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Top 7 Tips for Motivating Your Team

By Kevin Kearns

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We have all heard someone say, “you’re not the boss of me!” in rejection to a demand placed on them. I bet that phrase was born out of the good ol' days when employees did what they were told because the boss “said so!” This worked for a while, but then organizations discovered employees were even more productive when fear and intimidation were NOT the only sources of motivation.

Motivation has been examined for centuries, but no matter how many books we read on new approaches, we still find ourselves thinking, “now what on earth would motivate him or her to do that?” Leadership would be much easier if motivation could be controlled like the good ol’ days. Except, I wouldn’t exactly call that leadership. The seven tips below cover motivation strategies and in some cases, how to avoid turning attempts at motivation into de-motivation.

  1. Be Great: Being great is contagious. People like to be part of something great. Team merchandise sales always skyrocket when they win a championship. However, as soon as the team loses its greatness, the attraction weans. How many Chicago Bulls’ jerseys do you see these days? The same is true for the workplace. Staff will be easily motivated if your organization is great. As a leader, it is your responsibility to do something about that – to the level of your position and hopefully beyond. From CEOs to front-line supervisors, leaders that believe and share clear values, goals, and vision for their organization, department, or team, create a sense of greatness. If you do not currently have clear values, goals, or vision, a good first step may be for you to ask your team a few questions, such as:

    · Are we great?
    · If so, what makes us great?
    · If not, why not?
    · Great or not great, how can we improve?

  2. Equal But Different: Discover why each employee comes to work. We all have our reasons for working beyond the minimal funds to survive. Some people work for money to buy cool toys. Some work for esteem and appreciation. Still others work to accomplish great things. Why do your team members come to work? The answer to this question will impact how you approach them. No matter how great the organization, if the employee is unable to see how the objectives of the company fit into their personal goals, they will not stay motivated. How do you find out their whys? One way is to ask them why they come to work. Unfortunately, some people do not know the answer, or the answer they give is only at the surface level, with the real reason being deeper. You may need to depend on your observations to determine the whys beneath the surface.

  3. Let it Go: Pick your battles. As far as I know, there has only been one perfect person to walk the Earth. The rest of us are flawed, whether we see it or not. Employees are people and will therefore make mistakes. Depending on the nature of the mistake and the intentions behind it, consider letting it go with just a small comment or no comment at all. Some mistakes require “disciplinary action, up to and including termination” and you obviously cannot let those go. If a mistake is based on good intentions, has little negative impact, and a lesson was learned, perhaps you can let it go. If someone has ever let you slide on a small error in judgment, you know how motivating it can be to have the opportunity to justify that person’s faith in you.

  4. Blast ‘Em: Hold your staff accountable. Letting it go can work when it is a minimal infraction, however accountability is the gift that keeps on giving. Although not always pleasant, holding a staff member accountable in the present will actually save you stress in the future. Not only do you improve the likelihood of that individual improving, you also signal to every other employee what is not acceptable. If you don’t deal with an issue as soon as possible, you end up with larger issues. Much like paying taxes, accountability is a pay me now or pay me later concept. If you choose to ignore it and pay it later, be prepared for the late fees and penalties.

  5. Get Connected: Build relationships. There are few motivators more powerful than relationships. When we believe another person has our best interests in mind, we are willing to give more effort. If trust is not established, it is much more difficult to give more than the minimum. Employees are not going to go above and beyond to help a leader they do not believe would do the same for them. Every interaction you have with employees either adds or takes away from a strong working relationship. WARNING: I strongly recommend you build professional relationships, not friendships. When your relationship is based on friendship, the water can get muddy. Not to say it is impossible to pull off, but it does add a significant amount of extra effort and stress.

  6. Everybody Wins: Keep competition healthy. I used to think that not keeping score in T-Ball games was wimpy. That is until I witnessed a poorly administered T-ball game where the score was kept. Parents screaming, kids crying and fighting – and this was all before the game started! The competition was not healthy, things became ugly, and any benefit of keeping score was completely lost. I have seen the same thing happen in organizations. Every employee is competing months for a great prize only one person can win. At the end, you have one happy employee and several bitter employees licking their wounds and claiming injustice under their breath. The intent of most work competitions is to motivate employees to do their best work. What do you think happens after unhealthy competition is over? The winner works like a winner and the losers work like losers!

    Healthy competition works and the specific guidelines are going to be different for each organizational culture. Observing how employees respond in productivity will be a good judge. Here are some general ideas to keep in mind:

    · Short duration
    · Objective scoring criteria
    · Different levels of winners (if possible)
    · Fun to compete, not just win

  7. Buy Donuts: But not too often! Similar to competition, when done right, little things like donuts can be nice motivators. However, if done too often, even donuts lose their value and create an environment of entitlement. Employees begin to expect these little extras and become upset if they do not receive them. If you enjoy buying little rewards like donuts for your staff, then by all means continue. If you do it in an effort to motivate improved performance, don’t over do it. If you have never done it, try it occasionally. Unexpected donuts are always a hit! If your workplace is into the low-carb dieting, perhaps bacon would be a better choice.

Kevin Kearns is President of Kearns Advantage (, a leadership coaching company. Kearns Advantage works with business owners and leaders to define and improve results, guaranteed! Kevin holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. Kevin also mediates business disputes for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.


Article Submitted On: July 29, 2004