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What's the Best Way to Motivate Staff in Tough Times?

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 07:44

By Leon Gettler

In the tough market conditions we are going through now, performance productivity and retaining skilled staff are more critical than ever before. In a difficult market, managers have to find a way to motivate employees without using money. For sure, cash will always be a major factor in motivating people and a solid compensation plan is critical to attracting and keeping key personnel. But additional cash is not always the only answer. Indeed, in many cases not even the best answer.

Erin White in The Wall Street Journal says managers have to be especially careful in challenging times. “When you become increasingly hard-grinding, trying to get more out of people with less, and if you do it in a way where you’re criticiszing people, that will work against you. It’ll tighten people up and stress them out. The great managers know how important it is to build relationships all the time and have fun at work. Managers feel the pressure. When you’re under pressure, the instinct is to tighten up and to think you have to run it militaristically, but you don’t.”

Writing in Inc.com, Ilya Pozin suggests managers instead be generous with praise, empower staff to work together as a team (“Allowing people to work together as a team, on an equal level with their co-workers, will often produce better projects faster. People will come in early, stay late, and devote more of their energy to solving problems”), make your ideas theirs, never criticise or correct and instead try an indirect approach (“Was that the best way to approach the problem? Why not? Have any ideas on what you could have done differently?”), get them to be the example for others, take them out to lunch once a week without making it too official and give them recognition and small rewards which won’t break the bank like dinner, trophies, spa services, and plaques, throw company parties and celebrate their achievements.

HR specialists offer a range of suggestions. They include giving people more flexible hours, letting them telecommute, publicising their successes, thanking them, making work a more fun place, introducing people to key suppliers, customers or someone in senior management, rewarding effort as well as success and celebrating their birthdays.

The zeitgeist manager site says managers can motivate staff by investing in their development. The key here, we’re told, is that people really get motivated when they have the opportunity to build their skills and advance their careers. Managers should work with that.

“Become a career coach for your staff. Help them to succeed on the career ladder in your company. Ideally you aim to develop them to replace yourself in your position, given that you are confident enough that you can do better than now.”

The question is why aren’t we seeing more of this happening? What’s stopping managers from doing this?

The consultants at McKinsey say their research suggests a lot of managers are reluctant to go down this direction. While it costs the company nothing, it takes up more of their time. “One HR director we interviewed spoke of their tendency to “hide” in their offices—primarily reflecting uncertainty about the current situation and outlook. This lack of interaction between managers and their people creates a highly damaging void that saps employee engagement.”

So in the end, motivating staff in tough times comes down to one thing – the quality and motivation of managers.