How to Motivate Your Team
Motivation is the intrinsic force that incites people to act, coming from a desire to accomplish a goal or meet a need. An ideally motivated workplace consists of a team whose individual desires are synonymous with the organization’s objective. Oftentimes employers utilize positive reinforcement, like group rewards and acknowledgment, as a cost-effective way to attempt to motivate employees towards a goal without creating competition (Deeb). But is recognition truly recognition when everyone reaps the same benefits? Whether it be coworker-to-coworker or employer-to-employee, motivation by positive reinforcement is achieved through individual and personal connections rather than group experiences. Imagine this scenario: After long and stressful days of working through your lunch breaks and into the weekends, you and your team finally finish the project and secure an important account. The boss is pleased with your work and sends around an email the next day: “In recognition of our valuable marketing team who secured the Fisher account, we will have a catered lunch at 1 PM. Enjoy and keep up the good work!” You walk into the lunch and see your coworker, Stan, helping himself to the food. Something feels wrong. Yes, Stan was on your marketing team, but you know for a fact that you did most of Stan’s work when he took two days off for a golfing retreat and called out sick the day of the project’s presentation. Not only did Stan get the same reward as you for doing less work, but he just took the last roll.
“Everyone’s a winner” endings may work in an elementary school’s field day. However, when one puts in a specialized effort, blanket rewards take the meaning out of recognition. Harvard Business School’s Ashley V. Whillans wrote in her article for Compensation & Benefits Review that people are more likely to contribute posts on Wikipedia when they receive a public certificate of recognition. Whillans writes that “if you can create a social experience around the reward, it becomes more eventful and something an employee will remember” (Thibault-Landry). What if the boss created an individualized social experience for an employee, instead of a group thank-you and lunch? Imagine if the email read “Y/n, I noticed your effort in securing the Fisher account and wanted to extend a sincere thank you. I heard you worked through the weekend, and knowing you are a big Eagles fan, it must have been tough to miss the big game. As a thank you, we decided to give you the company tickets to the game this Sunday.” Feeling recognized and valued creates an important byproduct: loyalty.
Go back to the original scenario from before. You brush off Stan and his roll greed. The thing that matters most is that your boss is proud of you and your work. Wait. Are they? The actual email said to “keep up the good work.” Does that mean they were impressed by your endless research? The way you commanded the client’s attention? Your ability to manage your team; even on the days Stan was golfing and you were running a five-person project with only four people? Walking away from the days and days of work, you only have a plate of food. You are not sure what constituted the branding of “good work” from your boss.
Motivation has considerable impact benefits: employees that are motivated are engaged, better problem solvers, innovative, creative, and customer-oriented (UNC). Also, “organizations with highly motivated workforces, in addition to being more profitable, report having higher levels of customer satisfaction and employee retention” (UNC). A study done by the American Psychological Association on thousands of employers and employees stated that managers predicted the most important motivational aspect of work as money. However, the majority of employees said that “personal time and attention from the manager or supervisor … [is] the most rewarding and motivational [aspect] for them at work (Heathfield).
The creator of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, is hailed as one of the greatest leaders in this generation. In 2001, Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for his “services to entrepreneurship” and listed in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007. Branson has built his company around his employees and consistently references the policy, “If the staff is pleased, customers are bound to follow.” Employees often receive personal phone calls or written notes from Branson thanking them for their work. These individual and personal connections foster the most genuine employee motivation and create a successful company environment.
Additionally, reward and recognition guru, Bob Nelson, says in an article for “Workforce” that, “More than anything else, employees want to be valued for a job well done by those they hold in high esteem” (Heathfield). There is a threshold of complacency when employees become numb to gifts and monetary rewards and instead crave personal recognition from an employer (Gerdeman). Instead of the scenario where you receive an email and a gift from your boss, a private conversation in which the boss recognized your willingness to pick up Stan’s slack would have had the best long-term impact. It would have improved your loyalty to the company after receiving your boss’ appreciation.
As we close our discussion on effective motivators in the workplace, remember that workplace motivation does not have to come from a boss. A sincere compliment to a coworker, offering assistance to an overwhelmed intern, or congratulating your work neighbor on their promotion are all ways to improve motivation in your future workplace.
Deeb, Carol. “Team Motivation vs. Individual Motivation.” Chron, Hearst Newspapers, 26 Oct. 2016, smallbusiness.chron.com/team-motivation-vs-individual-motivation-37114.html.
Gerdeman, Dina. “Forget Cash. Here Are Better Ways to Motivate Employees.” HBS Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School, 28 Jan. 2019, hbswk.hbs.edu/item/forget-cash-here-are-better-ways-to-motivate-employees?cid=spmailing-24801079-WK%2BNewsletter%2B01-30-2019%2B%281%29-January%2B30%2C%2B2019.
Heathfield, Susan M. “What People Want to Obtain From Work for Personal Motivation.” The Balance Careers, The Balanced Small Business, 7 Jan. 2019, www.thebalancecareers.com/what-people-want-from-work-motivation-1919051.
Thibault-Landry, Anais, et al. “Winning the War for Talent: Modern Motivational Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees.” Winning the War for Talent: Modern Motivational Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees – Article – Harvard Business School, Sept. 2017, www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=55066.
UNC, Executive Development. “The Role of Motivation in the Workplace.” UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, 5 Nov. 2015, execdev.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/blog/the-role-of-motivation-in-the-workplace.
Weinstein, Margery. “Employee Loyalty and the Power of Individual Recognition.” Training Magazine, Training Magazine, 13 Feb. 2015, trainingmag.com/employee-loyalty-and-power-individual-recognition/.
Zinda. “How 6 Successful Companies Keep Their Employees Motivated.” Journyz, Zinda, 30 Nov. 2017, https://www.journyz.com/resources/how_successful_companies_keep_their_employees_motivated/.