by Steve Adubato, PhD

Previously, we have focused on some of the keys to motivating employees beyond giving them more money or a bigger office. Two of the motivators we highlighted involved giving more authority to people and providing direct feedback. This week we expand the list.

At a recent seminar on team building, I asked a group of professionals in a struggling company what truly motivates them to give it their all, even when they know the organization’s future is especially unclear. Here is a sampling of what they had to say:

  • Variety. Most people hate doing the same thing every day. Routines may create a degree of stability, but they can also stifle growth and creativity. Predictability in work has its place, but variety continues to be the spice of the workplace. Consciously work to mix up the projects your people work on. It will keep them engaged and involved.
  • Deadlines. Creating a sense of urgency gets people motivated to complete projects in a specific time period. Of course deadlines create a degree of stress, but most professionals are energized when they know they have to get something done by a specific time. (Remember in college when you knew a term paper was due on a certain date. That got you pretty motivated to get it done, right?) One of the worst things organizations do is avoid setting deadlines and leave things open-ended. This communicates to employees that the project isn’t particularly important if it can be done or not done. Set deadlines and watch what happens.
  • People. Individuals appreciate fellow employees who are supportive and helpful. One seminar participant said, “What motivates me is that I have people that I can go to for help regardless of what the situation is. It is such a cooperative environment.”
  • Strong personal relationships. This motivator goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Many respondents said, “they didn’t want to let down” a particular individual in the organization who had made an investment in their professional and personal development. One of the biggest motivators in getting people to give their maximum effort is a personal commitment to the people they work with. Remember, this doesn’t always mean the people at the top. It could be your direct supervisor or a colleague or peer. Either way, it’s that very human and personal connection that causes people to say, “I’m going to stick with Jim (or Mary) because we are in this thing together.”
  • Tools to do the job. It could be up-to-date computers or managerial and supervisory tools. Simply put, even if people are willing or motivated to work hard in a difficult situation, if they lack the tools to execute the job, over time they are going to get frustrated and turned off. The key is to identify the tools your people need to do their job and then invest in those tools. This will make your people feel more valued and appreciated. That is a great motivator.
  • Sharing of information. Many employees I spoke with said when organizational leaders shared important information (including “difficult to hear” news) they felt more invested in the company and its future. Opening lines of communication is essential to motivating employees. Lots of managers talk about having an “open door policy.” You may think the door is open, but it has little value if employees perceive that they are the ones that have to walk through it as opposed to you taking the initiative.

So what motivates you in the workplace when things get really tough and your organization’s future is unclear? Write to me.