How To Motivate Employees As A Manager

Increase productivity of your employees.

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Arielle Executive - Sydney, Melbourne, New York

Last updated: January 25th, 2024

how to motivate employees as a manager
Arielle Executive - Sydney, Melbourne, New York

Last updated: January 25th, 2024

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Whether you’re a new people leader, or have a few years under your belt, one is likely at the top of your mind every day: Your potential for impact is immense. But how you motivate employees can make or break your team’s work environment and, in turn, your career.

Skeptical? Check out the research below.

Employees leave managers first and foremost — not so much roles or companies:

  • A recent Goodwire study revealed that 82% of workers across 10 industries would quit due to their manager’s behaviour.
  • A UK survey by Visier uncovered that more than half (53%) of those considering leaving their jobs say they were looking to change roles because of their manager.
  • According to Gallup, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.

More to the point, Gallup found that 70% of the variance in employee engagement depends on the manager.

So, how can you become one of those management “greats” who has mastered the art of employee motivation and engagement?

1. Set Clear Expectations.

Employment is a relationship. And like any relationship, clearly communicating what is expected from both parties is essential to fostering harmony, productivity, respect and mutual fulfilment.

Important!

Clear parameters and ongoing dialogue from the outset are key to avoiding disengagement and disillusionment later.

Sounds simple enough, right? However, many business and personal relationships go awry due to unclear expectations. We’ve all been there.

As a manager, you must prevent misunderstandings of expectations before they start.

A. Revisit Each Job Description.

Are you one of those managers who relies on HR to write your team’s job descriptions? If so, likely, they never see the light of day past the hiring stage.

The humble job description is a smart yet under-utilised way to set expectations and ensure employees feel inspired and on track.

From day one – and throughout their career journey.

Now, grab one of your team’s job descriptions. Evaluate it against these three criteria:

  • Longer is not always better. Often, job descriptions are written as though an entire team will be performing the work. The responsibilities section rambles on. Narrow it down to the key tasks for which the role will be accountable (ideally 500-600 words). Can one person realistically succeed in this role?
  • Determine how the role will support the company’s mission. To point number one, clearly state how the key tasks required will help the company grow. If a task doesn’t relate, take it out.
  • State the work hours and the amount of interface you expect. Think of this section of the job description as a communications plan. Be that specific. (Example: This position is expected to check email once a day on the weekends to monitor for potential client emergencies“).

B. Encourage Open Dialogue.

Sure, most managers use a job description during recruiting and hiring. That’s a no-brainer.

But using a job description beyond the hiring stage – as a useful tool to help your employees grow and progress – is one of the newest ideas in motivational management.

To know if you and your direct reports are on the right course, dust off the job description at least once a quarter and review it with each of your employees. Discuss the following during your meeting:

  • Are the responsibilities in the job description still valid, or have they changed? If they’ve changed, are they still relevant to the role, the organisation’s goals and company mission/values? Adjust if not.
  • If they’re still valid, develop a plan to evolve the role. (We’ll talk more about this later).
  • Are expectations being met for the role? If yes, this strongly indicates that role expectations are clear and expressed through achievable goals. If not, here is a golden opportunity to boost employee morale by helping them dissect which aspects of their role are successful, and which need attention.
  • Is your employee experiencing a sense of growth and fulfilment? The same rules of thumb stated above apply. Dig into the details and discuss ways to reinforce the positive and mitigate the negative.

(Related: How To Improve Workplace Productivity).

2. Overcommunicate Your Company’s Mission.

We’ve all seen those posters in the breakroom and on corporate websites. You know the ones – there’s likely a pyramid that spells out the company’s mission, vision and values.

Yes, this form of “employer brand marketing” has good intentions. Yet everyone stops noticing it within a week.

This is unfortunate since these words are meant to communicate your company’s big-picture North Star, and keep employees motivated.

Actions speak louder than words.

Important!

Rather than displaying slogans, you and the other leaders in your company must illustrate and bring to life your organisation’s mission and values at every opportunity.

Consider every instance you interact with your team as a group or individually.

These could be daily stand-up meetings, weekly team meetings, or regular 1:1’s you have with your direct reports. Look for opportunities to communicate.

It should feel like you’re overdoing it.

Expert Tip.

Give each team member a chance to mention how their work promotes that aspect of the mission, and what challenges they foresee. Keep it as short as possible – lightning-round style. Give everyone a voice. Offer positive feedback where appropriate.

3. Foster A Sense Of Belonging.

According to PwC’s 2022 Global Workplace Hopes and Fears, 75% of employees said they wanted to work for an organisation that positively contributes to society.

While more money is a huge motivator, it’s not enough.

Employees feel motivated by meaning, which they can only derive from their connection to the company’s mission.

The chart below outlines how over 50,000 employees worldwide want to feel at work – all of which can be impacted by how you both live and articulate your company’s mission, vision and values regularly.

This study proves that when your employees feel a personal tie to the company’s mission, they’re more likely to give of themselves in exchange for the reward of meaningful work.

Check out these 3 key steps below to help employees feel more connected and motivated:

1. Be Yourself.

Transparency and authenticity are easy when things are going well, but it’s especially important when hard news needs to be delivered.

