Managing people is one of the most rewarding yet challenging parts of running a business. There is no one-size-fits-all because everyone responds differently. Understanding how to motivate employees is a core skill for many managers and while everyone responds differently, having a few tools in your toolbox can help you better adapt to the individuals you work with to help them achieve the results you need. So let’s take a look at what it takes to motivate employees.

Bring Meaning to Work

There isn’t much that is more motivating than understanding the value of one’s work. Rather than telling an employee what to do, help them understand how the task fits into the business and the value it brings. Context everything and whenever possible, share results. Not just KPIs, but also the impact your business has on actual customers. Seeing how a small task fits into a larger picture to help improve a real person’s life is one of the most powerful motivating tactics known.

Give Autonomy

Giving an employee a task may get you compliance. But to motivate them to do more and better, you will need to give them autonomy. The degree of freedom will depend on your experience with the employee and how well-versed they are in similar duties, but give more than you think you should. One great way to do this is to give an employee a project, a problem to solve, and let them work on how to solve it. Then, let them execute their plan. It may not be the exact solution you would devise, but it could provide some valuable teaching moments and even a better solution.

Have Their Back

Nothing will discourage an employee like being undermined by the boss. So even when you need to course-correct or step in, it’s important to do it in a way that feels like learning and growth to your employee, rather than scolding. Be open, focus on the process or tools rather than the person, and never disrespect your employees in private or public. But more often than not, publically back your employee with comments like, “Steve has a good idea.” and “Cheryl is right, we should be doing what she says.”
By publicly backing your employee’s decisions, you set up a pattern of trust and you will show them that it’s OK, not just to take the reins but also make mistakes, both of which add to their autonomy and motivation.

What Would You Do?

It’s one thing to support the decisions of your employees and give them room to explore their own motivation. It’s another to proactively ask them how they would handle a specific situation. Doing so let’s your team know that you expect them to be thinking through solutions at all times, that they shouldn’t wait to be told what to do but that you expect them to do it themselves.
However, if you ask for their advice, you must be willing to take it. Or at least involve them in the conversation that incorporates their ideas into the final plan. Without follow-through, you’ll do more damage than if you never asked them for their opinion in the first place.
Motivation is an art that requires a leader to be flexible and find the right strategy or strategies that will get the best out of the team. While some small business owners see this as a “problem”, others find that leading and motivating their team to do extraordinary work is the most rewarding part of running a business.

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