What Motivates Your Employees? The Answer Might Surprise You.

Imagine you have a few free weekend hours and must choose between two chores: Do your monthly grocery shopping tip or plan your summer vacation.

If you don't go grocery shopping, you'll need to make several smaller trips throughout the month to bakeries, drugstores, convenience stores and more. Not only will you be making more trips, but you'll also be spending more time and money.

More likely, you'd much rather plan your vacation, even though your vacation is months away and you can do planning at any time of day.

Odds are, you make the decision that most people would: Plan your vacation. It's just how human nature works.

Leveraging Human Nature to Grow Your Business

Business owners must understand that when employees are faced with a choice or a need to prioritize tasks, they'll use choose what's best for them. Economists know this as "utility" -- the value of something to a person.

In an ideal world, employees and owners would always make business choices that are in the best interest of the company and its sustainable growth. Those who understand how to encourage employees may align individual incentives with company goals, but they must remember that financial incentives aren't always the most important reward.

Because people will choose the option that has the most utility for them, there will be a range of factors that influence their decisions, including:

  • Financial rewards
  • Intellectual effort
  • Physical effort
  • Capability
  • Personal relationships involved
  • Challenge
  • Personal recognition
  • Immediate and long-term pleasure

If that doesn't complicate things enough, business owners must also recognize that each factor carries different weights for different people.

Consider pleasure as an example. Pleasure is a strong motivator for most of us, although some prefer immediate gratification, while others are in it for the long-term reward.

The Road to Greatness Is Lined With the Goodwill of Others

As merchants want to grow, be proactive and exercise their creativity, they'll find that they have additional obstacles to overcome and must depend on the goodwill of others to conquer them.

Look at what happens when you make a request from a professional in your organization. They may give you 15 reasons why it's impossible for them to meet your deadline. Many of the reasons are plausible, consistent and technically correct. But sometimes the real (unspoken) reason is simply that they don't want to do it.

There's a big difference between getting employees to do the bare minimum and accomplish truly outstanding things -- and that difference depends solely on the personal will of those involved.

How Can We Encourage and Reward Employees?

When business leaders are striving to improve the results employees deliver, does it make sense to control their hours? After all, how do you reimburse someone for a brilliant idea they had in the shower? Or deduct time spent on Facebook while at work?  For intellectual teams, using time sheets may send staff this message: "We want you to think about the company only between the time you sign in and the time you sign out."

Are these the teams that will make a difference? Probably not. Thinking knows no borders and has no start or end time.

Given the complexity of this matter, how should we address it? There's no right answer or ready-to-use formula. If there were, every company with well-designed incentive programs would perform the same and leaders wouldn't be as highly valued as they are.

Companies are made up of individuals who should be recognized as such. So business leaders must take the time to understand their employees and the individual motivations each has.

People must take pleasure in their work, so assign them roles that suit their motivation. How can managers best ensure this happens? Speak with the employees. Ask them questions, and listen to their answers. Those who love what they do have no limit on their potential and will find that financial reward is but a small piece of the compensation puzzle.

New Call-to-action