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How to motivate people during tough times

By Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a nationally syndicated columnist, executive coach, and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.

When we think about motivating our employees often the first things that come to mind are the traditional carrots. A raise, a promotion, a year-end bonus.

But what if your business is struggling and cash is tight? You need to maintain morale to weather the hard times, and you probably need your team to be more motivated than ever. How can you keep your people happy and striving for ever-greater heights without spending a lot of resources?

Talk about their career development

Even if you’re a small business without a traditional “career path,” don’t overlook development for your employees. Simply sitting down to discuss someone’s professional growth can have tremendous benefits, including greater engagement, retention, and productivity. It simply feels good to know that your boss cares enough to spend time talking about your goals and adding to your tool set.

Bestselling authors Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni recommend a simple conversation starter in their book, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go:”

What kind of experiences will prepare you to be successful?

They claim that one of the myths of career development is that everyone wants more, bigger or better; promotions, raises, prestige, power. According to Kay and Giulioni, the research indicates the number-one request is actually for “ways to use my talents creatively.”

Build their intrinsic motivation

And while everyone wants and needs to be paid fairly, the key to peak performance is more likely to come from intrinsic motivation, which comes from enjoying an activity for its own sake versus viewing it as a means to an end.

There are several ways to increase your employees’ sense of intrinsic motivation. In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink suggests three specific approaches. First, provide greater autonomy. Can you provide more choice and control to your employees in regards to their tasks, how they do them, when they do them, and with whom? Second is mastery. Simply put, getting really good at something, anything, is motivating in and of itself. Third is purpose. Can you connect your business and your people to a larger purpose or value?

The good news is that you often can boost intrinsic motivation for little to no money. For example, one employee might appreciate a simple shift in his work schedule that provides greater flexibility, or you may be able to help another employee master an important skill set by providing her with a couple of books or an online training course.

Use friendly competition

Another way to increase motivation at work is to consider a technique called gamification. While some cite this as a new trend, it had its roots in familiar ideas like sales contests and leaderboards. What is new is the insight that we can gamify many aspects of work to make our professional lives more fun, as well as drive performance and results.

If you’re interested in experimenting with gamification in your business, begin with a light hand. Think about the goals of the business and your staff. Invite your people to offer input on how a game should be designed and what the rules should be. (And remember: As the boss, it’s also your job to think through possible unintended consequences.)

And finally, in gamification and in all of your motivational efforts, remember to focus on the positive versus penalties. The larger goal is not to manipulate people into doing more work, but to find authentic ways to help your team do their jobs even better through intrinsically fun things like learning.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach, author of “Ask the Mompreneur,” and founder of the social shopping site CartCentric.com. Follow her on Twitter @DrJennieWong.
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