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5 Ways To “Be” For Better Employee Motivation

While it is not always true in every business, it is true in most. Managers do not really understand their employees. They do not know how to motivate, inspire, and correct people effectively. As I work with my clients, I hear the same questions repeatedly: “How do I get my employees to …

…quit complaining?”

…do more than the bare minimum?”

…contribute in meetings?”

…show up on time?” etc.

I also hear all kinds of answers. Some of them are good, and some are not. The good ideas show a pretty good knowledge of human nature and an effort to positively apply the principles of human behavior and interaction. The bad ones tend to feel good to the manager, but they violate some basic principle of human relations.

The first idea to tackle with this article is the phrase that starts most of these question: “How do I get my employees to …”

The short answer is: you don’t. They will choose to do what they want to do. You cannot make them do anything.

You can alter the consequences they experience as a result of their behaviors. You can modify your communication strategies to improve the odds that they hear and understand your intended message.

You can, and probably should, do all of these things to improve the odds that they will cooperate and take the desired action. You cannot make them do anything. They have to make the choice to do whatever they do.

With that foundational idea out of the way, let’s get on to the five Be’s.

Even though how people behave is a fairly complex subject,  events that often appear to be random, isolated behaviors typically fit into relatively predictable patterns for most people. If you understand the patterns, you will know what to do most of the time. To aid in the process of applying these principles, I created the Five Be’s of Motivation to make the patterns easier to remember and apply.

1. Be Positive

People generally do things for one of two reasons: to avoid pain or to pursue pleasure. As a manager, you constantly work between these two options.

If you rely too heavily on negative consequences – like verbal reprimands, threats, or other punishments – to drive behavior, people will do just enough to avoid the pain. You will continue to get the bare minimum effort from your employees despite your hard work, pushing and prodding.

If you focus on rewarding good behaviors with positive consequences for your employees, you greatly improve the likelihood that you will get cooperation and extra, discretionary effort rather than conflict, complaints and bare minimum performance.

Simply noticing and pointing out unacceptable behaviors and stopping them with punishment is easy. It takes real, concentrated effort to recognize good behaviors and praise them. Overall, you need to do both. You just want to find more ways to recognize the good so that you are less likely to see the bad.

2. Be Specific

Make sure you speak only about specific behaviors and avoid comments implying that you understand other people’s intentions. Sometimes you will need to discipline people, and other times you will offer praise. In either case, the more specific you make your words the better.

When you get emotionally involved (angry) from a negative situation, you may have a challenge finding ways to state what you see in highly specific language.

For example, let’s say that one of your employees frequently confronts you in departmental meetings. Many people will get angry with the situation and say something like “stop being rude and inconsiderate.”  Sadly, “rude” and “inconsiderate” are your interpretation of the behaviors. They are not actual behaviors.

A better statement would be, “I don’t appreciate it when you interrupt and challenge me. I see those behaviors as rude and inconsiderate. I won’t do it to you, and I don’t expect you to do it to me.” (I suggest you do this in private.) Depending on the situation, you might take further disciplinary action based on company history and workplace rules. Whether you take further action or not, focus on specific behaviors and not interpretations.

Here are some examples:

  • Rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused, smart aleck, and pushy are interpretations.
  • Interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, and tone of voice are specific behaviors.

3. Be Certain

People generally choose their behaviors (often subconsciously) based on what they expect to happen to them in the future as a result of their behavior. Whether it’s avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure, it’s still about expectations. Your employees need to know – without a doubt – what to expect from you based on their actions.

Make sure that everyone clearly understands the rules of conduct in your workplace. Ideally, you will write down anything that is mission critical to your operation. I don’t suggest that you make your employee handbook look like the Code of Federal Regulations, but you should have a few well-written and clearly defined behavioral expectations for your organization. People need to know the rules. They need to know what to expect when they follow the rules – and when they don’t.

4. Be Consistent

Consistency works in close partnership with Certainty. It is Certainty’s twin in the daily struggle to create a high-performing, results-oriented team. If you don’t consistently apply your workplace rules, your employees will never develop a sense of certainty.

Consistency applies to both positive and negative behaviors. If you say that you will reward certain behaviors, then always reward them. If you say that certain behaviors are unacceptable, always act to stop them.

5. Be Immediate

Act as close the observed behavior as possible. When your employees do something worthy of praise – do it now. When they need correction – do it now. Delayed consequences have very little impact on behavior.

I’ll illustrate the point with my behavior.

I like cheesecake. Eating cheesecake offers me both immediate and future consequences. The future consequence is negative – I could develop a weight or blood pressure problem. The immediate consequence is positive – it tastes good and gives me pleasure. When I have the opportunity to get cheesecake, I find it difficult to resist even though I understand the negative consequences. Why? The immediate, certain positive tends to overshadow the future, possible negative.

Acting immediately has an added benefit when the behavior is inappropriate. If the behavior continues without correction, you are likely to get even more angry every time you see it. As you get more and more angry, you will probably find it more difficult to keep your response proportional to the behavior (i.e. – not blowing your stack). Act now and you will be better able to maintain self-control.

Remember and use these five “rules” of motivation, and you will greatly improve the odds that people will bring their best and most productive behaviors to work with them.

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