Effective Motivational Skills For Today's Managers - Life Lessons

Effective Motivational Skills For Today's Managers - Life Lessons

By Charles Ainsworth   Submitted On June 01, 2009


Motivated employees will work more effectively in their jobs and do more to further the bottom-line objectives of a company than unmotivated employees. As a manager, you are in a position to increase the motivation of your employees. This basic managerial skill training in motivation will enable you to become a more effective manager for yourself, and for your company. You will learn how to handle motivational problems, which will help you gain 100% effectiveness of your employees.

What Should You Expect From This Article

As you know, motivation is a complex issue. Many psychologists and researchers spend their entire life investigating people's motivation to perform. Similarly, there are many books currently out in the bookstores promising to give us the secret for "getting others to do what we wish."

There are many theories of motivation; and different techniques to solve motivational problems. Rather than attempting to review all these theories, the purpose of this module is to look at six common motivational factors which will make the difference between employees who are motivated and employees who exhibit motivational problems. We will use only as much "theory" as needed to gain basic understanding of each motivational issue. Primarily we will discuss what you can do to solve the motivational problem.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion, you will be able to:

o Recognize what types of employee behavior problems are motivational issues and which are not.

o State in simple language what is the real motivational factor behind different types of problems encountered as a manager and what you can do to correct each problem.

o Apply appropriate steps or response to resolve the motivational problem.

o Motivate average and above average performers to perform even better.

Training Format

This article is designed to do more than just give you information on motivation. Rather, it is set up to teach you skills which you can apply in your day to day jobs.

This will be accomplished by the use of exercises that require your involvement. Active participation will enable you to learn "what to do and how to do it," better than passively sitting back and being an observer. Keep this in mind as we proceed.

Manager's Methods Motivate

Many management experts agree that the key to employee morale and motivation is the quality of supervision they receive from their supervisor. It is for this reason that most businesses invest much time, energy, and money in the selection of their managers followed by in-depth training. In fact, this information is designed to assist you, the manager, in developing methods which have been "proven" to produce the highest possible motivation in your employees.

Who Is Responsible For Motivation

Managers share the responsibility in motivating their employees with the individual employees themselves. The manager is 100% responsible for establishing a motivating climate in which the employee works. The employee is 100% responsible for taking advantage of the motivating climate to perform the best they can perform.

Detecting Motivation Problems:

Focus On Behavior

Motivation is not something that we can directly see. That is the major reason why it is so complex. Instead, we observe a situation and notice that some action, tasks, or behaviors that should have occurred, have not occurred. Frequently, we call this a "motivation problem."

Like a detective, we must be aware of clues which hint of a "motivation problem" in an employee. These clues are behaviors.

Focusing on behaviors has several advantages:

o Behaviors are observable; they require only our attention-not complicated psychological analysis.

o Behaviors are objective; they are not easily open for miss-interpretation.

o Behaviors are measurable; we can count how many times a certain behavior occurs.

o Behaviors are specific and concrete; not abstract like the concept of motivation.

Begin by asking yourself, "What is he not doing? What behaviors, actions, or tasks should she be doing?" Be as specific and precise as possible. "He is not doing it the way he is supposed to" or "she is not committed" or "she has a bad attitude" are not specific behaviors. State the problem in terms of behavior.

Behaviors That May Indicate A "Motivational Problem"

As we have said, instead of focusing on the abstract and complex concept of motivation, go right to the behaviors from which we suspect the "motivation problem."

Motivation problems can be suspected from such behaviors as:

o Reduced quantity of work output.

o Reduced quality of work output.

o Extended lunch and break times.

o Frequent tardiness.

o Frequent absenteeism.

Motivation Worksheet 1 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

1. What behaviors indicate "a bad attitude" or "no commitment" in an employee?

2. Think of a particular unmotivated employee that you currently know or have known in a previous position or job. What specific behaviors did this person exhibit (or not exhibit) that leads you to believe they have a motivation problem?

3. List behaviors that you demonstrate when you are feeling unmotivated to do a task?

Selecting "Motivated Employees"

It makes our job of motivating employees much easier, when we start with employees who are "highly motivated." In other words, motivation comes easier when we have the "right person for the job." The "hiring of motivated employees" is a selection decision. Make sure you identify the job-related skills a candidate possesses by thorough questioning. In this way, the job skills an employee possesses can be matched with the job skills required for success on the job. When a match occurs, we can feel confident that the person is the best candidate for the job.

