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How to Motivate Employees

How to Motivate Employees

The ability to keep every employee motivated is the wish of every boss. But is there a good general way to do this that we can all learn as managers of people, or even a kind of “formula” that we can readily adopt? Before we look at this question more closely, let’s first make sure that we understand what it is we mean by “motivation.”

What is the definition of motivation?

Motivation is defined as, “the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.” Motivation is what causes us to act and this can either be a third-party (managers in a workplace environment) or the individual him or herself.

Although some employees are naturally self-motivated, for the purposes of this article we will assume that the manager has the capacity to initiate and/or guide an employee to be more motivated and if the above definition is right to create the goal-oriented behavior. So what sort of things can and should a manager be doing to motivate employees?

Does money motivate employees?

First and foremost, although the mechanics of how the pay and benefits system works may well have been explained to an employee when he or she started work, most individuals will be more interested in how the organization will offer additional rewards for their efforts. This may involve monetary rewards but more commonly extends into the non-monetary realm of benefits, status and recognition for a job well done.

As a result, the focus of most individuals will often be on the following:

“How do I behave in order to be seen to be solving problems, dealing with challenging issues and ultimately reaching my goals and targets, such that when my work is measured or appraised, I am rewarded appropriately?”

This critical question that most employees will ask themselves constantly, and may well ask explicitly of their boss from time to time, can be extremely demotivational if it is not handled properly. In ideal circumstances, a good discussion (split into 2 or 3 sessions, if necessary) should be arranged as often as necessary, and the explicit approach to be taken reviewed until it is well-understood on a mutual basis.

Employee discussion

This will include:

  1. The goal setting process and overall expectations
  2. The on-going and any annual appraisal system that will apply
  3. The performance tracking system and any measures or indicators that will be relevant to employee’s tasks or projects.
  4. The extent of any variation that can occur in the overall reward system.

Don’t forget, absolute clarity is critical here, as the individual is looking for the chance to shine and get noticed for their contribution. If they perceive that this is going to be too difficult and their efforts will be wasted, demotivation can quickly result and doubts about staying in the team or organization may arise. All four of the above subjects should consequently be covered in each discussion, if only briefly.

Empowering employees

The whole discussion about how work is measured and assessed in general, is an excellent pre-cursor to working with the employee to look at the specific challenges of their job role and the future issues and possible hurdles or difficulties that will need to be tackled. This discussion isn’t about giving the individual answers to their challenges but to offer process input and problem solving tools and techniques that can be used (or drawn upon if they already have them).  The more the individual feels that they can use the right tool for the right challenge, the more they are likely to feel confident about their overall ability to perform well-and of course feel motivated to give of his or her best.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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