There are a lot of tough jobs associated with owning a business or managing one. Almost regardless of the organization’s size or your management level, one of the most difficult challenges is motivating your staff and keeping them motivated.

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This area is difficult for several reasons. It’s intangible—you can’t always see the results, at least not immediately. What works for one person often won’t work for another. Worst of all, it’s never ending. You can succeed wildly one day only to need more the next.

But as is evident from sports to sales to theater, motivation is often the difference between success and failure, or at least the difference between success and middle of the road.

One of the most challenging aspects of workplace motivation involves the tricky art of engaging people in your organization’s vision. Like it or not, staff members, including you, are often components engaged in process. But being human, they will engage in that process much more actively if they are also engaged in the organization’s goals and vision. Ensuring that staff members see themselves as part of the team, working toward a vision, is simply good leadership.

There are probably as many paths to this goal as individuals pursuing it, but here are a few practiced techniques I would suggest:

• Talk with and, especially, listen to your staff. Use this dialogue as a way to ask staff members about their work environment, challenges and hopes. Make them feel safe and you can often learn valuable information about your organization and how it functions. Just by listening, you’ll create an environment with positive morale and increased productivity.

• You might consider formalizing this communications process with something like quarterly lunches or other get-togethers with selected staff members. Make these efforts relaxed and informal, but scheduling them can help you maintain communications. Larger group meetings should also be regularized.

• Keep staff involved in decision making. Especially in areas where they are involved, this is critical. I still see significant, avoidable issues develop when someone overlooks this. Equipment or software purchases, even furniture that is in their area, are good examples. Staff members will often have valuable insight into the areas in which they work. Letting them have a hand in these decisions is an important motivational tool.

• Don’t be afraid to push! Few people enjoy being stretched beyond their limits—pushed out of their comfort zone. But if you’ve developed good relationships and staff members feel they have your support, it will be much easier. This lets you introduce new challenges that, after all, are certain to come.

• Above all, don’t forget to say “thanks” and recognize achievement. Everyone loves to be praised, and acknowledging staff success is an important part of your efforts and your organization’s success. It may be the most important part. 

There’s more, but simply recognizing that motivation is one of your most important jobs is, well, important. Unlike the Hollywood portrayals, it’s usually not speechmaking or posturing, but it can help your office succeed.

About the Author

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

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