in the accounting department, he/she rarely gets to see the clientele. Perhaps they can spend a day each month interfacing with the population that is served. Finding a way to connect the employee with the end result of the work they do can go a long way in engaging them in the business and outcomes of the organization. It’s also a way to begin a dialogue about what it is that motivates them.
Take time to get to know what motivates an individual and spend energy creating opportunities to provide those options. Even with a lack of funding for pay-based rewards, simple praise, recognition, human connection, and appreciation at an individual level goes much farther than money. People want to know they are valued for who they are and what they bring to work. When you can find a way to make these connections, communicate what’s been done and celebrate success. It may take some time but the efforts will pay off with a more connected workplace and overall higher productivity.
“The only way to get people to like working hard is to motivate them. Today, people must understand why they’re working hard. Every individual in an organization is motivated by something different.” – Rick Pitino
4. Make a strategy for fostering a motivating environment
To maximize your time and ensure efforts are fruitful, it is important to be planful and strategic about your efforts. Have meetings specifically to discuss motivation and morale. Have meetings specifically to discuss motivation and morale. Include opinions, thoughts, and needs of each individual. Ideas that are shared by many can be incorporated into more formal programs. Ideas that are specific to an individual should be discussed personally and incorporated into an individual plan. This may require a process where you find time each week, month, or quarter to follow-through and also solicit feedback. Feedback on how any efforts are received is critical. Find ways to solicit information about the success or challenges with any efforts that have been made. this can be done through formal feedback processes or through informal conversations and meetings. It will ensure efforts are worthwhile and ultimately result in an environment that works for every individual.
Finally, flexibility is the key to the long-term success of any efforts to motivate employees. Mixing things up, changing routines, rewards, opportunities and experiences will keep them interested, feeling value and connected to their work. It may seem like a lot of work but once it’s part of a routine, it’ll become more streamline. Not to mention – working with people who are engaged and productive makes life a whole lot easier.
If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. – Lawrence J. Peter
What not to do:
- Create a one-size-fits-all approach. While an Employee Recognition Program is a great way to reward employees in an organized way, it won’t work the same for everyone and it needs to be reinvented with employee input along the way. Be sure to offer an array of programs and reward options.
- Use formal programs as a crutch. Often having a reward program, morale committee or other organized program has the unintended result of removing the burden from the individual manager/supervisor. It is important for everyone to consciously appreciate and celebrate each others’ efforts – even outside of formal recognition programs.
“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” – Stephen R. Covey!