In fact, a job candidate that was motivated to learn these key identified job-related skills in the past, will be motivated to use them, and learn additional skills, in the future. All personnel selection decisions are based on the theory that how a person performed in their past job predicts future job performance in a similar job-a job candidate motivated to perform in the past will most likely be motivated to perform in a similar situation in the future. Aim to improve motivation among the workforce by selecting job candidates who demonstrate job-related skills required for success with your company. The selected employee whose job matches their skills will show motivation to do a good job, a greater liking of their job, and a longer stay at their job.

Motivation Worksheet 2 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

1. Think of a position which you manage. Focus on the job, itself. List the job-related skills for this position. In other words, when interviewing to hire a candidate for the job, what skills should the candidate possess to be successful on the job?

2. In an interview, what might a job applicant say or do to indicate high motivation?

3. List two to three questions that would allow you to test their motivation level?

Training for Success

Training teaches people new skills, new procedures, or new information. It does not directly teach "motivation." However, training accomplishes something more-maybe a little harder to see-but still extremely important. Training can give an employee the ability to be successful. Employees who show signs of lack of ability can be taught how to perform correctly. Ability produces success. Success is a large motivator. Success breeds more success. Success produces pride of accomplishment; it fuels ambition; it increases personal goals; it increases performance.

Remember: Training produces successful performance and success motivates.

We must look at the problem behavior and decide whether the employee has the ability to do the task. Examine the ability of the employee. Ask yourself: "Does the employee have the knowledge or the skills to complete the task or job successfully?"

Consider the following about the employee:

o Prior work experience.

o Job related skills.

o Completed any of your company supported training programs.

o Special instruction, coaching, or tutoring.

A person with low ability, can be taught, trained, and coached to perform successfully. Once they feel that "good feeling of success" and all that comes with it (pat on the back, acknowledgement, and pay increase), their motivation may increase.

Be advised though, that there are two problem situations you can run into. First, some employees may require so much extra training, teaching, coaching, and tutoring before they attain some success that it requires more on your part than you can realistically give. In this case, you might have to realize that the employee "lacks too much" and other action is required.

The second problem situation is that some people who receive training and accomplish successful performance may still not show an increase in motivation. This can be due to other reasons which we will soon explore. Training is only one of many factors which play a part in motivating employees.

Remember: While training does not guarantee an increase in motivation, it can pave the way for greater motivation.

Motivation Worksheet 3 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

1. List specific behaviors which indicate poor motivation in an employee you manage.

2) Does the employee have the knowledge or skills to complete the tasks or job duties successfully?

3) What training programs currently exist that can teach, train, and coach the employee to perform successfully?

4) What existing employee could you have them work with to improve their performance in weak areas?

Motivation Through Communication and Goal Setting

Communicating what we expect from our employees and setting appropriate goals for which they should strive plays a big part in their motivation.

In order for employees to do a good job, they must know what it is they are expected to do. This direction comes from you, the manager. The manager has the responsibility of telling the employee in specific, concrete words:

o What should be done

o When to do it

o Where

o How, to proceed step-by-step

o Who else is involved, why it is important, etc.

The manager knows what constitutes a "good job”; ask yourself if the employee has the same understanding of what would be a "good job." When an employee thinks that he or she has given 100% while the manager thinks that the employee has only given 60%, the problem is not motivation; it is communication.

To determine if the problem behavior is a result of a breakdown in communication, the manager must ask herself, "Did I talk to the employee about my expectations?" That is, we as managers must determine whether we discussed objectives, duties, responsibilities, deadlines and performance. (How we communicate is an entirely additional, yet related, matter that will be addressed in the Communication Skill article). It can be difficult to look at our own behavior as managers, but we need to discover if we have contributed to the problem.

Not only must you, as a manager, tell the employee what needs to be done, but you must also make sure the employee understands your directions as you intend them.

An effective manager accomplishes this by:

o repeating directions

o Clarifying instructions

o Demonstration

o Checking for understanding

o Observing progress

o Double-checking

o Follow-up

Remember: Good communication prevents misunderstandings and paves the way for employee motivation.

