“New Employee Incentive Plan: Work or get fired.” — Hand-lettered sign seen behind the counter of a rustic country store.
According to a recent story in Inc. magazine, Brian Halligan, CEO of software marketing firm Hubspot, has a singular way of handling go-getter employees who present him with great ideas with the potential to improve the company’s bottom line.
He fires them.
The punchline? He fires them from their “day jobs.” He then appoints them as the CEOs of their own change initiatives, something like little start-up companies within the company. Halligan refers to this as his Mini-CEO Program, and he does it to both decentralize the company and empower team players. You can bet it motivates the heck out of his employees to do their very best for him, so they’ll have a shot at the big-time.
What can you do to motivate your employees? With fewer than 25% of non-managerial employees fully engaged in their jobs, those of us in the catbird seats have a unique opportunity to dangle similar carrots before our team members. Helping them help themselves by devoting themselves more fully to their careers is a true win/win. There’s no altruism here: fully-engaged employees, who are passionate about their work, keep team and organizational performance trending steadily upward.
As a leader, you can’t motivate anyone to do anything: they have to be motivated personally. However, you can provide incentives and an environment that people find motivating, which inspires them to give discretionary effort. It’s as easy as ABC—and DEF:
A is for Analyze. Each person is different, so determine what your team members want from you in return for their extra discretionary effort. What will motivate them? Give everyone on the team the opportunity to profit when the company does: offer flexible scheduling, raises, bonuses, conference attendance, part-time telecommuting, a certificate, or pats on the back—whatever it takes. Another A-word, Awards, will be your friend here. But don’t hand them out indiscriminately. Give them only to those who really deserve them.
B is for Balance. Your team members—and you—require a good work/life balance to remain productive. At a certain point (about the 10th hour of a long workday), accumulated error and poor performance can overwhelm any benefit derived from working longer hours. Take good care of your people, making sure they get the rest and the breaks they need—from daily lunch breaks to their annual vacations—and they’ll take care of you. Be a good role model as well. If you send email at 2:00 AM when you have insomnia, that’s up to you, but make sure you explicitly let them know it’s not implicitly expected of them.
C is for Communicate. We use the gift of gab for a reason: because it’s still the best way we’ve invented to convey ideas. Explain what you need everyone to do and why. Communicate your directives clearly, plainly, and honestly. Each week, my office manager, Jin, and I review her master task to prioritize her tasks for the next few days. We make sure we are on the same page, and then I get out of her way and let her do her job. If I change her priorities mid-stream, I communicate the redirect and explain the reasoning. I check in daily to make sure all is well and am available to answer any questions. So keep the lines of communication open for whenever team members need assistance, and leave them alone long enough to get something done before you interrupt yet again.
D is for Direction. Although the manager’s role has changed in the last few decades, leaders are still responsible for providing the vision and mission to the team. You’ll see better results when you strategically align individual and team goals with organizational goals and objectives. Performance management can be challenging, but it represents one of the most important areas of motivation, since it produces significant improvement if you can implement it. Outline in detail all the organizational and team goals in as transparent a manner as possible, set the course, and make it easier for the team to follow your direction. Review milestones and provide coaching with each of your direct reports in weekly 1-on-1 meetings. Show them why their contributions matter in the grand scheme of things—and why you can’t get there without their help.
E is for Expect. Let your people know exactly what you expect from them in as unambiguous a manner as possible. If necessary, lay it out in company handbooks and procedural manuals. But if a worker discovers a better way of getting from here to there, let them take it, as long as it’s ethical and legal. Draw on another E-word to help you keep them on the strait and narrow: Example. You lead by example no matter how you lead, so if you want to improve performance, then lead in a way you expect people to follow. How motivating is it so send an email to your boss and never hear back? Or if you leave the office at 4:00 every day and expect everyone else to stay? Expect great things from your team and model those expectations in your own behavior.
F is for Facilitate. When you make it easier for your people to succeed, you boost the team’s moral, performance, and productivity. Sounds simple, right? Yet many leaders stumble here. They may as well send their people into the Amazon without a map or a machete. Instead, go out ahead of everyone and demolish the bureaucratic hurdles, fill in the technological potholes, and build training bridges to span knowledge gaps. Influence senior leaders to get the budget you need. Run interference if another department is slowing them down. Try hard to eliminate anything creating frustration. When your team sees you out there fighting for them and providing the assistance they need to improve, your team can’t help but want to do their best for you.
Yes, you can still get things done with a demotivated, disengaged team. However, if you give your folks valid, easy-to-understand justifications for wanting to do well, you’ll push productivity through the roof. Of course, this article just scratches the surface of the various ways you can motivate your people to shine—and the letters have more than one word to draw upon. What have you discovered that really motivates people? What letter of the alphabet would you use to describe the biggest lesson you’ve learned about how to motivate your employees?