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 http://www.ParamountBusinessCoach.com  To book Yoon to speak at your next event email: [email protected] To schedule a complimentary business coaching consultation call (215) 292-4947. 

 

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