motivating employees
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Motivating Your People to Stay

Your employees are job hunting. As the “jobless recovery” starts to create more opportunities, people who have stuck with you through the tough economy are going out and looking for greener pastures. The May 24th Newsweek reports that,

“In the first quarter of 2004, 4.2 million people posted their resumes on Monster, the online job board, up 44 percent from a year earlier; this year “confidential” postings (usually made by people trying to hide job hunting from their boss) are up 13 percent. At the Five O’Clock Club, a New York-based career-counseling firm, half of new clients already have a job but are looking for a new one; last year most new members were unemployed. In Fresno, Calif., more than half of the prospective clients calling resume writer Susan Whitcomb are employed job hunters, up from 20 percent last year.”

If you’ve spent the last few years working to get more out of the employees you’ve got, you might want to spend 2004 helping them get more out of their job. People choose to work one job over another for various reasons. Some of these are not under your control (convenience, proximity to their home, etc.), but there are job factors you can influence to raise morale and retention. They may not be the issues we often use to create loyalty. Pay raises will retain employees only if you pay below your industry’s norms. People choose to work where they can experience achievement, significance, and build legacy.

Achievement is the most often recognized motivator. Achievement is the satisfaction gained from accomplishing a hard task. When employees ask for “interesting and challenging work,” they ask for an opportunity to achieve. Opportunities for adding achievement to a job range from training and learning new skills to attaining new efficiency or performance levels (a record number of calls in a week or a new high in customer satisfaction). When these opportunities arise, it’s essential to communicate the context for the achievement. It’s one thing to recognize that Sonia made a lot of calls this week; it’s another to recognize that “of the 20 CSRs who have done this job in the last 3 years, only one has made more calls in a week than Sonia did this week”. The first is an “atta-boy” latter is an achievement.

Significance is knowing that what you do makes a difference to people you care about. A job gains significance when it is connected to a larger goal. “I know that it seems like you spend all day processing lab samples, but the test results could help us eliminate thousands of cancer deaths each year.” The goal doesn’t have to change the world; it could also be personal; “You are a lifesaver; your analysis was key to convincing the board to make the R&D investment.” People feel significant when they are “in the loop” and know their ideas and opinions matter.

These factors can be seen in this quote from Edwin H. Land, founder of Polaroid. “The first thing you naturally do is teach the person to feel that the undertaking is manifestly important and nearly impossible…That draws out the kind of drives that make people strong.” Important things provide significance, while accomplishing tasks that are “nearly impossible” provides achievement.

A third motivator is creating legacy, making a difference that will last beyond your time on the job. This is most often important to individuals in the latter half of their careers. They may have achieved significant things in the past but are now motivated more by giving back or making a difference. Allowing team members to mentor and train others creates a chance for them to build a legacy. “Would you be willing to go on some sales calls with Karl? I think that your experience could help to build his confidence. It could really help him make a permanent performance improvement.”

As the economy improves and the baby boomers begin to retire, leaders need to see their workforce as volunteers. Can you envision your company as a workplace of choice? Where people come to work because they know that what they are doing is challenging, important, and making a difference?

Ron Baker has more to say on the same topic: Your Employees are Volunteers.

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