Goal Setting

There is one particular type of communication that has been repeatedly shown to be effective in improving employee motivation. This is the communicating of goals or objectives.

A goal or objective is simply a task we are attempting to accomplish. Goals direct our behavior. They help us follow a straight-line course to our ultimate objective. They prevent us from being like leaves being blown helplessly by the wind.

Goals and objectives foster motivation. We see the progress we are making toward our goal. We feel we are getting somewhere. Without goals, it is not always clear when we have been successful. Goals serve as a yardstick by which to measure our accomplishments.

Some objectives are too broad in scope to strive for directly. For example, to increase profits is a difficult goal to tackle all at once. Large scale goals need to be broken down into intermediate goals. Even intermediate goals sometimes require smaller goals that can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

A goal should be (using SMART acronyms):

o Specific: it should include who, what, where, when and how built into it.

o Measureable: progress toward the goal should be recorded frequently.

o Attainable: it should be reasonable and realistic; there should be a very good certainty of accomplishing it.

o Realistic: should also pass the reasonable and realistic test.

o Timebound, set and agreed to mutually developed: the highest motivation will occur when the employee plays a part in setting the goal, together with the manager. The employee should have input setting the goal.

Motivation Worksheet 4 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

Think of an employee that has a motivation problem. Focusing on the employee's behavior, write 3 goals for the employee to attain that will bring his work performance "up to par".




Motivation Through Appraisal and Feedback

One of the most powerful ways to change the motivation of an employee is to appraise how he is performing his job duties and then to feed this information back to him.

I suggest you use two separate systems to provide employee appraisal and feedback. The Employee Performance Review (by whatever name you call the form) evaluates the job performance of individual workers in terms of pre-identified objectives and clearly notifies the employee "how they have done" in achieving these objectives. The Progressive Discipline System (by whatever name you call the form) also evaluates the job performance of individual workers in terms of job expectations and then clearly notifies the employee "how they have fallen short" in working up to these expectations. Although Employee Performance Review emphasize positive performance while Progressive Discipline emphasizes undesirable performance, both work in exactly the same way: they provide feedback to the employee on how they are doing in reference to a standard.

This can produce motivation in an employee. First, it communicates to the employee exactly, "where he stands," and secondly, it points to what type of coaching, counseling, or information the employee requires to get to "where he wants to go or sometimes must go."

Appraisal and feedback systems are ways to tell the employee that "she is on the right track." If not where they should be, this in itself often provides the motivation to self-correct and "get back on track."

Both of these programs are made even more powerful and hence motivating by the consequences attached to them. The result of a "favorable" performance appraisal can mean an increase in salary-a very definite motivator for some people. The result of an "unchanged" progressive discipline report can mean suspension or even separation of employment, a very definite motivator in the sense that employees will work to avoid the negative consequence.

Remember: Appraising employee performance through Employee Performance Review or Progressive Discipline and feeding back to them the results motivates by "pointing the employee in the right direction"

and "making clear how far they must go."

Motivation Worksheet 5 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

1) Think of an employee you manage who did not perform to your performance standards on a specific task.

2) What was the desired performance?

3) Describe the feedback you should give immediately upon completion of the task so the employee "gets back onto the right track.”

4) How would you "point the employee in the right direction" by using an Employee Performance Appraisal or Progressive Discipline?

Motivating Work Assignments

Ideally, the work itself should be highly interesting and hence motivating to the employee. This is partly determined in the selection process where job candidate's skills and interests are assessed and compared to the requirements of the job. When delegating tasks be sure to consider the skill level of the parties involved, the needs of the job, etc. as well.

Even after a job candidate is hired, placement of the employee into a specific work assignment can foster or stifle motivation. For example, a stereo buff would be more highly motivated to sell stereos or other electronic products than draperies.

Employees can have different preferences in many ways:

o Some employees may prefer a large variety of different job duties whereas others may prefer only a small set number.

o Some employees like to face challenge and complexity within their job whereas others may prefer the simple or routine.

o Some employees may prefer to work independently, apart from others, whereas other employees prefer to work in an area with other employees.

o Some employees may prefer to work on tasks where they can receive instant feedback on their efforts, whereas others may not require such instantaneous and continuous feedback.

