Newsletter #9: Keeping Staff Motivated

How do I keep my staff motivated?

Happy silly season

I’ve just kissed 2 teenagers goodbye and watched with mixed feelings of pride and apprehension as they boarded separate planes at separate airports bound for the modern-day rite of passage called Rage. When did this become a thing? Or am I just getting old? So as parents we did the only responsible thing. We spent the next day at friends posting pictures of ourselves emptying bottles of champagne and whiskey.

One very sad and telling conversation was the one I had with my son, newly graduated from high school, last Thursday. We spoke about the legacy his generation has inherited from the ones that have gone before. He has the world of technology and communication developing at an exponential rate to enjoy, with all the daily innovation it brings. But at the same time, he stands at the brink of adulthood looking out on the world standing at the doorstep of a dying planet. Are we doing enough for our kids? Please share with me what you’re doing to recycle our world. Help encourage others to do the same.

This wasn’t supposed to be a doom and gloom message, because I’m also winding down for the year, and I want to leave you with some positive thoughts as you go into the holiday season.

One question I’ve been asked by several people recently is “how can I keep my staff motivated?”

Before I attempt that question, let me ask you this: what motivates you?

I have a theory which I call the Theory of Nothing which is too long for me to lay out here without losing you by page 3.

But, back to the question, “What motivates you?” No two people are alike, and the same incentive won’t motivate two people in the same way. Money is a motivator to a certain extent, but there’s no employee who ever earns “enough”. Money will work for a short period as a motivator, but it isn’t permanent. Whatever we earn, we find a way of spending just that much more. Motivation has to be much deeper, and it has to do with connecting each employee not to the work they do, but to what they’re ultimately doing for the person, the individual customer, at the end of it all.

Just as you’re quite happy to spend money doing something you enjoy, like playing golf, or jumping off bridges with a chord attached to your ankles, or painting, or sculpting, and would rather be doing that than your job most of the time, you have to find a way to ignite that same passion in each employee. Dave Silver, in Smart Startups, says that human beings have an inherent, hard-wired need to collaborate, to be part of something bigger than themselves. Find a way to tap into this need in order to connect your employees to the reason for the work they do. Instead of putting somebody behind a desk and showing them how to process claim forms, so that all their job means to them is the paper, the forms, the data contained in the little gaps, and the irritation they feel when clients do it wrong, let them meet customers when you’re making a payment for their insurance claim so they can see the relief their work brings. Let them experience what it’s like to be their own customer. Let them experience what it feels like when work doesn’t get done on time. Find a way to connect each individual to the end customer. Then remind them of that emotional response rather than try to use metrics and performance indicators to motivate them. Create a culture of passion for dong the work for your customers rather than a culture of being monitored, measured and bemoaned.

If you haven’t been to Vida Café recently, do yourself a favour and spend an hour at a branch this week. Apart from having some great coffee (this is not a sponsored piece, btw!) you get to watch the staff having immense fun doing mundane, routine work. And then take yourself to your local coffee whop where the staff are bored, and are more interested in chatting to one another than in serving their customers. Vida gets motivation right because their staff have fun without losing focus on the customer.

Your creative solution to the issue of motivation must be best tailored to each individual staff member. And if you can’t come up with all the answers, bring your staff staff in to the discussion about what drives them outside of the workplace. Then find a way of bringing that passion into the workplace. You’d be surprised what you find.

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