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Motivating Staff Towards Improved Performance

Business owners and managers often ask for tips about how they can motivate their staff to reach higher levels of achievement, bring more enthusiasm to their work, or become more participative in company-related events or activities. The answer always begins the same way, "You can't motivate people. People must motivate themselves." The questioner's response is often one of surprise. And for those of us who are still working on our "control issues", the standard response must be grappled with. The follow-up question is usually, "Are you saying that I don't have any control over this?" The response to this question is, "No, you can't control a person's level of motivation, but you can affect it." The effect can be positive or negative and is directly related to the work environment and relationships.

De-Mything Staff Motivation

There are many myths about what motivates individuals. Let's begin by looking at some of the common myths relating to staff motivation. Many people still believe staff is motivated by:


Though individuals can lend support and feedback, they can't get a person to do something they're not willing and ready to do. I'm sure everyone has experienced the frustration of trying to convince an individual to do something that seemed so right. However, the person refused to budge or follow well-meaning advice.

Money, Job Security, Prestige

Sure, most of us appreciate an increase in pay or job security, and prestige can enhance one's social standing. Though some may accept these as temporary motivators, their motivating factor is usually short-term. After the initial thrill wears off, individuals are still left with examining basic emotional and spiritual needs. Take those who have received large amounts of cash from winning the lottery or another game of chance. Initially, they are ecstatic. They plan purchases, make investments, and think they now have it made. Then, after the hoopla has subsided, and the spending frenzy has ended, they must begin to have a "normal" life. Personal happiness, relationships, and spirituality are now reviewed, and many find they are not happy with what they see.


If you think you can motivate people by instilling fear, think again. Yes, for the short-term, fear can keep people doing what is directed, but keep this in mind. All the while they are being fearful, they are planning to be vengeful. Companies who manage with fear as a motivator will find they may gain by keeping people working, but they are probably losing via staff-designed divisive methods. The goal: get back at management.

The Same Things That Motivate You Will Motivate Others

Uh, I don't think so. Rarely are any two people motivated by exactly the same things. Those who have or work with children can well understand this. One child might be motivated to clean her room by the thought of spending the day at an amusement park. Another may have no desire to go to an amusement park and would find a day alone (without her siblings) a great motivator. Never assume that one size fits all.

High Levels of Satisfaction

Yes, loving your job is important to reaching higher levels of achievement, but it isn't all we need to be motivated. As I hope you are seeing, motivation is multi-faceted, and can't be wrapped up in a nice package, tied with a ribbon, and presented as a gift. Discovering what motivates requires time, energy, and relationship building.

Basic Principles

The phrase "All roads lead to Rome" is very appropriate when considering one of the basic principles relating to staff motivation. This phrase refers to the fact that all the roads leading out of Rome had a marker at every mile indicating the distance to Rome from that point. No matter which road you traveled on, you'd always know how far you were from Rome. Rome was the reference point. Owners and managers are Rome. The success of their staff and business is directly related to the distance/relationship between themselves and the people they manage. All roads lead to you. Motivating others begins with motivating self. To lead, you must first understand your followers.

In his book, "Whale Done!: The Power of Positive Relationships", Ken Blanchard, suggests that to understand killer whales, you must jump into the water with them, and show you mean no harm. By interacting with staff and building meaningful relationships, opportunities to show and share are created. From these opportunities, relationships are built, and levels of understanding and awareness are heightened.

What You Do vs. What You Say

Saying that everyone deserves the opportunity to grow and prosper is easy. Creating the environment for this to happen is something else altogether. Too often organizations say the right words but do the wrong things. Make sure your organization is not just giving lip service to the concept of providing an environment for growth and improvement. How can you know if you're offering what people need to be successful? Ask them. Allow staff to have a voice in the development of policies, procedures, benefits, and organizational change. Shouldn't those who'll be affected by the proposed changes, have a voice? What if those affected by the proposed plan don't think it's the big idea you think it is? What if they have a better idea? How would you know about that better idea, if you never ask for input?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

This isn't about "Who's the fairest?" Instead, we're going back to Rome, and another phrase relating to Rome. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." This phrase relates to dropping the ways customary to you and your place of residency, and instead, living as those with whom you are visiting. This suggestion is made to visitors, as an aide to helping others feel comfortable with the visitor. By exhibiting behavior that is familiar to the residents, the visitor helps them become comfortable with him. In modern times we've taken this a step further and suggest the body language of those with whom we converse be mirrored. It's thought that subtle (this is the keyword) mirroring makes others feel comfortable.

Listening is also a key element here. There is a form of listening that stimulates conversation and reinforces understanding. "Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener's own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said." The listener doesn't have to agree with the speaker, they simply state what they think the speaker said. This enables the speaker to find out whether the listener understood. If the listener did not, the speaker can explain some more. Active listening has several benefits. First, it forces people to listen attentively to others. Second, it avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they understand what another person has said. Third, it tends to open people up, to get them to say more.

Finally, remember to apply the 80/20 rule in every conversation. Listen 80% of the time, and speak 20%. You'll be surprised at what you haven't been hearing.

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Public and private praise can work wonders toward motivating individuals. Some people are averse to public praise, so know the personality type you're working with before showing public appreciation for an individual contribution. Whether the praise is public or private, be certain it is timely. Flattery or praise offered far after the conclusion of a project, or the doing of a good deed has lost its immediacy and its golden glow. Procrastination about praising is a definite spirit killer. Timing is everything.

It is advisable to espouse the philosophy of catching employees doing something right and accenting the positive. When we praise and positively reinforce "right" actions, we set an example for others. Everyone wants to be told they're doing a great job, or that their contributions matter. When we conspicuously praise and reinforce positive behaviors, others see the benefits and strive for the same recognition. In so doing, higher levels of achievement and personal growth become aspirations. Keep in mind that recognition and praise aren't a one-time thing. One dose of praise doesn't last forever. It must not only be timely, but ongoing, and relevant.

Author – Himanshu Desai, HR Professional, and Management Consultant, HR Prism Management Consultants / Content Strategist, HR SUCCESS TALK

A Human Resources professional skilled in HR Management, Organizational Development, Policy Formulation & Implementation, Talent Acquisition, Manpower Planning & Succession Planning, Training & Development, and Behavioral Competency Framework. His potential clientele includes some industry giants in India and abroad for implementing HR Projects and Management Concepts. He operates his knowledge-sharing business with his own firm HR Prism Management Consultants. He can be reached at or Cell No: +91 98795 78675.

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