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The Age-Old Question: How to Motivate Your Employees

The Age-Old Question: How to Motivate Your Employees

January 11, 2011

Motivation. There always seems to be a lack of it, and managers and executives are always on a quest to inject more into their employees.

But maybe, just maybe, you're doing it wrong. Maybe there's a better way.

In a recent column for The Washington Post, Daniel Pink calls into question the age-old carrot-and-stick method – the promise of a reward after achievement. The method may work for "simple, algorithmic, routine, rule-based sorts of tasks," he writes. But how many of us can say that is how our jobs can be described anymore?

Particularly in the past two years, employers have asked their employees to do far more than just show up and do their jobs. Employees have been called upon to come up with creative solutions to fix problems, as demonstrated by a controls distributor in early 2009. (Read: Top Concern Among Distributors: Maintaining 'Survivor' Morale). They've been asked to pick up extra tasks as necessary to help with strained budgets (Read: Keeping Layoffs to a Minimum).

Even before the recession, employers were increasingly asking their employees to be engaged in identifying and getting rid of waste in internal processes. (Read: Lessons Learned on Lean)

So how can you motivate employees if the carrot-and-stick method no longer works?

Pink offers a couple of suggestions. First, provide feedback. He writes:

"These Gen Ys - Millennials – are coming in having led these incredibly feedback-rich lives. Press a button, something happens. Play a game, you get a score. Send a text, and a sound indicates that it successfully went out. Then they get into the workplace, and feedback comes in the form of a once-a-year, awkward, 45-minute conversation with your boss. It's a feedback desert."

And secondly, allow for some autonomy. "We like to get better at stuff, because it's inherently satisfying," he writes. And we like to be in charge of how we achieve that level of mastery. That doesn't mean allow people unlimited freedom to do what they want, when they want. Rather, it's about letting them flex their creative muscles to identify and fix existing concerns, or discover new areas in your business they want to learn more about.

How do you motivate your employees? Comment below.

Related Resource: The HR Professional's Strategic Answer Book

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