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How to Motivate Your Team to do its Best Work

In Human Resources — by Erin Engstrom

employees at window

Getting the best out of employees is hard work. Burnout, silos, poor communication and a lack of engagement are just a few of the reasons why your staff might not be firing on all cylinders. A motivated workforce is a productive workforce, which is vital to the health of your business. Check this out: A Gallup poll found that unhappy employees cost the U.S. economy up to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.

Fortunately, there are lots of steps you can take to propel your team to its best work and drive your business to new heights. Here, eight entrepreneurs and business experts share 11 of their favorite tips to motivate your team.

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Set goals and navigate roadblocks

Angie Stocklin, co-founder and COO of One Click, says team members need to know what they’re working toward, and need to have authority to make adjustments when they come up short. “I have tried a variety of things to motivate my teams over the years, and different teams need different things,” says Stocklin. “I have found, however, that working with the team to set transparent and attainable goals, and empowering your team to identify and solve the problems that prevent them from hitting those goals, is the best motivation as a whole.”

In challenging times, ramp up your efforts

Valleys in the business cycle are inevitable. These are times that call for the carrot, not the stick, according to Stocklin. “Since we rely heavily on team oriented metrics and goals, we experience decreases in motivation during team member changes and during natural increases in volume” she says. “These times require additional verbal encouragement from our leaders, and may even call for some fun individual or team competitions.”

Create an opportunity for peer-to-peer recognition

Commendation from a supervisor is great, but employees also appreciate being recognized by their peers, says Alexandra Mayzler, founder of Thinking Caps. “Creating a healthy group mindset and growth experience helps employees work better,” she says. “A solution we use is a group ‘gratitude jar.’ Whenever someone on the team has something to be thankful for, or would like to write something nice about one of their co-workers, we put it in a little note. Notes are read out on Mondays during team meetings and helps everyone start the week on a positive note! It gets people working together, helping each other, and raises the bar for the team as a whole.”

Discover what’s important to your employees

Motivation is deeply personal. What inspires you to work hard isn’t what inspires your employees to do the same, says Scott Love, author of Why They Follow: How to Lead With Positive Influence. “People are only going to do what they perceive to be in their own best interests,” he says. “When they come to work each day, they are doing so for themselves, not the boss. So you need to understand the intrinsic motivations and goals of each person and what makes them tick.”

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Communicate how their work relates to the greater good

It’s easy for organizations to develop silos, but employees need to understand how their piece fits into the larger puzzle in order to produce their best work. “It’s important to always tell people why their work matters,” says Love. “Show them specifically what they do to help the group to win. This is how you get buy-in. You speak to that part of them that is self-actualized, meaning that they find fulfillment and purpose in their work that serves a higher calling. This is how you build the emotional equity of each employee.”

Schedule a regular meeting with each member of your team

John Turner, founder and CEO of UsersThink, finds the simple practice of keeping a weekly one-on-one meeting with each of his employees to be remarkably effective. “These meetings don’t have to be long in terms of time, but they must be done with precise frequency,” he says. “Schedule a specific time for each member of your team so they always know that’s when you check in with them, and don’t break your commitment to that time with them. Always hold them in a private place, and let them know that they’re in a place where they can speak freely. By making it a habit that you never break, and allowing them the freedom to cover whatever topic they want or need to, individual morale will go through the roof, and it keeps everyone motivated to work harder.”

Give them control of their work environment

No matter how great the work itself is, it can be hard to feel motivated in dreary surroundings. To combat this, Candice Galek, founder and CEO of Bikini Luxe, lets her team incorporate their own touches. “I have found that our employees are the happiest when we do simple things like let them choose the music that is playing,” Galek says. “We encourage our employees to bring in their own playlists and share new musical finds. This may seem like a very small thing but it has made a noticeable difference in the happiness level at the office. We also have lots of plants and turn off the florescent lighting during the evening to make it a more pleasant environment.”

Offer a flexible work arrangement

Medical Departures founder and CEO Paul McTaggart leads a distributed team, so his employees have the ultimate control over where they work. According to him, this not only cuts down on office costs, but is instrumental to employee retention. “The location of where people work on the planet and when they work is now irrelevant with high-speed internet access,” says McTaggart. “Everyone on our team can work where they want and at the time they want – whatever is most productive and happy for them. We can’t pay as well as Fortune 1000 companies, but we’re able to attract and retain great team members by having a flexible work environment that motivates people to deliver extraordinary results.”

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Don’t just provide time off; encourage them to actually take it

Ample vacation time is a great benefit, but it does your employees no good if they don’t feel they can actually take it. It does you no good, either. McTaggart says your employees employees will return from the time off refreshed and with renewed inspiration. “With the pace of change and high pressure of a startup, it’s hard to maintain continual motivation without burning out,” he says. “We actively encourage people to take time off to recharge their batteries, or work remotely in other parts of the world to reinvigorate themselves.”

Gamify employee engagement

When employees share their expertise with each other, it helps them feel engaged, and helps the company’s bottom line. To that end, James Tally, CEO of Tally Inc., uses an app called Tasytt. “It’s a knowledge-sharing platform that calculates points based on engagement,” he says. “Employees can redeem these points for real-life rewards that I define. It’s worked wonders for my company and I recommend it to our clients. My consultants are happy, they’re sharing knowledge instead of walking out the door with it, and more importantly they’re staying! And that has led to greater performance and obviously greater revenue.”

Create a spectacular internal rewards program (emphasis on spectacle)

Auctions aren’t just for fundraisers and Storage Wars: Casey Halloran, co-founder and CEO of Costa Rican Vacations, has turned them into a much-anticipated corporate event. “We created an internal system of digital ‘funny money’ that is issued to all managers.” he says. “With a few clicks, we can recognize and reward a staffer for a job well done. They in turn can spend this money at a company-wide auction we hold twice per year. We auction off big items like electronics and cash, as well as small stuff like extra vacation days. It’s a really fun event and has been a huge success and is a big part of our culture. We issue an employee satisfaction survey each year. Since we started this program, our overall happiness score improved by almost 20 percent. Our retention rate has also improved dramatically.”

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