The Real Secret to Employee Motivation

I was once responsible for purchasing and distributing the door prizes at my company’s annual holiday party. I spent considerable time purchasing and transporting a van load of electronics from the store to the office, and later, from the office to the hotel ballroom.  Not a fun task when you weigh 140 lbs. At the end of the evening we gave away the “grand prize”, which was the largest t.v. set I could transport. Before the winner wheeled away his t.v. he whispered, “you know they make

One of my favorite sources for leadership inspiration is not a wealthy author or famous leadership guru.  It is an old blog written by Capt. Bob Webb detailing his experience working for the Panama Canal Company in the 60s and 70s.

In one article on self-motivation he wrote something profound, “We have all been in organizations where they tried to increase membership or increase income above the normal with little results.  They use emotional rhetoric, contest or games to motivate members into action.  There is no analysis of current policy, which may be the source of their problems.  They want to achieve more with the same policy.”

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg’s famous two-factor theory says there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction such as achievement and recognition and certain factors that cause dissatisfaction such as bad supervision, company policies and work conditions.

Both of these theories are saying the same thing.  The key to widespread and lasting employee motivation is not another trinket, gift card, or time off (which is a contradiction).  These things are fine and please keep them coming, but often provide only temporary hype and excitement.  The real key to employee motivation only costs time and planning.  Are you ready? It’s scary simple.

Stop doing stupid stuff!! (I want to use a stronger word “S” word).

Stop doing stupid stuff that frustrates employees and prevents them from doing their job. Start removing barriers and people that reduce efficiency.

Stop activities that demotivate employees and disengages them from the company’s values. Start holding people accountable.

Stop enabling inappropriate behavior and supervision. Start rewarding managers who are transparent, inclusive, emotionally mature, and consistent.

Stop holding on to antiquated policies and procedures. Start aligning every policy with your company’s values – or be honest enough to change the values.

The list can go on and on, but I think you get the message.  Think about it.  Suppose your company decided that too much valuable time was wasted in poorly planned or unnecessary meetings.  All managers are trained on how to conduct more efficient meetings and the company eliminates certain meetings completely.  As a result, everyone gains an extra 3-4 hours a week in work time (almost half a day), you have more time for long-range planning, relationship building, etc., and you can get home early once in a while. The alternative is to do nothing and give you a couple of tickets to the ball game and another company polo shirt for all the hours you’ve put in.

Which has an effect on all employees instead of a fortunate few?  Which is long-term and has the possibility of affecting other areas of the company? Which is intrinsic and may become part of the company culture?  Which will make you a superstar in the eyes of your team?

So before you spend a lot of money on that next incentive program, take a cue from Herzberg and Capt. Bob and announce, “We have a new incentive program, but first we are going to stop doing some stupid stuff”. Just remember to allow time for all the applause you will receive.