Employee Engagement is More than Just Rewards

At the beginning of May, Kelly Graves published a compelling new book titled The Management and Employee Development Review: Competitive Advantage through Transformative Teamwork and Evolved Mindsets, which helps managers build a motivated an engaged workforce. I spoke to Kelly this past week, and I asked him: What are the common mistakes managers make when trying to motivate employees? What can managers do to successfully engage and motivate employees? Here is his detailed answer:

It is human nature for managers to take the path of least resistance, and this choice often leads to only temporarily solving symptoms -- not the core problems. When motivating employees, however, it is wise to look to behavior modification techniques to guide you. First, let’s look at what most managers attempt to do to motivate employees -- Often, they want to prove they have all the answers or simply short-cut the process due to time constraints, so they follow what they have seen or read what other managers have done to motivate employees. 

Many managers rely on what they think employees want using short-term rewards -- such as money, pizza parties, gift cards, or a fun-oriented team-building event with no long-term follow-through, which can often cause more harm than productivity if not handled by someone educated in cultural dynamics. These are all fun ideas and may provide short-term excitement but they will not create lasting motivation. In fact, employees may not want some of these because they involve spending more time away from their families and more time with people at work, with whom they feel they already spend too much time. In addition, one-time financial rewards doesn’t directly equate to long-term motivation.

As a manager, it is imperative above all else to provide that “why” to your team -- why are they here and why they should embrace the company goals.In other words, you must give them something to believe in that is bigger than themselves.  Provide them with a clear destination, and make sure they understand that this goal is paramount for the success of the organization, the department but more importantly, how it directly impacts their lives. The central objective of a great manager and motivator of people is to touch your employees at their core so they see and believe in your vision as fervently as you. To achieve this higher state, one must climb inside the mind of their employees and tap into their intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to seek out new challenges, to analyze one's capacity, and to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. Intrinsic motivation is a natural motivational tendency and is a critical element in cognitive, social, and physical development. Employees who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in the task willingly as well as work to improve their skills, which will increase their capabilities. Employees are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:

•    Attribute their results to factors under their control, also known as autonomy.

•    Believe they have the skills to be effective agents in reaching their desired goals, also known as self-efficacy beliefs.

•    Are interested in mastering a skill, not just in achieving it for some outside force.

Try these 10 steps to motivate your employees: 
  1. Provide a healthy environment: As the manager, it is your responsibility to provide the environment that enables members of your team to feel challenged and engaged by the work they perform.  
  2.  Create a trusting environment: Trust is a powerful motivational element and managers that are more transparent with their employees will create employees who return that trust. Once trust is part of the culture, innovation, creativity and performance follow. 
  3. Involve them: Asking what  would make their jobs easier, more productive and more fulfilling. In essence, people want to feel valued and acknowledged for their expertise.
  4. Encourage responsible risk taking: Encourage your employees to exceed expectations by taking responsible risks. If they succeed, reinforce the effort and the ability to take responsible risk. If they fail, ask what parts went well and what parts didn’t. Help them to learn and utilize critical thinking skills so they can learn how to learn to take responsible risk. 
  5. Anticipate failure and normalize it: Coach your employees that responsible risk taking comes with a certain amount of experimentation or adjustment also known as short-term failure. This type of thinking must be coached or all you will have on your team are drones following your lead or “doing it the way we have always done it” due to fear to step out of their comfort zones, which will result in continuous mediocrity. 
  6.  Challenging Work: People simply want to improve at their jobs. Overcoming a challenge or finding a creative solution to a problem is a characteristic that strongly motivates employees. 
  7. Career Advancement: One of the most forgotten yet powerful motivators are helping employees outline their careers. Employees are extremely motivated when they know what the next rung on the ladder looks like and what they need to do to achieve it. 
  8.  A clearly defined goal. First the manager needs to outline what the department goals are. Next, spelling out specific tasks and behaviors which support the department goals help employees understand how they contribute to the greater organizational objectives. This helps the employee understand the organizational objectives, how the departments goals directly support’s the organizational objectives and how their specific tasks and behaviors directly support the department goals. This concept transcends work for the sake of work and teaches them how they directly contribute to the success of the company. 
  9. Give regular, direct and supportive feedback: Both positive and performance enhancing feedback is vital to continuous improvement and when done well it provides the motivation to move employees continually on the path toward success. Feedback needs to be timely, specific and presented in such a way that the employee is clear about what behaviors they need to modify or continue using in order to improve performance.  
  10. Recognition and increased status when the goal is achieved: People not only want to be recognized for doing a good job, their emotional well-being depends on it. Similar to involving them in the process is recognizing them in front of others, which increases their status among peers. This simple tip will jump start a poor performer or catapult an already strong performer to superstardom.
What do think of Kelly's advice? As a manager, what do you think works best regarding work culture and employee engagement?