How to Seriously Motivate People

Last Updated Sep 16, 2010 3:45 PM EDT

How to Motivate EmployeesIn the early 80s, corporate America got tired of Japan Inc. kicking its butt all over the place and decided to get quality. My company, Texas Instruments, made a big commitment to quality by sending every engineer to a week-long Juran training class.

The most important thing I learned and the only thing I still remember to this day, which shows how impactful it was, is that the vast majority of workplace problems are actually management problems. While that statement was meant to be about improving quality, to me, it's always had a broader meaning.

I've always thought of it as an axiom for improving all kinds of management and organizational systems -- including how to motivate employees.

Now, some people just aren't cut out for the work they do. They hate their jobs, their coworkers, even themselves. Others act like children dressed up as men and women. There will always be some percentage of any population, including your group, that's difficult or impossible to motivate.

If you've done your best and they still don't get it, get rid of them. If for some reason you're prevented from doing that, what can I tell you; you're screwed. Barring that torturous situation, most people want to work and will work hard if they feel that --
  • their work is appreciated, recognized, and challenging;
  • they're compensated appropriately;
  • their management is competent, hard working, and doesn't have its hand in the cookie jar, more or less.
And guess what? It's entirely up to you, the manager, to provide an environment that will meet those conditions. It isn't easy, but then, you've got to ask yourself what kind of manager you want to be? If the answer's a great one, you'll need these 10 techniques for seriously motivating your people:
  1. Exhibit flawless work ethic. Lead by example. If you screw around, they'll emulate you. Likewise, if you're seriously hard-working, they'll seek your approval by doing the same.
  2. Indoctrinate them with the big picture. Everybody wants to be a part of something useful. Make the work important to them by telling them why it's important to others.
  3. Set goals and hold them accountable. Goal setting in most companies is ineffective. It's either too top down, too bottom up, or there's little or no follow-up. Strike a balance somewhere in the middle. Where is different for each situation.
  4. Provide genuine, real-time feedback, good and bad, no BS. Ask for the same from them. This is one of the hardest things for any manager to do, especially the negative stuff.
  5. Promote their accomplishments and take the heat for their failures. They need to know you've got their back.
  6. Provide the tools they need to be effective; keep management off their backs; otherwise, get out of the way.
  7. Give them as much responsibility as they can handle, no more, no less. That's sort of tricky if you have a big group because it's really an individual thing.
  8. Communicate what's going on as openly as you can within reason and without unduly burdening them with confidential information they don't need to know.
  9. Give them personal time to get important things done. We're not talking about running errands, but important stuff that's got to be done 9 to 5 like doctor's appointments.
  10. Have some empathy, humility, and a sense of humor. It'll go a long way. Mostly, be yourself. No jokes about sociopaths; they probably don't read management blogs anyway.
That's it; now go out and motivate somebody!

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Image Courtesy Nike

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