Human Capital Management

How to Motivate

By Patrick B. Ropella, Chairman & CEO, Ropella | August 2, 2013

In my experience, the single greatest mistake made by leaders at any level of the organization is to focus too much attention on attempts to motivate individuals rather than create a motivational work environment. Usually, we have one or two individuals who seem to be our greatest motivational challenges. So our natural leadership tendency is to focus most of our motivational attention upon those few. This can be a serious mistake, for without a concerted, top-of-mind approach to creating and maintaining a motivational environment you are likely to create more under-motivated employees.

A Dual Approach
Front-line leaders must have a dual motivational focus of both the environment and the individual.  If you only focused on one, the other suffers, which ultimately impacts the first. Therefore, a thoughtful, well-balanced approach is needed to achieve great results in the trenches.

Environmental incentives are those things that contribute to the general atmosphere of the workplace. From the way people are treated to the actual physical space, creating the right environmental incentives is critically important to maintaining a highly motivated workforce. 

Here is a list of some of the best practices for creating a motivational environment. 
  • Ask your team what motivates them. Gather your team and ask them as a group what motivates them to put forth their best efforts. Keep the list handy. Use this as your guide for what to never eliminate in the workplace. Also see how you can improve or modify them to be even more visible, available and easy to receive.
  • Ask your team what demotivates them. Same concept as above, except begin working on this list immediately. Take the biggest demotivators on the list and do something. Fast action, even if small action, inspires employees since they see you actually doing something to get rid of the stuff that they hate or that drains their initiative. Keep that list handy and work on it!
  • Simplify processes. Stop requiring your signature on stuff they can handle. For example, brainstorm ways to transform a five-step process into a four-step process. Eliminate unnecessary paperwork.
  • Eliminate fear. The single biggest fear in the workplace today is your (the boss’) reaction to your employees’ mistakes. Let your team know that you are not to be feared as much as you are to be respected.
  • Eliminate speed bumps. Ask your employees what are the key roadblocks to productivity. Start slicing those speed bumps until they all but disappear.
  • Listen. Really listen. Perhaps the most under utilized and yet most powerful leadership tool available to you is to simply listen, really listen, to your people—all of them. 
  • Reward teamwork. If you want teamwork, reward actual teamwork. A big mistake is to talk, preach, and shout “teamwork, teamwork, teamwork,” but end up paying for individual contributions. If you want your team to work as a team, then create incentives that reward teamwork.
  • Break the monotony. Throw a party on Tuesday…just because it’s Tuesday. Take your team out to lunch on June 10…just because it’s June 10. Encourage your people to take a break just to take a break. Your people work so hard for so long that sometimes they just need a break. So break the monotony and do something a little different; just break the monotony.
  • Celebrate success. Obvious, right? But too often in our hurried workplace we overlook the obvious. It is essential to your success that you celebrate your team’s successes—fast. Create an environment that is not afraid of success and the celebration that accompanies it.
  • Stay focused. You are responsible for keeping the focus of your team on achieving great results. If you allow too many competing priorities to cloud and confuse your team, the environment becomes stale, hectic and unproductive. Remind yourself and your team of the essentials. Stay focused.
Individual Incentives
In my more than 20 years in business, the single biggest change I have witnessed in the arena of motivation is that traditional, generic incentives and awards; e.g., “Employee of the Month,” are no longer as powerful or as meaningful to employees as they were to previous generations. Instead, they are more impressed with how much time, energy, and effort the company (that means you) takes to personalize the incentives.

Think about it this way.  Which of the following is more meaningful to you? Your six-year old son buys you a beautiful birthday card with a magnificent poem, or takes crayons and scratch paper and draws a picture of you and him with the words, “Happy Birthday, Dad – I love you.”   

Which one is the keeper?

Favorites List
Here are my two favorite, most powerful individual incentives—a Favorites List and the Michelin Approach. Assume that I have just achieved some great results on a project or special assignment. For example, you know that my favorite candy bar is Snickers, my favorite hobby is golf, my favorite color is blue, and my favorite soft drink is diet Dr. Pepper. 

Armed with this information, you could create several individualized incentives, such as wrapping a coupon for a free round of golf around a six-pack of Snickers, setting it on top of a six pack of diet Dr. Pepper, and tying it to a blue helium balloon that says “Thanks.” 

Create your own Favorite’s List with 10-15 categories. Ask your team to fill it out. Keep the list handy and be sure to use it to generate individualized incentives that are meaningful, memorable and motivational.  

The Significant Other
Remember the Michelin tire commercials with a rotating tire on a stage? Can you picture who was sitting in the tire? That’s right, a baby. Michelin has sold millions of tires through a marketing technique that’s focused not on the direct consumer (me) but on a significant other I wish to protect (my baby). 

Michelin leverages a very powerful motivational technique when they place a baby and not an adult inside the tire. Michelin researchers know that it can be a far more powerful motivator to focus on a significant other than to focus on the actual buyer.
If you were my boss and I just achieved some great result that made you look really good, I would love you forever if you said to me, “Because of your great work toward reaching our purpose/creating a great culture, I’m personally taking your kid to Chuck E. Cheese on Saturday—why don’t you go play some golf!”

Now that’s an incentive!

Even better, your round of golf would be free—on me!

Through focusing some of your incentives on the significant others of your employees, you create powerful individual incentives.
Ask yourself, is there some meaningful way to demonstrate your thanks to your employees by doing something special for their:
  • Family?
  • Friends?
  • Religious organization?
  • Charity they support? 

Effective motivation in the trenches must combine both environmental and individual incentives.
Remember that employees motivate themselves, so through combining a motivational environment for everyone with individualized incentives, front-line leaders can maintain both the commitment and motivation of their team.

Patrick B. Ropella
Chairman & CEO, Ropella
Tel: (850) 983-4777

Patrick Ropella is Chairman & CEO of the Ropella Group an international Executive Search, Leadership Transformation, and Corporate Consulting firm. He authored the book and web-based training program, The Right Hire – Mastering the Art of SMART Talent Management, and has seen his content featured in many trade magazines, business publications, and industry journals. Patrick regularly speaks at webinars, career fairs, and conferences.