Businesses – large and small – are engaged in a constant battle to survive. Sometimes the battle goes well, times are good, money is easy and morale is high. But sometimes the battle is hard, money is tight, tensions are high and morale is low. It’s during the bad times that employers need to pull out all the stops to ensure that their employees are motivated, engaged and enthusiastic about their work and the company.
It’s not always easy to keep staff motivated, however, even at the best of times, so how do you go about it when the battle is going against you? We look at four tips from entrepreneurs and employment experts.
1) Recognise personal and professional milestones.
When morale is down there is nothing like personal recognition to get people fired up again. Recognising a job well is very important, because it makes people feel like essential cogs in the machine. But recognising birthdays, anniversaries and other personal achievements is also important as it lets your employees know that you value them as more than just parts of a machine, but as people too.
Bryan J. Zaslow is a successful serial entrepreneur and he believes that one of the most important things you can do as a boss is to celebrate employees’ personal milestones. He believes that it doesn’t matter if the company has fewer than 10 staff members or more than 100, recognition on a personal level is invaluable.
It doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavour. Just a small token, like some home-baked cupcakes or a gift voucher, can generate a great deal of goodwill.
2) Set goals and provide incentives.
Goal-setting works on two levels: goals for employees (e.g., to sell 200 units in May) and goals for the business (e.g., to have a turnover of $xxx by July). Employees should be part of the goal-setting process, especially their own goals. It’s also a good idea to encourage employees to come up with new ideas and strategies that will help achieve targets. This helps them to own the mission and will motivate them to work their hardest to not only achieve their own goals, but also the company’s goals.
You will need to provide some incentives, however, as employees tend to respond better to the carrot than the stick. Zaslow says that in his experience, nothing provides incentive quite like money. Again, it doesn’t have to be exorbitant, but it does have to be meaningful. The value of the incentives should also match the goals; e.g., a $10 gift voucher won’t cut it when you want your staff to increase their output by 50%, but a $500 bonus will.
Eric Friedman cites some interesting statistics from a study by the International Society of Performance Improvement, which found that incentives can improve individual performance by 22% and team performance by 44%.
3) Provide training and continuing professional development.
Recognise the potential in your employees and help them develop it. You don’t have to send them on expensive week-long courses, but you can find affordable online courses that might be of interest. Just ensure that the courses are reputable and worthwhile. You can also implement in-house training programmes, using your own experience and your managers’ know-how, or you can hire professional coaches who will help develop leadership and managerial skills.
It’s important to keep your employees interested in their jobs and in the field, and one of the best ways to do this is through education. Also, as their skills develop and grow, so does their ability to serve your company, so an investment in your staff is an investment in your business.
4) Be a good leader.
This is one of the most difficult things to do because good leaders are composed of many different qualities, like the ability to listen (really listen, with patience and without judgement) to employees’ needs, wants, ideas and complaints. It requires the ability to communicate clearly and effectively no matter what the message or the medium, whether it’s face-to-face, via email, using memos, on the phone, or in meetings, etc.
It requires flexibility and adaptability and the willingness to compromise. It requires the ability to find and provide balance. It requires consistency of temperament and behaviour. And it requires leading by example.
You’re not going to be able to keep all of your employees motivated and enthusiastic about their jobs all of the time. But with a little effort and creativity you can ensure that levels of morale and engagement are relatively high most of the time. And that’s a win in the battle to stay in business.