The point is that you can increase the motivation of your employees if you can match their need for different degrees of autonomy, variety, challenge, complexity, and feedback to the available work assignments. To the best that you can, tailoring the work assignments to the employee's primary needs and abilities, will result in a higher level of performance from that employee.

This is not to suggest that you should bend to every desire of an employee.

Meeting an employee's individual interests on the job will help that employee like their job more. They in turn, will be more willing and motivated to help the manager achieve bottom-line objectives. When both get what they respectively want, then a win/win situation exists. The manager wins because he will have a motivated, effective employee; the employee wins because his needs are met.

When an employee knows he is benefitting, he will be motivated to perform better. If an employee gets to do parts of his job that he likes to do, then the employee will be more willing to do those things that have to be done as well.

See what your employees would like to gain from their employment besides money. Ask, "What else does this employee want from his job here." Some answers might be:

o "A good recommendation for future jobs."

o "A chance to learn firsthand about the world of business before going to college and studying business."

o "An opportunity to learn skills like cashiering, customer service, selling, or management, etc."

o "A chance to get out of the house and be around people like other employees and customers."

o "To be aware of the latest market trends, fashions - wanting to be first to see what's new."

To meet people's interests and thus produce greater motivation, a certain amount of compromise and negotiation must take place between a manager and employee. It is difficult to balance the needs of an employee and those of a manager, who is trying to fulfill their company's bottom line performance, but compromise and negotiation gives the manager some control to accomplish both at once.

Motivation Worksheet 6 - (Take a few minutes to answer these questions.)

List the names of employees you manage under the type of work assignment which would motivate them to perform best.

Task Variety versus Set Types of Tasks

Challenge and Complexity versus Simple and Routine Tasks

Independent Tasks versus Working as part of a Group

Tasks which produce instant feedback versus Tasks which produce delayed feedback.

Do the actual assignments of your employees regularly include the types of assignments most motivating to them?

Rewarding Good Performance

One major reward an employee obviously earns through their work performance is their paycheck. Financial compensation for doing a task is as old as the institution of gainful employment. There has been a development in recent years, however, of a new system of rewarding employees that affects their motivation to perform. This is the concept of paying for performance.

The idea behind paying for performance is simple. Most people, including managers, have the belief that if I do this, I deserve to get that. If I do twice as much, then I deserve to get more in return. What we receive, we say we have earned.

One of the most common examples of a pay for performance system is tipping. The waitress knows that her performance directly affects the tip she will receive. If she does a good job, she can be reasonably sure that she will receive a tip. She also knows that if she does an outstanding job she will merit a larger tip than if she just does the bare minimum.

The employee can feel that their work performance will be rewarded on the basis of merit due to the performance appraisal system. By their performance, they can affect their financial rewards. If they fail to meet their objectives, they won't be compensated as much as if they had met their objectives. If they work hard and exceed their objectives, they will be financially rewarded for the effort; and if they perform extremely well and clearly exceed the objectives, they will receive, or rather have EARNED, a proportionately large pay increase to reward their behavior.

Employee Performance Review is designed to measure performance against a standard so that the quantity and quality of job performance can be reliably determined. It serves as the vehicle for determining merit pay increases.

How To Make A Merit System Motivating

Employees must be aware of the system; that their work performance can earn them additional rewards. They must believe that it is realistically possible for them to earn the rewards. They must believe the system is fair; how much extra they earn needs to be worth the extra performance they "put out." As a result of informing employees of the connection between their job performance and available rewards, they:

o Develop a "winning" mental attitude.

o Set their own high performance goals.

o Increase their performance level.

In order to produce "highly motivated" employees, it is extremely important to pay attention and to actively play a part in influencing rewards for employee's performance. As manager, you have control over these consequences.

Although financial compensation is the primary reward, you are making a serious mistake if you believe that this is the only reward that is important to an employee. Money is not a dependable motivator. In fact, it is true that:

o For some individuals, money is not motivating.

o When employees have the inaccurate perception that only small merit increases are available, money loses its power to motivate.

o Money may motivate just before performance appraisal time, but it can also have no effect on performance the prior eleven months.

