Top tips for staff motivation in a small business

The days are getting shorter and morale could take a hit. Jonathan Richards presents some advice on staff motivation and livening up your team.

Autumn is here and it’s a time of transition. Many people come back from their summer holidays refreshed and raring to go. The trouble is that ‘go’ may mean a change of job, which isn’t great news for us business owners.

So it’s also a great time to be thinking about how we approach motivating our teams. I would argue that the ability to motivate employees is one of the greatest skills an entrepreneur can possess.

When the subject of staff motivation comes up it is usually linked to money – pay, bonus and rewards.  This thought process seems to be hard wired into our way of working but doesn’t tie in with motivational research. As Dan Pink puts it in his book, ‘Drive’, ‘Our current business operating system, which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators, doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade.’

There is an approach to motivation that has three essential elements:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

This approach is based on research carried out on what motivates people and is well covered in a Wharton article.

Six tips to help motivate and engage your team

1. Coach not play – People hate being told what to do, so next time you need something ask in a way that will help them decide what to do. ‘I’d like you to do it this way’ turns into ‘What options have we got to get this done?’ This helps them understand a task and come up with their own solutions that might actually be better that yours!

2. Be generous with praise – It’s so easy and goes further than you might think. Giving people autonomy is great but you need to let them know that you are there for them. Make it a habit to look for good things that people have done and say thank you.

3. Never directly criticise or correct – OK, this isn’t a motivator but it is a massive de-motivator. This doesn’t mean you can’t look for improvement, just try an indirect approach to help people learn from their mistakes and work out how to do it better next time. It’s not very empowering to have your boss slam you down in the public office.

4. Give recognition and small rewards – This can range from public recognition at a team meeting to letting your imagination riot. Go ahead and surprise them. Avoid formalising it and never make an announcement that you’re establishing a new recognition policy. Above all, show that you appreciate their good work.

5. Any excuse for a party – Doing things as a group can go a long way so celebrate the steps towards your goals. This will reinforce a feeling of purpose, time stamp milestones and might even be fun.

6. Share the ups and the downs – When it goes well celebrate; when it’s not so good, say so and look for solutions together. For people to feel that they are in charge of their own lives they need to know that you are being open with them. Be honest and transparent.

You may have some of your own ideas to add to these six, but the key take-away I would like you to have from this article is that whilst the financial incentive does of course have an important role to play in staff motivation, the reality of human motivation is more complex. And if you can get it right, it can create a powerful momentum and a shared vision within your workplace.

Further reading on employee relations:

Related Topics

Managing Staff

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