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Q: I’m trying to understand how to motivate my employees. I have tried a carrot and I have tried a stick. Neither seems to work. Any ideas?
A: Research shows that what motivates people is often quite different from what supervisors assume. In the current work environment it is generally far more effective to use potential rewards at a much higher ratio over potential punishment. Offering a reward for success simply works better than threatening punishment for failure.
I suggest starting by getting to know your staff better. You may simply need to ask them what drives them, or why previous attempts have failed. If such a direct approach doesn’t fit the circumstances, get to know what they do in their off hours, what their dreams are, or how they would change their job if they had the opportunity. Consider offering a menu of rewards for desired performance since you can’t always predict what might motivate people or if you have to motivate a wide range of people toward a common goal.
I am reminded of two stories of how not to motivate people. In the first case, I offered a free trip to the sales representative that beat their goal by the largest percentage. When the winner didn’t claim his prize and I asked why, he explained that as a traveling salesperson the last thing he wanted was another trip, paid for or not.
The second is about a production line supervisor that had successfully motivated his team for years by offering a cake, made by his wife, to his team should they hit their production goal. When the new company president learned of this success he expanded the program to the whole factory and bought them all a cake when they hit their production goals. When the program failed miserably, the president went to the supervisor for advice. The supervisor explained that it wasn’t that his team was motivated by cake, but that they were touched by the fact that his wife would make them a cake!
All of us think and act differently in a given set of circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all motivation system. Be sincere, keep communication lines wide open, and keep trying! Simply making the effort will someday bear rewards.
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