In contrast to money, all of the following rewards for performance are extremely dependable:

o Sense of Achievement Recognition of a "Job Well Done"

o Greater Responsibility

o Advancement/Promotion

o Increase Status in Eyes of Others

o Personal Growth

o Appreciation/Thanks by Manager

Any of these can be used in addition to money to reward performance. Each of these rewards can be delivered by you, the manager, in less than 30 seconds. And, they have the advantage over merit increase of being available every day. They cost you nothing-they give you a powerful tool to increase other's motivation.

All it takes is a statement like:

"Joe, you should feel really proud over obtaining a sales volume like you did this week." (Sense of Achievement)

"Sally, I noticed that you did an excellent job helping customers today, especially since you were covering more than one area." (Recognition of a Job Well Done)

"Bob, you have done so well with the routine duties, I think you're capable of handling some responsibilities of a larger nature. How would you feel about becoming responsible for .... ?" (Greater Responsibility)

"Lisa, even though your performance appraisal is more than 5 months away, I want to tell you that you're accomplishing so many things that I'm considering some type of promotion for you, if you keep this up." (Advancement/Promotion)

"I want to announce to everybody at this meeting that Tom has been doing an outstanding job and is a top-notch worker." (Increase Status in Eyes of Others)

"Jane, since you've started, you have really learned the relationship of mark-up to gross margin." (Personal Growth)

"Gary, I really appreciate you doing this. Thanks a lot." (Appreciation/Thanks by Manager)

Motivation of people will be seriously affected, if the consequences of performing is punishing or "makes no difference." When an employee who is working the best they can receives penalties, insults, humiliation, boredom, or frustration, he or she will begin to avoid doing the work and will quickly demonstrate "poor motivation." Few people seek out painful experiences. Thus, if you know that an employee is not working "up to par," explore whether the employee received a negative reaction for doing so. Ask yourself, "is there a negative consequence for doing a good job?"


Motivation is a complex issue. Rather than attempting to investigate motivation in its complexity, this basic management skill training reviewed six common motivational factors which make the difference between employees who are motivated and employees who exhibit motivational problems.

In reality, high levels of motivation are produced by a combination and interaction of these six factors, not by any one factor acting alone.

"Motivated employees" selected for the job will be easier to train; more receptive to communication and feedback; more interested in their work assignments; and more effective performers who will merit reward.

Employees "trained for success" will learn to communicate better; use feedback constructively; and perform their work assignments more efficiently which may increase their interest. All of this in turn, may result in a high level of performance that would merit reward.

Clear communication and goal setting goes hand-in-hand with the objective setting procedures of performance appraisal; aids the learning of new, more interesting, work assignments; and promotes goal attainment which is rewarded.

Appraisal and feedback can bring out the employee's feelings and interest in the work assignment and serve to reward behavior which merits reward.

Assigning "motivating work assignments" enables the employee to meet his interests and needs which will usually result in quality work that merits reward.

Motivated employees will work more effectively in their jobs and do more to further the bottom-line objectives of a company than unmotivated employees. There are six important and necessary factors that need to be considered in improving an employee's motivation to perform. By using the theory and recommendations presented in this article, you can be confident that you will be able to successfully motivate your employees. In addition, you will be incorporating a valuable skill into your managerial repertoire.

Remember, in order to motivate others, you must be Motivated yourself! Have fun, make a ripple...

Chuck Ainsworth, aka The Origami Warrior is a visionary writer who enjoys learning new topics and putting them into easy to understand terms. He brings 30 plus years of Senior Management experience and provides the insights needed to help others reach peak performance by improving their basic Management and Leadership Skills. He currently writes about topics he loves that include: Origami, Origami Warrior Wisdom, Motivation, Training, Management Skills Development, Leadership, Life Lessons, Core Values, Internet Marketing, Social Media, Life After Death - How To Overcome Life Changing Events and more. A published author who loves family, pets, community. While he has spent much of his life traveling, he now enjoys a much simpler life, living in his home town on a small quiet private lake with his family. Follow his Origami Warrior Wisdom daily quotes follow me at http://twitter.com/ChuckAinsworth to get my tweets and be sure to check out other Life Lessons at: [http://origamiwarrior.com]

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