Millions of dollars have been poured into thousands of studies, all asking the same question: "How do you motivate people?" Unfortunately, it’s the wrong question. The right question is “What are you doing to demotivate people?”
To drive home the point, I’ve asked thousands of leaders if they’ve ever hired anyone that hated the job, belittled the products, berated the customers, disliked their colleagues, and distrusted the management. Of course, they all say no.
Then why do companies have so many people like that? Something happens to employees that turn them off. During the course of their employment, situations occur and actions are taken that demotivate them.
Of course, you could take Spiderman’s approach and respond by saying, “I missed the part where that’s my problem.” But most companies cannot afford to take that approach anymore … especially during times of economic challenge, company-wide change, or any number of things that tend to demotivate employees.
So what can you do to stop demotivating the people in your company?
1. Stop being stingy with your recognition.
As Tom Rath and Donald Clifton indicate in their book, "How Full Is Your Bucket", the number one reason people leave their jobs is they don’t feel appreciated. And 65 percent of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year.
Stop the excuses. Don't say you're too busy to go around praising people. Don't justify your lack of recognition by saying your employees already know if they're doing a good job. The fact remains -- unspoken recognition demotivates employees.
Everyone needs to hear that her work counts, has quality, and is done right. Just like the kid at the swimming pool who shouts, "Look Mom. Look at me." Your employees are saying the same thing, “Look at my work. Let me know that you've noticed."
2. Stop information hoarding.
Employees continue to rate “a lack of communication” as one of their top three complaints on employee surveys. And in an environment of information scarcity, negative emotions run rampant. So you had better keep your employees informed, or they'll make it up, and it won't be flattering.
Of course some leaders think, “I don’t have the time to keep my people up to date on everything.” But if you don’t have the time to keep your people informed now, how will you find the time to correct their misunderstandings later?
If an employee doesn't know exactly what's expected of him, he can't feel confident that he's doing the right thing the right way. And in that environment, many employees get lost and demotivated.
3. Stop minimizing the value of education.
Most employees want to do a good job, at least initially. They want to give you what you want, and they have every intention of performing at the level you desire.
Then the company goes through a lot of change. And to make matters worse, the company may fail to give their employees the training they need to be effective in the new environment. The result is a further decrease in employee motivation.
Of course, the company may rationalize their lack of continuing education by saying it doesn’t work. Oh really?
As Monika Hamori and Burak Koyuncu reported in the July-August 2012 issue of the "Harvard Business Review", there is a connection between a lack of formal development (training, mentoring, and coaching) and the early exit of young managers. In fact, 95 percent of them left their companies 28 months after they were hired … a very clear sign they were demotivated in their present work environment.
4. Stop thinking big.
If you think little acts of recognition don’t count, you’re wrong. Oftentimes the little things are remembered more vividly and impact motivation more strongly than some formal reward or fancy recognition banquet. Indeed, most employees will express more excitement about the personal handwritten thank-you note from the President of the company than the $50 gift certificate put in the note.
Certainly, there’s a time and place for big formal rewards. People want to see a prize at the end of a big and time-consuming project. But if that’s the only recognition they get, it tends to backfire. So praise the process as well as the product. Praise the little things that people do right along the way as well as the end result … if you want long-term motivation.
5. Stop squashing the thinking process.
Sometimes employees are given the subtle message that “You’re not paid to think.” The company buys the employees’ physical time and energy but not their minds. It feels somewhat like prostitution, which invariably makes the employee-provider feel cheap, used, and demotivated.
Waiting in a post office line, I heard the postal agent explain to his customer that he could send his package via Priority Mail quicker and cheaper than the First Class he was requesting. But no matter how much the agent tried to explain it, the customer replied, “No, my boss told me to send this First Class.” The boss had squashed the employee’s thinking process; cost the company some money, and belittled his employee’s ability to make a decision.
By contrast, there is mounting evidence that says employees who are given the freedom to think are happier, more productive employees. According to Cameron Doody, the co-founder of Bellhops, "People don't just want a job anymore; they want a fulfilling job. And fulfillment at work comes with the freedom to make decisions and own your position.”
In following this thinking principle, Bellhops, a company that contracts local college students for small-scale residential moving jobs in their city, gives its employees complete autonomy over their schedule, who they work with, and how much money they make. As a result, Bellhops grew from 2,000 to 10,000 employees in just one year.
If you’re getting less from your people than they’re paid to do, you’ve got a people problem as well as a financial problem in your company. To turn that around, stop focusing (entirely) on what you could do to motivate your employees, and start focusing on what you are doing to demotivate your employees.