  • Example: You need to share updates on poor business performance that are causing employee layoffs on teams across the organisation. Be as honest as possible, but remember to go beyond the corporate jargon. Let your team know that, even though you represent their employer, they’re dealing with a genuine human who cares about their well-being.

2. Be Inspirational.

An employee’s morale can be low for many reasons but let’s explore one that is project-related.

  • Example: Your employee has tried something creative on a project that didn’t succeed and they’re feeling down about their talents. Remind them of their good points and offer suggestions on improving. If a factor was out of their control, offer tips on navigating obstacles in the future.

3. Live Your Values.

Similar to communicating company values, actions speak louder than words when building positive employee relationships.

As such, your own values as a manager have the potential to motivate your employees in a more personal, lasting way.

  • Example: An employee comes to you with a conflict they’re having with a leader on another team, creating tension on both sides. A management value of yours is empathy, so you listen without jumping to your own conclusions and ask non-judgmental questions along the way. Keeping an open mind will help you and your employee seek more innovative solutions together, giving your employee an increased feeling of autonomy, motivation and confidence moving forward.

4. Offer Constructive Feedback.

Let’s face it. Offering feedback comes naturally when someone has knocked it out of the park.

But when a moment arises where an employee has acted in a way that contradicts your company’s mission and values, suddenly offering feedback is not so fun. Or natural.

However, it is possible to make any positive or negative feedback constructive.

A. Use The Mission And Values.

Easier said than done, you say? Check out the example below for inspiration.

Situation:

In a group brainstorming session, one of your employees shoots down a blue-sky idea offered by another team member for the reason that “this will never work here because of X, Y and Z.”

In this situation, your response might be a two-part approach.

Part 1

In the moment, in the session, you (in an upbeat, non-judgmental way) remind everyone that one of your company values is “Think Big.”

You then suggest that before the idea is dropped, the employee who offered the idea is able to lead the group through the feasibility and viability of the concept.

The group then spends 5-10 minutes brainstorming whether or not the “big idea” is worth working into the company roadmap.

Part 2

Check in with the employee who shot down the idea and the one who offered the idea. Ask them, in a non-defensive way, what their intention was and what happened from their point of view.

Remind them of the meaning behind the “Think Big” value and let them explain their intention.

Hearing their story will help you uncover the root cause of that employee’s behaviour.

Take this opportunity to reinforce the company’s values and reiterate that the whole team exists to support the company’s overall mission.

Expert Tip.

Use your mission and values to encourage a positive work culture.

5. Create A Personalised Career Roadmap.

Now that both you and your team are clear on and behaving according to your company’s mission, vision and values, it’s time to get personal.

As in, individual career goals.

Seek to understand each employee’s motivations and create a plan where their job helps them achieve it. Where possible, create a win/win.

(Related: 100 Personalised Thank You Message Ideas).

A.  Framing The Conversation.

Begin with their job description. Assess it together and ask for their ideas on which skills are being used to their fullest and which aren’t. This leads naturally to the next bullet.

Ask them to share their thoughts on what motivates them and how their future can support the company and their personal life and development.

Finally, discuss how goals can be personal and career-related and that either could be tied to money.  

Examples are powerful inspiration, so here’s one for you.

Situation:

An employee shares that they want to put a $100,000 deposit on their first family home within 2 years. They love what they do at your company and want to make this happen within the context of working there.

Follow these 5 steps to create a successful roadmap for your employee.

  • Let the employee know that you appreciate their contributions and will do your best to work with them to try and make this happen.
  • In partnership with your employee, discuss what KPIs they need to focus on to make this happen.
  • Discuss if this is realistic based on the timeline the employee has shared, and if you agree with the chosen KPIs.
  • Brainstorm alternatives in the event company goals change.
  • Update their job description, if needed, to reflect the roadmap.

Key Questions:

  • Is it feasible for this employee to be promoted in the next 6-12 months?
  • Is there a stretch assignment they can take on to boost their experience and performance?

Important!

Document everything into a cohesive roadmap and clearly outline how and when the two of you will communicate about progress.

B. Formal Development Options.

If your company has a formal employee development program, consider making it a part of this plan.

If your company doesn’t offer a formal program, get creative and think about other ways to help your employees grow and reach their goals.

(Related: How To Improve Employee Engagement In Your Business).

Whether you’re looking at conferences, courses, mentors or stretch assignments as mentioned above, the 60/20/20 approach is a good rule of thumb:

  • 60% of learning should be done on the job (i.e., experiential).
  • 20% of learning should be through formal training.
  • 20% of learning should be from on-the-job coaching.

Whatever plan you create together, never forget that your goal as a manager to motivate your employees to do their best work and to stay with your company in the long run.

Actively involve yourself in their future plans, always tying them back to what is best for the business and what the company stands for.

Expert Tip.

The ideal mentor for your employee doesn’t have to work at your company. Open up to external options.

Final Thoughts On How To Motivate Employees As A Manager.

Your journey as a manager will be filled with highs and lows, conflicts and resolutions, wins and losses.

While it may often feel like an emotional rollercoaster, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride. Especially if you retain the theme, we’ve been driving home throughout this guide.

When motivating employees, communication is king in all its forms.

The impact of your company’s mission and values cannot be overstated. You can never communicate about them too much. Make a plan and stick to it.

Involve your team in the conversation; the rewards will far outweigh the effort.

Irene

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