Harvard Business Review’s Insights for Motivating Your Employees

Management books will tell you recognition, incentives, support and clear goals are essential to motivating employees. But a recent study by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) says otherwise. (Read about it at HBR’s 10 Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.)
Tracking daily activities, emotions and motivation levels of hundreds of workers, over several years, researchers found that good, ol’ fashioned – progress–not cash, not bonuses, not paid cruise vacations– is what motivates staff and keeps them engaged.

In the study, HBR asked participants to maintain and send daily email diaries. The analysis of nearly 12,000 entries combined with the writer’s own ratings of their moods and motivations showed a consistency that throws traditional management philosophy right out the window.

Here’s a typical scenario. In this case, an information systems professional was thrilled that she’d finally figured out a solution to an ongoing problem. Her daily diary entry stated, “I felt relieved and happy because this was a minor milestone for me”.

Across the board, the excitement of making progress–even baby steps–was cause for joy. As many as 76% of participants’ reported they felt happiest when they’d accomplished something.

As a business coach I can certainly vouch for that! I hear it all the time. In fact, I heard those exact words at a conference where I was the keynote speaker for a regional group of Law Firms. They unanimously felt unhappy with their productivity because there’s so much thrown at them everyday that they rarely feel as if they’ve completed and accomplished something.

Compare this response with the typical management philosophy that feeling supported or collaborating with colleagues is more important. The study showed 53% ranked their best days when collaboration occurred and only 25% ranked interpersonal support as happening on their best days. Even more surprising, only 19% ranked their “best days” as when they had work they considered important.

In a start up environment, progress is crucial to getting the project off the ground, to turning profitable and even to having a business or job a few months down the road. But more stable environments may not have that same ferocity of pace and sometimes may not seem to change all that much. A lawyer’s office may have a consistent tone from the perspective of some staff, new clients come in, cases are handled, cases are closed. But you can still help keep your staff’s motivation high by ensuring they have the support they need when learning a new skill.

When your employees encounter setbacks–and they will, it’s an inevitable part of life–find out what the obstacle is and how you or someone else can help them.

What work concerns do your employees struggle with? Ask them. Here’s an innovative approach:

Ask your staff “what are the challenges that affect your productivity and performance? … and how can I better support you to circumvent those challenges?”

At one time the response from support staff at a younger 3M replied that clutter, filing and emails were a constant challenge for the people to stay on top of their performance goals. So, what did 3M do? They instituted a company wide practice to dedicate every Friday morning for all company employees to devote to filing, decluttering and cleaning out email inboxes. Wow! So, what can we all learn from the example of 3M?

1. They asked
2. They listened
3. They demonstrated support

Some of the top challenges I hear about in both my small business and in my large corporate clients is technology — especially understanding how to use specific software programs.

There are many ways to motivating your employees. Focus on making them feel they’re making progress. According to the HBR study, your job as their boss is to offer solutions to setbacks. The other part of your job is to be decisive when you set goals or make a decision and stick to them. Being indecisive frustrates employees.

Often, a fresh, outside perspective can do wonders for diagnosing the reason for low employee engagement and offering the road map for motivating your employees. If you are struggling with developing high performing leaders in your organization, I invite you to connect with me to discuss how I can help you. Reach me at (215) 292-4947 EST.

QUESTION: What has worked the best for you in motivating your employees? Please share your comments below.

About Yoon Cannon: Top business coach Yoon Cannon has helped thousands of small business owners, entrepreneurs, coaches, consultants and sales teams achieve dramatic results in growing your business. Over the past 20 years Yoon has started 4 successful companies and sold 3 of them. She offers fresh insights as a seasoned business growth expert. Yoon delivers proven process for your sales, marketing and management development.  Grab free valuable gifts and resources at https://www.ParamountBusinessCoach.com  To book Yoon to speak at your next event email: YoonCannon@ParamountBusinessCoach.com To schedule a complimentary business coaching consultation call (215) 292-4947. 


© Copyright 2016

Driving Business Growth Through Strong Leadership (Part 2)



In a previous post, I shared my one line response to a popular question I am often asked — “What’s your advice on achieving fast business growth?”

“Never try to do it alone” is always my response.

If you enjoyed reading about the 3 powerful leadership principles that helped operations manager Beth to bring out the best in her people, here are 3 more powerful leadership principles from my coaching work with Bob.


Do Performance Reviews Really Work?

performance reviewsQuestion: “Do performance reviews really work?”

— Avril Balderson, CPA Firm in Australia

Yoon’s Answer: Avril, my short answer is YES!!!!! They do work!

So, why do they don’t work so well for some companies? …What I see is that many companies have performance reviews that just are not specific enough about what the tangible actions and behaviors they want to see more of and which they do not tolerate. This can be slippery if the company does not have a job description written out that clearly describes what the expectations are on specific tasks, results and behaviors. (more…)

How Do You Make Your Big Ideas Really Happen? 8 Stages of Start Up

Here’s an interesting question I received on Linkedin from Richard Sink who asked:

“What lessons can you share with us about strategies when trying to turn your ideas (be it for social good or professional gain) into a reality?”

Hi Richard,

Great question. I work with start up’s on launching new ideas as well as established companies on re-inventing themselves in the marketplace.

I’d like to offer you a great format I use with my clients through this process. It’s the 8 stages of a start up which should be followed in this order: (more…)

Pitfalls of Fast Growth & How to Avoid Them

It’s great news if your business is growing quickly! But will things move so fast that you’ll struggle to keep pace? It’s a real possibility – so we better give it some thought. Knowing the potential pitfalls in advance and understanding how to mitigate them can go a long way in writing a successful growth story.

Pitfall #1: You may hire too many bad employees or misfits

Business growth is directly proportional to hiring employees for most businesses – more work means you need more pair of hands. The risk of hiring the wrong people in your rush to fill up positions is very real and many fast growing business end up in this situation. (more…)

Motivate Customer Loyalty & Employee Productivity for Business Growth

For most small business owners and entrepreneurs, sustaining business growth in today’s economy can feel like you’re treading water — which is unnecessarily exhausting when you’re doing those 52 weeks a year.

A well thought out marketing plan to attract new customers is important factor to generate business growth. But, all too often entrepreneurs and small business owners overlook two other strategic initiatives that can also impact your business growth in a powerful way. That would be increasing customer loyalty and motivating employee productivity.

We all know it’s much easier to focus on getting repeat business from customers who have already purchased from you than it is to woo and convert a brand new potential buyer to trying you out.  Instead of constantly focusing on where I can find new customers, it’s so much more productive to ask the question, “Who are our best customers now? (You know the ones who already know, like, trust and LOVE us). And, how can we better serve their specific needs?” (more…)