Empowerment, career development and recognition are standard ways of motivating employees but the real key is employee engagement.
The talent war can’t be won by recruitment alone. Talent retention depends on crucial skills for managing people, motivating them and making them feel valued. Unfortunately many of the standard techniques are too superficial to have much lasting effect, but they are better than nothing.
Standard Approaches to Motivating Employees
Empowerment goes a long way toward managing people well. Giving them the authority to make decisions for which they used to have to seek approval from their bosses is liberating. Recognition also helps; giving people a pat on the back for a job well done is a good lift, even if the effect is temporary.
Some companies stress the value of career development. They feel that giving employees personal development opportunities will motivate them to stay. The power of this technique depends on whether it is given out freely or is dependent on performance. Rewards are more valuable if the employee feels that they are earned rather than freely given which causes them to become taken for granted. This is why recognition is more powerful than annual pay increases. Showing employees that you appreciate how they handled a tough challenge is directly linked to the effort they made to get the job done. Direct reinforcement generates more personal satisfaction at work and increases the likelihood of similar performance in the future.
Engagement: The Key to Motivating Employees
The best way to engage employees is to ask them for their ideas, advice or solutions. When employees approach their bosses with a problem, smart managers will ask them what they think, what they see as the options for dealing with the problem and what they would recommend. Similarly, when great managers have an issue they can’t resolve themselves, or even if they already know the answer, they ask employees for input.
Weak managers lack sufficient confidence to ask employees for their suggestions. They base their confidence on their ability to know the answers, to appear strong and decisive. They feel that it is a sign of weakness to ask anyone for help or input. It is not entirely their fault. Most organizational cultures still promote people to senior positions based on their ability to convey a macho ability to call the shots in a very self-reliant, individual manner. Such managers make themselves look good but their short term gains are at the long term expense of the organization. This is because the boss takes all the credit for being the hero, for having all the answers and always knowing what to do while employees reporting to such a boss are made to feel like menial assistants.
Smart managers know that their long term success depends on talent retention and employee motivation. They also know that the world is too complex for them to have all the answers. As a result, they make themselves even more successful because, by getting more input, they develop better solutions and they have a more motivated, loyal workforce.
In summary, a combination of techniques is recommended to manage people effectively, but the real key to making people feel valued is to ask them for their advice or opinion. Knowledge workers work with their brains more than their hands. They want to feel they are contributing. So, to keep them interested you need to ask them for their ideas. Managers who don’t understand this vital point are blocking their own success as well as their organization’s.