The first thing to remember is that you won’t motivate anyone if you live by the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ motto, as appealing as that is at times. This may work with a toddler (for a few months, anyway), but no one will take you seriously if you don’t walk the talk. So if you want to motivate people, setting a good example is a no-brainer.
It’s also important to remember that people are different and respond to different stimuli (I know, you probably figured this one out as a toddler, too, while you were learning how to manipulate your parents). Everyone is an individual, so getting to know your employees and colleagues is a good start to understanding how they work and what drives them.
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Once you know people as individuals, you can determine what will motivate them best. Controllers need – obviously – to be in control. Giving them a job that allows them to make decisions (decisions that they know will be respected, of course) is a good way to get them interested in what they are being asked to do and motivated to do well. Micromanaging does NOT work well with this type!
The ‘loner,’ however, prefers to work alone: they get the most done when no one else is breathing over their shoulder or even within 100 km. Loners may not be able to work from a cave at the top of a mountain (well, come to think of it in today’s wireless world, they may just be able to do that), but you can respect their personality and work ethic and give them jobs/projects that they can do without having to interact with others too often.
If you are unsure of how a person works best, something as simple as asking them their preferences and motivations is a good start. Listening to others (really listening, not just smiling and nodding) makes a huge difference. When people are comfortable knowing that they will be heard – not necessarily agreed with, but at least listened to and treated with respect – they are much more likely to be open and honest and give their maximum efforts to the project at hand. Providing a supportive environment is essential to encouraging people to do their best.
It’s also essential to be clear and specific in what you want and expect. Lack of clear communication, if not No. 1 on the list of incredibly frustrating situations, is at least right up there at the top. You cannot expect people to read your mind (and if you do, you probably don’t want to know what they are thinking of you at the moment). Often what seems abundantly clear to you is a muddle to others, so work on your communication skills and ask for feedback. You’ve heard the old cliché: Say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s trite, but it does make sense.
Personal enthusiasm for the work/project also helps motivate others, but it has to be honest. The old ‘rah, rah’ from a person who is obviously unenthusiastic/bored/indifferent is actually counterproductive, as your audience will probably respond with “Whatever.”
Last, but certainly not least, a simple “thank you” goes a long way toward getting the best out of people. You know how much better you feel when you are recognized and valued (as the incredible person you know yourself to be), so treating others with that same consideration and appreciation often works wonders.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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