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Tips for keeping your staff motivated

Everyone knows staff motivation leads to success. DOUG FLEENER says what might not be so obvious is that motivation can’t be taught and rather needs to be encouraged.

Years ago, I had an incredibly talented retail associate working for me. He was smart, charming, a fast learner and one of the best salespeople I ever met. Unfortunately, there was one major problem: he was lazy, doing only enough to get by.

I spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to motivate him. I could sometimes get a bump in his performance but he invariably slid back into mediocrity.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that the ability to motivate others is a myth. I know that sounds like leadership blasphemy, but I’m convinced you can’t motivate the unmotivated.

Motivation is the desire or willingness of someone to do something, and the desire to work with customers has to come from within.

The willingness to proactively engage and sell to customers has to be something a person wants to do; you can’t successfully motivate people to do something if they just don’t want to do it.

The role of financial incentives

Doesn’t money motivate people? A study by Edward Deci, a psychologist at Rochester University, found that students offered cash prizes to solve puzzles were less likely to continue working on them after payments had been made.

Deci’s work helped clarify the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – doing things because you like doing them or doing them because you want a reward.

This is why hiring the right person is so important.

Offering a motivated person more money could result in higher performance but it will have little to no effect on the unmotivated.

If you pay a mediocre employee more, all you will have is a highly-paid mediocre employee.

Get the most out of your staff

Instead of trying to motivate people, the key is to inspire the motivated and remove the unmotivated. Here’s how:

Make work fun – one of my favourite sayings is, “You can’t ask people to give service with a smile until you give them something to smile about.”

The best leaders have the ability to make each day a great experience for their team.

Make each day challenging – working in retail is like the movie Groundhog Day: every day can be the same day over and over.

Good leaders challenge their employees to try new things and to strive to improve on what they weren’t so good at yesterday.

Be constant and consistent with staff development – motivated people want to learn; they want to grow. A development plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be constant and consistent.

Recognise performance – never underestimate the importance of specific recognition.

“Motivation is the desire or willingness of someone to do something, and the desire to work with customers has to come from within.”

Staff want to contribute to a store’s success and they especially appreciate it when their effort is called out.

Create a strong sense of team – good teams bring out the best in each member, provide mutual support and bring purpose to each other’s work.

A group of people isn’t a team; a group of people committed to a common cause and enabling each other’s success is.

Provide incentives – incentives like prizes are a great way to inspire motivated staff, but remember that it’s as important to focus on and reward the right behaviour as it is to achieve the desired results.

Empower and simplify – give staff responsibilities. Let them ‘own’ tasks. Show you trust them. Make their work easy. Oversee it all from a distance. Step in to guide when required and always reward success.

Have standards – one of the fastest ways to demotivate a motivated employee is to fail to hold everyone accountable for business standards and expectations.

Most people will rise to what’s expected of them but they’ll also lower themselves to match the level of accountability set for others.

Give staff a voice – motivated employees want to contribute and be a part of the future. They have good ideas and would like to share them.

They feel inspired when they can bring ideas up with their manager or owner, and they get an extra lift when that idea is successfully put into practice.

Remove the unmotivated – an unmotivated person who doesn’t meet the acceptable level of performance will drag the entire team down.

Motivated employees resent it when the management team accepts and even enables poor performance.

Moving underperformers out will actually inspire motivated employees and improve the customer experience and results – which is after all the main goal.

Doug Fleener

Contributor • Sixth Star Consulting

Doug Fleener is the author of a new book titled The Day Makes The Year (Makes The Life). Learn more:

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