15 Strategies Leaders Can Use to Motivate Employees

The most productive team members are also the most motivated ones. For an organization’s leadership, this means a clear understanding of employee motivation – and the ability to implement the strategies that impact it – is paramount for productivity and success. Leaders can motivate team members in a variety of ways, both through more formal organizational practices and using more casual, personal tactics. Here, we look at 15 strategies leaders can use to motivate their employees.

Lead By Example

No one appreciates the old adage “Do as I say, not as I do.” Instead, good leaders demonstrate core values and behaviors in their own actions, modeling for their team what consistency, integrity, and motivation should look like.

Hold the Team Accountable

Good leaders expect their team members to meet the goals established for them. When team members receive consequences for underperformance, the rest of the team stays motivated to meet expectations, and underperformers are motivated to improve.

Support New Ideas

Few things are more frustrating for team members than the sense that their opinion isn’t valued. Leaders can motivate employees by embracing new ideas and approaching employees for feedback. Not only does this garner buy-in from employees, but it can also help to foster a sense of ownership and investment in what the team is working on. And, leaders may benefit from novel ideas.

Provide Specific, Constructive Feedback

When employees have a clear understanding of what, precisely, a leader wants them to improve on, the request is much more actionable. On the other hand, ambiguous feedback can be both frustrating and demotivating. Rod Drury, CEO at Xero, advises that leaders provide five pieces of positive feedback to every one piece of negative feedback provided.

Request Feedback and Listen to Concerns

By encouraging employees to regularly provide feedback, leaders ensure they can manage issues before they disrupt the work environment. Cultivating an open-door policy and regular feedback loop doesn’t always guarantee you’ll be able to resolve every issue presented, but it does ensure employees will feel heard and valued when you listen and strive to address challenges.

Challenge Employees

One of the easiest ways to lose motivation is to feel (or become) stagnant. But left to their own devices, people can often stall out in the place that is most comfortable. Leaders can continue to motivate employees by consistently pushing them to take on new challenges, stretch for new experiences and continue to grow. This also creates natural opportunities for celebration and praise when the employee achieves a new goal.

Offer Praise and Recognition – Without Spending Money

While employees certainly won’t argue about a raise or a monetary bonus, rewards like recognition, praise, and new opportunities can sometimes make a more personal impact. In fact, according to research by Gallup, praise should be delivered once a week to boost productivity, loyalty and customer satisfaction. Praise can come in several forms: verbally, through a handwritten note, or through a more organized recognition ceremony or program.

Care About Employees

Leaders should demonstrate that they truly care about employees – not only through listening and engaging with them, but also through taking time to value personal events and milestones in an employee’s life – whether that is their first marathon or first child. Leaders can also demonstrate a personal interest in employees professional lives, by following up on special projects, presentations, or tasks to learn how they went.

Communicate: Well, Efficiently and Often

The way leaders approach formal communication with employees can establish a tone of respect. For example, leaders should avoid canceling regular meetings. When it’s unavoidable, be respectful: explain why you had to cancel, apologize and reschedule. Aim to speak with your team members on a daily basis, so that an interaction with you becomes very natural. This provides an organic platform for team members to highlight concerns, bring issues to your attention, and for you to discuss performance issues when they arise. And, don’t neglect all the non-verbal communication you’re providing to your team. Make sure you’re making eye contact, nodding and paying full attention when communicating with employees.

Set Reasonable Expectations

While challenging employees can motivate them, asking them to do the impossible can demotivate them. As a leader, you should strive to set expectations that are achievable, or employees will become discouraged by always missing the mark. In addition, unreasonable expectations can spike stress levels.

Hold Regular One-on-Ones

A one-on-one conversation should motivate employees as you work together on tactical plans for him or her to achieve the goals and expectations you have laid out. This conversation should be intentionally scheduled time to review challenges, garner feedback, think through ideas, discuss workload, and address performance issues. Leaders should encourage their employees to prepare to discuss specific requests, issues or questions.

Encourage Responsibility

 Empower employees to make more decisions on their own. To do this successfully, leaders need to provide clear expectations around any boundaries or limitations, and establish milestones or actions that should trigger a report from the employee. Promotion isn’t the only way to encourage more responsibility. Instead, a more tenured employee can be tasked with some new, additional duties, while more junior-level employees are then assigned some of their other job components.

Help Develop New Skills

Employees who feel they are valued and growing are much more likely to be motivated and happy to stay in their role. This type of skills development should be outside any company-mandated training, but instead, should provide opportunities for employees to grow in areas that interest them. For example, instead of asking a peer to step in while you’re on vacation, ask an employee to lead a meeting in your absence. Or, bring an employee to a meeting they typically wouldn’t attend. This can also come in the form of cross-training to allow employees to experience other roles within the organization.

Encourage a Healthy Work/Life Balance

Regardless of the great programs an organization may tout (like gym memberships, on-site meditation and so on), it’s up to leaders to truly cultivate a healthy work/life balance. In practice, your team culture must ensure that not only is self-care possible, but that it’s also encouraged. This means encouraging breaks, supporting (or requiring) time for employees to disconnect, and modeling these behaviors as a leader.

Give Them a “Why”

Understanding the “why” behind an organization can be highly compelling. For example, Drury puts Xero’s work into perspective like this: the company’s goal is to help small businesses earn more money, but the “why” behind Xero is to create more jobs, raise national GDP, and empower the country to improve services like schools and hospitals. While Xero alone isn’t responsible for that impact, their products can support that mission. Employees are more motivated when they understand how their work is making an impact, whether that is on a larger-scale level, or even with specific customers. Deere & Company connects its assembly line employees to their work’s value by inviting farmers to visit the factories with their families. Then the assembly line employees get to present the farmers with a gold key to start their new tractors.

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