Have you ever heard an employee say, “I love my job because I have great dental benefits?” Of course not. Employee morale and motivation is far more complex than merely offering a generous benefit package.
What makes employees perform beyond expectations? I believe the answer lies in leadership versus management. While management deals with the mechanics of the work environment, leadership is far more personal.
Follow-ship is likewise a personal matter.
What motivates people varies from person to person, and it varies over time with the same person. Therefore motivating employees is a moving target that is constantly changing. Research indicates that, regardless of the size or type of business, the best motivation is manager-initiated and based on performance rather than organization-initiated and based on showing up for work.
Achieving highly motivated employees is more a function of what you do as their manager than what the organization does as an employer.
From the employer, the employee receives tangible things such as a paycheck, benefits, vacation and retirement plans. From the manager, an employee receives intangible things such as attention, acknowledgment and credit for work well done.
Surprisingly, the intangible incentives are more powerful at driving motivation than the tangible incentives. In part, this occurs because the employee expects the tangible and views those things as merely a part of having a job. The intangible incentives are not required of any manager in any workplace.
It is this contrast between tangible, expected incentives and the intangible incentives that separates the managers from the leaders. When those in authority treat their subordinates as partners rather than merely employees, the subordinates take ownership in the work. Showing high expectations and trust turns the mundane into an adventure.
Even correcting employee errors can be done in a positive manner. If the problem is handled as a learning experience rather than a demoralizing show of force, everybody emerges intact and the error is not likely to be committed again. The attitude that “I know you can do this correctly if I clearly show you what is expected” rather than “I doubt your ability to handle this task” makes a world if difference.
Giving credit and praise whenever possible is always a morale-booster. Unselfishly helping subordinates grow to their maximum potential builds loyalty that is rewarded many times over.
Rules are a necessary part of life, both at work and off the job. We cannot function as a society without some parameters of acceptable behavior. Leaders make certain that their charges fully understand what is expected of them and then hold everyone accountable. Employees cannot comply if they are not aware of what is and is not acceptable. Achieving performance beyond just complying with the rules is the task of leadership.
As our work world grows increasingly complex, we must attain self-motivated service from our employees. Motivated employees know the expectations of their bosses and know that if they perform well they will be recognized. The power of recognition comes in part from the fact that you don’t have to do it, which is exactly what makes it so special to subordinates.
Thought for the Moment — You can never step in the same river twice.
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.