Motivating employees can be a mysMotivating employees can be a mystery for leaders

Employee motivation is one of the most frustrating and oft-lamented challenges of leaders. One of the difficulties of motivating employees is that successful techniques vary by the situation and the employee involved.

Creativity on the part of a leader is critical to improve the motivational environment. The truth is that each employee’s motivation is intrinsic. As a leader, I cannot take responsibility for any employee’s motivation. However, the leader is held accountable for setting an environment where employees can tap their inward motivation.

In any case, there are some techniques that have a good track record for improving the motivation and productivity of employees. Let me share three of them with you. Mind you, this is not an exhaustive list. My ideas include: talk about how you talk; be clear about your expectations; and explain the whys behind changes.

I believe that one of the most value-added tasks a work group can engage in is periodic discussion of how the group talks during the work day. Even though we have repeated evidence that our communication fails, we continue to expect others to understand our meanings and blame them if they don’t. Each employee and leader speaks from a unique field of experience using personalized interpretations of words and nonverbal messages. When a team discusses respectful communication behaviors and agrees upon communication ground rules, team members usually choose to adopt more effective behaviors.

Once the team agrees to use more effective communication behaviors, leaders need to paint a picture for their employees, explaining what a success would look like. One of the best ways to create this picture is with what I call an expectations communication meeting. I advise leaders to sit down with their teams all together and explain what is expected of them and listen to what the followers expect of the leader and of each other. The flow of expectations should go in all directions.

The third motivational tip to explain the whys behind the changes. With the speed of business and changing priorities today many leaders tell me, “I don’t have time to explain every little thing to my employees.” If that is true, you need to reprioritize your responsibilities. Communicating why the organization has chosen a certain direction and requires specific behaviors should be high on a leader’s list of responsibilities. When you are asking employees to make a change, ask your self, “Do I know why this new behavior needs to be performed?” If not, seek that information elsewhere. If you do, make sure you tell those who have to make it happen.

I have collected many other motivational techniques from clients in the 30 years that I have consulted with organizations. The key is that you have to respect and value your employees. If you do, the above techniques will be simple. All leaders can create more positive motivational environments. It does take time to think about it, time to do it, and just a tad bit of creativity.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, Everyday Leadership usually appears each Wednesday on the Business page.