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Motivation, It's Simple

9/13/21 – Natalie Thompson

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COVID-19 has disrupted many workplace norms, requiring employers to rethink and redeploy many internal systems, including employee engagement. With much of the workforce still working from home, motivating, and engaging your employees is more important than ever. Motivating your employees to achieve superior results really isn't about contests, prizes, and slapping "motivational" posters on the wall. These things may help and, they may even be important, but they're of no value unless employers, managers and supervisors are doing a few things to support their employees.

"It takes time to be a [good] manager," said Pamela Gilberd. It takes time to hire well, to be clear about what you expect from an employee, to provide training, to encourage, to thank, to listen, to help them learn from mistakes, to focus on the big picture and to make good leadership decisions.

Gilberd, whose first business experience came from running her own division of an outdoor furniture company, interviewed more than 125 highly successful women for her book "The Eleven Commandments of Wildly Successful Women." Although the book is about women and is directed to women, the management principles are universal. "Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are and allowed to be creative in their own way," explained Gilberd. "Everyone also wants to be recognized and appreciated for what they do."

These are five basic actions for "wildly successful" leadership with employees:

1. Show Appreciation

Gilberd is a believer in showing appreciation. "When I first started out, I didn't know anything about business," she said. "But I found that whenever I sent a note thanking someone for their help or advice, they'd call back and offer more. I always say I built my business on thank-you notes."

Develop a habit of thanking and commending employees for their good efforts -- in writing. Putting praise and recognition in writing takes time and effort, which adds to the meaning and significance of the recognition. In addition, employees can then look back to reference their commendations.

2. Encourage Employees

Take time to encourage your employees in other ways. Gilberd told of a friend whose office staff was working on a tedious and difficult project. In the middle of it, she told them, "Everybody help face this and see it through, and when we're done... I'll take everybody out and we'll all buy shoes!" Gilberd said the friend carried through, taking her whole staff to a sale at Macy's, and buying every one of them a new pair of shoes. While shoes may not motivate every employee, Gilberd said, " the concept of encouragement, any way you can, applies universally."

Gilberd said, "As a manager, you need to have the overview of what needs to be done, but then give employees the freedom to make it on their own. Employees who make the job their own will find more creative ways to handle things and have more pride in their work. Then they have to be recognized for it, and that's where the manager comes in."

3. Hire Well

"Let employees know when you hire them that you think they're bright, that you trust them," Gilberd continued. "Tell them what you expect of them, and that you want them to be creative and make the job their own. Too many managers hire somebody in their own image. We don't need clones, somebody just like us. We need somebody with a different perspective, different skills than ours, to round out the team, bring in new ideas."

"Be very careful whom you hire," she said. "If you're in a hurry, don't hire the next body that walks in the door breathing. Hire a temp instead, and then take the necessary time to find the right person for the job -- don't skip steps."

"Hire substance, not just form," Gilberd added. "Don't just hire for enthusiasm or somebody who loves your product. Someone who loves art or loves books may not work out in your art gallery or bookstore, because what they'll actually be doing is managing inventory, ordering, and waiting on customers, not looking at artwork or reading books."

"You owe it to your other employees not to hire or to keep a 'bad apple' in the bunch," said Gilberd. "Too often, managers waste a great deal of time focusing on the little nagging problem or the few problem employees and take their eyes off the big picture."

4. Communicate Clearly

Gilberd stressed communicating clearly about what you want employees to do. "One time, I gave an employee some work to do and told her there wasn't a rush. To me, that meant she could have it done by the end of the day rather than within the hour. To her, that meant, well, maybe by the end of the month. She couldn't read my mind... it was my fault for not communicating clearly what I wanted done."

Communication is particularly important when delegating responsibility. "You must delegate," Gilbert observed. "You can't be expected to have the time or the know-how to do everything well. But know when to delegate, be careful what you delegate, and to whom you delegate."

5. Don't Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

"Keep in touch with an employee's progress when you've delegated something," Gilberd advised. "You have to let it be OK if they make a mistake..."

"We learn more when we make mistakes," Gilbert added. "The thing is not to make the same mistake over and over. It's the same when you're making leadership decisions. In order to lead, to make decisions, you can't be afraid to risk making a wrong decision."

“Accepting that mistakes are part of growing a business doesn't mean that you'll have a blameless atmosphere,” Gilberd continued. Each employee also has to be willing to accept responsibility and then work to correct things, to learn from the mistake, and to not repeat it.

As a leader, "If you know who you are and why you're in the job you're in, you enjoy it, you're growing, you're acting creatively... you'll pass that along to your employees." If you foster an environment of gratitude and appreciation, your employees will likely be more engaged.

If your organization is looking for ways to motivate, engage, and retain your workforce, please reach out to VonLehman’s HR Consulting team. Contact Natalie Thompson, HR Consultant, at nthompson@vlcpa.com or 800.887.0437.