8 ways to motivate your staff

People are the heart of any project or business success - so how do you motivate them? Alex Adamopoulos is CEO of Emergn, which helps firms to soup up their IT and business performance. He has eight simple rules...

by Alex Adamopoulos
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

1. Let people find their own way

It can be tempting to tell people what to do (especially if you have more experience) but that risks turning your team's process of problem-solving into a mechanical series of tasks. Because there is no space for curiosity, decision-making, creativity and - yes - making a few mistakes, you will end up with a demotivated team who do not pour their energy into their work. You never know, they may have found a better solution in the end.

2. Remove barriers

Even when people understand their goal, their natural enthusiasm can be eroded by barriers.  If a company does not seem to care about eliminating those barriers (or perversely, to insist on putting them in the employees' way) then that can result in damaging demotivation.

3. Encourage realistic schedules

Everyone has known the misery of being asked to work to a schedule that simply cannot be met. There are times when a 'sprint to the finish' is called for, and it often draws extraordinary reserves of energy from the team because of their sense of pride and excitement in managing to deliver a project against the odds. But this simply cannot be sustained week after week, and indeed become counter-productive causing people to burn out, or lose motivation. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have a schedule, but it needs to be realistic.

4. Provide the right tools

Some jobs need special tools. It's as simple as that. If you employed an electrician, you wouldn't expect them to make do with a paperclip while re-wiring your house. Expecting staff to work with outdated software or hardware is a false economy, because they make people's lives harder and gives people a sense that their work is not really valued, which undermines natural pride in good workmanship.

5. Hold an innovation jamboree!

Invented by Australian software company Atlassian, these one-day bursts of autonomy allow people to work on anything they want (as long as it's not part of their regular job) - provided they show what they've created to their colleagues 24 hours later. Atlassian dubbed these innovation jamborees FedEx
Days because participants have to deliver something overnight. One of the most famous examples is the 3M Post-It Note, developed by Art Fry during an innovation day.

6. Promote self-selection

Joining a company is usually based on self-selection, so why should joining a team be any different?  Some companies work on the basis of 'who wants to be in this team' and ask team members to decide whether to accept each joiner or not. Examples are Google, which sends round a list asking who wants to be a team, and Whole Foods, which asks new employees to work on a 30 day trial, before they and
their peers decide whether or not to offer permanent employment.

7. Is your office right for your workers?

This is something that your facilities manager may not want to hear but different types of workers have different needs.  Open-plan offices were intended to stimulate communication but have their flaws.  One piece of research among a group of developers revealed they were more satisfied when they had more desk space and quiet time, with fewer interruptions from colleagues. While most organisations cannot suddenly expand their floorspace, other factors make a difference: does your office permit flexi-time?  Do people make personal phone calls? Do team members interrupt each other in meetings?  This isn't about 'right' or 'wrong', but rather, some people thrive in a confrontational or noisy environment, others don't.

8. Dole out some responsibility

Being held responsible for something over which you had too little control is deeply demotivating; yet many workers complain when people are not held responsible for their actions. Give praise where it is due and do lon allow under-performers to tarnish the whole team.

9. Be careful with metrics

Measurement is good to have, but it can backfire. Something which is referred to as the Hawthorne Effect This theory came about after a factory conducted various experiments on productivity - levels rose during the project then fell when it was over.  In other words, it was the effect of focusing attention on the workers that made them - albeit briefly - more productive.  In other studies at the factory, intense measurement was interpreted as a lack of trust, which again provided counterproductive and
indeed, caused workers to slow down.

There is no 'one size fits all' way to motivate your staff. You'll no doubt need to tailor these tips to suit your business and your people. But if you want to have happy, productive employees, you could certainly do worse that think how these rules could apply to your organisation.

Alex Adamopoulos is CEO of Emergn

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