Blue January is finally behind us, taking with it – we hope – the season of high turnover and employee restlessness. Now, we can actively concentrate on the coming months, the remainder of Q1, the rest of 2018.

Except, employee retention strategy should be for life, not just for Christmas. Now is not the time to be dropping the ball or shifting sole focus to sales targets or your product roadmap. In fact, investing in motivating your employees may be the single most important thing you do this year.


Employee motivation: a business strategy for success

Employee motivation is absolutely crucial to your business success.

I can’t stress this enough. Too many organizations are reactive when addressing the engagement levels of their staff – only putting a plan in place when warning signs, such as high turnover or low productivity, come to light. By this point, it’s already far too late.

Your employees are your greatest asset and your biggest differentiator. Motivated employees go above and beyond; they are innovative, proactive in addressing business challenges, drive business growth. In fact, they:

  • Are up to 2x more productive
  • Demonstrate up to 5x more loyalty to the business
  • Bring up 6x more energy to their role, and
  • Take 10x less sick leave

…than their unmotivated equivalents.


The trouble is, research by Gallup shows that the percentage of employees worldwide who are engaged, enthusiastic and motivated by their work is just 15%. So, in your business, right now – 85% of your staff are mentally ‘checked out’.

It’s a worrying – and costly – statistic.


So, how do I motivate my employees?


Enough of the gloom. We know there’s a problem – so how do we fix it?

Contrary to the knee-jerk response of many organizations, throwing money at the problem with blanket salary increases or financial incentives isn’t the answer. Studies show there is one common denominator when it comes to employee motivation: the manager. So, what can you do?


  • Recognise

The days of an annual pat on the back during the mandated performance review are well and truly behind us.

Invest in the emotional bank account of your employees with continuous, agile feedback and recognition. This can be as simple as a one-liner email or a verbal “well done” in passing. Every gesture – no matter how small – increases that sense of pride, satisfaction and motivation.

(Source: The Effect of Performance Recognition on Employee Engagement, Cicero)


  • Reward

OK, I’ve argued that money isn’t a great motivator – most of the time, it’s the act of recognising people’s worth that gives that much-needed boost.

However. Money can be a huge de-motivator if people feel they’re underpaid.

Pay your people what they’re worth. When an employee performs and is deserving of that reward, you’re their advocate: so, make it happen. Fight for well-deserved increases, promotions or bonuses.


  • Communicate…

Communicating regularly with your employees about where you’re headed and any business achievements, challenges, changes, or even set-backs, goes a long way to keeping them onboard and invested in their role.

Make regular 1:1s with individual employees a part of your management approach. Allocate and make time for these check-in points – and show up. There can be a temptation to rearrange or pass them over when ‘something pops up’ – but what message does that send to your staff about your priorities?

At board level, make transparency your underlying goal and be upfront with your staff; this is their organisation too. Don’t shy away from the negatives – if you try to hide between the corporate curtain when things go wrong, your staff will feel excluded, alienated and distrusting.


  • listen…

Hand-in-hand with communicating is the art of listening. Don’t make communication a one-way street: check in with employees regularly and ask for their feedback, ideas and contributions. An open-door policy that encourages staff to verbalise their worries and concerns goes a long way to building a positive culture and highlighting any niggles before they escalate. If your employees feel heard and that their opinions are respected, they’ll be more motivated to do their best work

  • …and act

There is nothing more demoralising than putting forward an idea, responding to a request for feedback, or highlighting a concern… and then hearing nothing further.

Don’t let your communication become empty words (or, for another cliché, ‘all talk and no action’.) Acknowledge employee contributions and where possible, follow through or act upon them. Give credit to those who put forward the idea or feedback when positive changes are actioned. If, for whatever reason, change isn’t feasible right now, acknowledge the input and explain your reasoning for not taking action at this time.


  • Empower and trust them

Employees only thrive when they have the freedom, space, and autonomy to do so. Empower your employees with the tools, information, and training they need to excel – and then step back. Trust them to deliver and even to make (and learn from) their own mistakes.

Micro-management belongs firmly back in the 1980s, and is shown to be hugely detrimental to employee morale. When staff feel they’ve being watched, they’ll become defensive, resentful – and disengaged.


  • Set small, regular goals

As a business, we have long-term goals and objectives – whether for turnover, growth, or profit. However, at grass-roots level, long-term goals can be demotivating: especially when you can’t gauge progress.

Align employee goals with the wider business strategy but think ‘bitesize’. Give them something to aim for and show there is an end-goal or reason behind what they do. As Ken Blanchard puts it, “what’s the point in bowling if there are no skittles?”

Shift focus away from ‘generate £XXX of revenue this year’ to, ‘bring in 3 new accounts this month’ – or even, ‘call (bowl and hit?) 10 new prospects today’. But setting and regularly reviewing smaller, stretching, but achievable goals, you’ll keep your employees focused and striving to continue achieving.

When employees can see what they’re aiming for – the ‘skittles’, or the targets in front of them – it gives them not only something to aim for, but a greater sense of motivation and achievement.


  • Give them a purpose

If you don’t know where you’re headed, how do you get there? Now, more than ever, employees (and particularly the Millennial generation) want a sense of purpose to drive their work. Define your business vision and communicate it to your employees. Then, show them how they contribute to that goal and where they fit in with the bigger picture.


  • Look after the whole individual

Your employees are more than just workers. Recognising– and catering for – their lives outside the office and supporting work-life balance will improve motivation and productivity.

Place flexible and remote working on your priority list; allow employees to fully ‘disconnect’ from the office; encourage them to take their annual leave allowance and to leave their desks on lunch. Show an interest in their lives outside of work and make allowances. When employees feel that you’re willing to go the extra mile for them, they’ll reciprocate in kind.


  • Play to their strengths – and feedback on areas for improvement

Each employee has different strengths and skill sets. Heed Einstein’s warning: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Maximise the value and motivation of your employees by enabling them to do what they do best. If there are weak areas of performance, give proactive and constructive ad-hoc feedback in the moment, rather than waiting for formal meetings or reviews. A simple, “perhaps next time, you could try X…” rather than “this isn’t good enough” will help drive performance, without knocking confidence and motivation.

Even small changes to management style and a shift from being an ‘instructor’ to a ‘coach’ can make a tremendous impact on how motivated and driven your staff are when they step into the office. How do YOU motivate your employees?


To find out more about how to motivate your team why not join us for Fundamental Skills for Effective Leadership & Management at Macclesfield Chamber of Commerce on 27th February.