If you’re trying to improve your employees’ motivation by throwing money at the issue, you could be making a costly mistake. What really motivates employees? It’s the #1 question I hear from managers. Frederick Herzberg answered that question with his research. He found six top drivers for personal motivation. Notice money isn’t on the list.

  • Recognition
  • The work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Growth
  • Learning

A total quality survey found five job satisfiers that increases performance: interesting and challenging work, appreciation for work done, feeling of being “in” on things, job security and good pay. Renwick and Lawler’s research found money was number 12 in a list of 18 items that contributed to work effectiveness. Their research showed that employees want to feel good about themselves, accomplish something worthwhile, do their best, and learn new skills.

In above studies, which were conducted among managers and employees, the managers often thought money was the best motivation for employees. This misperception points out a problem in management practices today: It’s not that employees aren’t willing to excel or go the extra mile; it’s that too many managers don’t understand motivation. This is a major reason employee engagement scores are so low today, it’s not just because of layoffs, fewer raises or cuts in benefits. (See my post, 10 Success Secrets of Great Managers) Daniel Pink in his book, Drive,asserts what good leaders always knew, employees are always motivated and most want to do well. As long as the money is fair, by default, it becomes employees’ sole benchmark with which to measure their commitment on the job when the working conditions or relationships aren’t very positive or constructive.

Below are three proven and practical reminders that help “motivate” employees to reach for and achieve higher performances.

Give Them Something to Achieve

Performance unfocused and unrewarded becomes progress unattempted. To prevent this from happening, managers need to start by setting clear goals and expectations. Regularly (over and above the annual or semi-annual performance reviews), sit down by collaborating with employees in a team setting, and in one on ones to review both their job duties, goals and results.

Lock and Latham, authors of the book Goal Setting: The Motivational Technique that Works, showed that in more than 110 studies, goal setting motivated employees to increase their performance. Why? Because goals create challenges for people and give them opportunities to win. Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of managers lead their employees in effective goal setting process. See what’s possible in this example.

A medium-sized client obtained a big contract from a customer and needed higher performance from its employees in order to fulfill the order on time. The management team agreed to sit down with the employees, explain the situation, and ask for input. The employees designed this solution: “For every 5 percent we are able to increase production, we would like an extra day off with pay.” Management agreed to the plan; production shot up 25 percent and the company met the deadline.

Make Them Feel Like Winners

Almost all employees say that they want more recognition. In their book the Carrot Principle, authors Gostick and Elton demonstrate that employees appreciate and perform better with consistent recognition. Too often, only the top performers in a company receive formal recognition-awards, trophies, incentives-leaving the rest feeling like losers.

Here are a few informal recognition techniques for leaders that cement positive employee and management engagement.

  • Greet people daily.
  • Know employees’ names.
  • Talk non-business just to interact personally.
  • Say thank-you.
  • Praise progress.
  • Praise people publicly.
  • Buy an employee lunch or dinner for achieving notable progress.
  • Write employees’ thank-you notes or at least send thank-you emails.
  • Provide opportunities for on-going learning.
  • Encourage employees to recognize the exceptional work of other employees.

These approaches aren’t new but they are often absent in the workplace. Good managers genuinely apply methods like these to instill a winning team environment.

Engage Them with Positive People Skills

Most employees want to know more about their company and want to be treated as partners in the business–this isn’t uncommon today. Yet, worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged. Companies often dismiss common sense ways to involve employees. For example: A new client was facing a production quality crisis, and company management had tried but could not fix the problem. I asked the management team if the employees had been consulted about the problem. Management replied somewhat perplexedly, “Why bother?”

Often it is just basic things that can make a difference. One of our client partners recently held feedback meetings with its employees to identify problems and solutions within the business. One of the major items on the employees’ list for improvement was, “we need better communication.” They defined communication to mean “Let us know about vacation schedules, teach us more about the products we carry, and talk to us more about our customer satisfactions scores and complaints.”

To relate more effectively with your team work on your communication, coaching and meeting skills. Listen to your employees and use their feedback. (See my post, How to GET Feedback When You Are The Leader)  Keep them informed about the organization, good or bad news. Admit when you are wrong. Sincerely empathize with your employees’ needs and problems, and they will reciprocate. In the end, they’ll also be more productive team members. These are all part of the emotional intelligence skills that Daniel Goleman teaches.

This quote by the late Steven Covey summarizes a key to employee motivation, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” If leaders do this and use the ideas above, employees will actually become self-motivated to achieve key company goals–guaranteed!

By the way, do you want to learn how to increase employee engagement and inspire your team? Check out our complimentary eBook: How to Motivate-No-Inspire People.

If you are looking to accelerate your leadership career, check out my book: Superstar Leadership.