Motivate Your Employees

Creating a dedicated and motivated workplace isn't just about giving raises. Learn how the best employers bring the best out of their employees.

Carl La Mell, the president of Clearbrook, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington Heights, Illinois that specializes in helping children with developmental disabilities, spends his time among a staff that loves him. Last year, they nominated him for the Best Boss Award given out every year by Winning Workplaces, an organization that honors small-to-midsize business leaders who inspire intensely dedicated workforces. When a spokesman from Winning Workplaces called to inform him that he had won along with 17 others, La Mell’s humble manner had actually prevented him from learning that he had even made the finalists. “I thought the notification e-mail was spam,” La Mell says with a smile. “I deleted it.”

La Mell’s advice for small business owners seeking to keep their own employees motivated is simple: “I think it comes down to one word—respect,” La Mell says. “You have to respect everyone’s job in your organization.” It’s easy to see that La Mell puts his own advice into constant practice. As he makes his way through the Clearbrook offices, he takes the time to talk to each person he passes.

Though he jokes that he’s sometimes too open with his staff, La Mell believes that listening to the advice of employees and acting on it is one of the best ways to keep a staff motivated. “Even if an idea is bad, you’d rather have staff give you an idea than not give you one,” La Mell says. “If you create an environment in which you can’t come up with an idea, you stifle people. It doesn’t matter if the idea’s off the wall. You could even tell them, ‘You’re off the wall’ and they’ll laugh if you do it with respect and in the right way.”

Realizing that it was difficult to recognize his employees’ exceptional efforts off-site, La Mell began giving customer service awards to employees who went above and beyond their job description. Some nominations come from the families they serve; others come from the staff themselves. “One of the things that I think is missing in other places is the idea that customer service isn’t just about the customer,” La Mell says. “It’s also the other departments you deal with.”

In addition, he hosts a staff recognition dinner every year in which he gives out awards based on years of service. At the dinner, each department puts on a skit and the best skit wins a small award like a free pizza. There are also holiday parties where employees can win prizes. La Mell has also added financial incentives for performing well as determined by a performance-based measurement system.

Leaders such as La Mell demonstrate that money is far from the only means of motivating your employees. In fact, he believes that giving raises is one of the least effective methods. Above all, La Mell believes that a properly motivated workplace must begin with an enthusiastic and motivated employer.

“It starts at the top,” he says. “If you show respect and keep an open environment, then people will follow your lead.”


Set Goals

It’s important to help your employees set goals for themselves. These can include both long-term and short-term goals and they can be both work-related and personal in nature. Often, goals are set on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly basis. Many companies use “performance management systems,” which get every employee on the same page, regardless of his or her position. If they understand the relationship between their specific job and the company’s success, they’ll often approach their work with a sense of belonging. Frequently, that sense is all it takes to get that individual to finish a given task. And, of course, rewarding your employees for achieving their goals goes a long way toward creating a consistently motivated workforce.

Encourage Creative Thinking

Successful companies promote an environment in which creative thinking by the employees is allowed, if not encouraged. If you’ve been successful in explaining your company’s overall objectives in detail, employees will often come up with their own creative strategies for achieving these goals. In the case of the sales force that I help manage, I usually tell them the successful tactics that I used while making sales but I also add that there’s no one correct way. Everyone has a unique personality that might translate into an effective method of making sales. The challenge of figuring out an effective method on their own can be liberating and much more fulfilling. Plus, employees are more apt to listen to future advice if you let them figure out that you are right on their own.

Devise a System of Teamwork and Trust

Employees are never going to produce the way you expect them to if they think you don’t care about them. Start off by learning about your employees’ personal lives. This will give you insights into how to deal with them in certain situations. Your relationship with your workers should seem like one between partners as opposed to one between employee and boss. Also, spread specific assignments around among your workers. By giving employees special tasks, you make them feel more important. When your employees feel like they are being trusted with added responsibilities, they are motivated to work even harder so they won’t let the company down.

Foster an Environment of Fun

Studies have shown that employees are more dependable and productive when they think their workplace is a fun place to come to every day. I’ve found that one of the most effective methods of doing this is simply engaging my sales reps in conversations about topics that we both find interesting. It’s not necessary to talk to them all day long, but a few minutes here and there throughout the day can work wonders. Little talks like these allow the employee to see you as a regular person, and when your employees like you as a person, they are more likely to listen to you when you need them to get something done.

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Reader Comments

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 6:34 AM
ivy doe adjei says:
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 at 2:17 PM
Bill C. says:
An absolutely great article. Something all business owners need to know. I'll definitely put some of these ideas to use with my employees. Thanks ABC!!!

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