If you’re like most small and midsize business (SMB) leaders, you’re focused on one thing headed into 2020: growing your business.
But in the midst of fast growth—which entails onboarding lots of new hires, implementing new tools, distributing responsibilities, updating processes, and making changes—it can be easy to fall out of sync with your employees.
You’re focused on the future, while employees are more concerned with the here and now.
Before employee productivity and morale start to lag (to disastrous effect), it’s time to rally the troops.
There’s a lot that you and your management team can do to reassure employees that you care about their day-to-day effectiveness. By enabling them to meet their goals, they’ll in turn be more committed to helping the business achieve its strategic goals.
In this article, we’ll highlight ten ways you can motivate employees and keep them engaged, so you can retain an effective workforce and achieve growth goals.
10 employee motivation strategies
Give employees the tools they need to do their job well
After nearly 20 years of studying employee engagement as part of their State of the American Workplace report, Gallup has found that the single biggest indicator of job stress or job satisfaction is whether employees have the tools they need to do their jobs well.
The right tools streamline role-specific tasks and cut down on the time required for non role-specific tasks (such as internal communication/collaboration, answering email, and tracking down information).
However, when tools and processes are outdated, they impede productivity rather than enable it. Inefficiency leads to disengagement as frustrated employees eventually stop caring about doing their jobs well and settle for “good enough.”
It’s critical that managers assess employee needs and work to mitigate inefficiencies whenever possible. Make a business case for the tools employees need to do their work well, and you’ll see the return on your investment as employee productivity and engagement increase.
Communicate how their role connects to the mission of the business
No one aspires to be a cog in the machine—that is, functionally necessary but of minor significance to the larger business operation. Most people want to feel connected to the bigger picture and, more importantly, want to believe in their company’s mission and purpose.
And yet, while trying to meet their day-to-day responsibilities and requirements, it’s easy for employees to lose sight of how their role makes a difference, not just to the inner workings of the business but to the customers and end users the business serves.
It’s your job as business leaders and managers to continuously show employees how their work helps fulfill that higher purpose. Seek out “mission moments,” “big wins,” and “little wins,” and share these stories in your internal newsletter, community forum, and team meetings.
Provide advancement opportunities
People voluntarily leave their jobs for a number of reasons: job fit, company culture, manager or management, pay and benefits, etc. However, the number one reason why people change jobs is for career advancement, according to a survey by LinkedIn.
Motivate employees to stay at your company by providing a clear path for promotion and development. Outline the criteria they must meet to move up in their role, give them the opportunity to do so, and then provide ongoing feedback on their progress.
Acknowledge employee achievements
Constructive criticism may help us learn from past mistakes, but recognizing a job well done is what encourages us to raise the performance bar for our future endeavors.
Offering praise for good work helps employees feel valued for their contributions. Typically, the most meaningful recognition comes from managers and senior leadership, but feedback from peers and customers (if applicable) can also be important.
Of course, in order to recognize achievements, it’s important to work with employees to set goals for themselves. This serves to benchmark their current standing and will help inform the metrics used to measure their progress and success.
Remember that specificity and immediacy are important, but so is the medium through which praise is given. Praise can be delivered through face-to-face recognition, a shout-out in your team’s internal newsletter, or an informal email (either directly or in a chain). One medium isn’t necessarily better than the other, but some are better suited to a specific context.
Set up peer accountability
How many times do we set goals for ourselves only to have that item remain unchecked on our to-do list? (Looking at you, dusty 2018 New Year’s resolutions.) It’s easy to de-prioritize something we’ve promised ourselves; it’s a lot harder to de-prioritize something we’ve promised someone else.
In fact, accountability studies have shown if you commit a goal to someone else, the likelihood of you achieving that goal is 65%. And, if you set up recurring check-ins with that person to report progress toward your goal, the likelihood of achieving your goal increases to 95%.
In this way, peer accountability can be leveraged not only to motivate employees, but to set standards for productivity among teams.
Define your company culture and build a community around it
Your employees spend a lot of time at work. Not to put too fine a point on it, but their 40-hour work week averages out to roughly 2,000 hours per year that they spend in their work environment.
Maybe it’s not so surprising then that more people change jobs in search of a better company culture than they do for better compensation or benefits, according to a survey by LinkedIn.
Performing a culture fit assessment during the hiring process can ensure you’re hiring people who embody the ideals of your company and who will add to the success of the team, not detract from their performance.
However, it’s also important to use the company culture you’ve defined to cultivate a work environment where employees feel connected and supported. This means hosting team-based events and activities during and outside of work hours to encourage bonding and facilitate friendships.
Be as transparent as possible
Most people prefer to wait to share news or announce changes until all the details have been ironed out. It seems counterintuitive to admit you don’t know something when your goal is to build understanding.
However, this sort of admission is exactly what you should do to build trust and improve employee engagement. Be transparent with employees about business decisions as they’re being made (e.g., strategy shifts, change initiatives, and growth goals), acknowledge the things you don’t know yet, and provide them the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback.
When decisions get made behind closed doors, it leads to discontent or, worse, active disengagement. However, an open-door policy improves the collective motivation of your workforce and keeps employees committed to the direction of your business.
Leave room for the 20%
Overworking employees leads to stress and discontent (and is also a leading cause of turnover). It also decreases value, increases errors, and costs your organization both time and money.
To avoid overcommitting your staff, follow the 80/20 rule. This means management and employees plan their queue at 80% utilization, and leave 20% slack in the system. The slack helps buffer for miscalculations and unforeseen changes, while still allowing you to complete 100% of what you planned to get done.
Ask for—and respond to—feedback
While your employee engagement strategy should include more than an annual survey, this can be a great tool to get a read on how your employees actually feel about their workplace:
- Do they feel that their opinions matter?
- Do they think leadership communicates effectively with the rest of the organization?
- Do they feel they’re in a role that makes the most of their skills and talent?
Lead by example
Finally, one of the best ways to motivate employees is to lead by example. The tone you set impacts employees on every level, from work ethic, to company culture, to the general vibe and energy of the office.
Why turnover is a threat to small business growth goals
The less engaged employees are at work, the more likely they are to seek other job opportunities.
Business leaders and managers know this and tend to feel that if an apathetic (or actively disengaged) person wants to leave, it’s best for all parties and they’ll find a more committed employee to replace them.
While this seems true in theory, in practice it costs the same to replace a not-engaged employee as it does to replace one who believes in and is enthusiastic about their work.
Specifically, this ranges from 16% up to 213% of a position’s annual compensation, (costs increase relative to the skill and experience required for that role), meaning turnover is simply not something you can afford if you’re trying to grow your SMB.
If employees jump ship (and 51% are considering doing just that), you’ll spend your time, money, and energy replacing them instead of focusing your resources on growth.
For your small businesses to achieve its growth goals, you need productive, dedicated employees on board for the journey, who are:
- Willing to adapt to organizational changes
- Supportive of and committed to change initiatives
- Able to inspire apathetic employees to get on board with growth efforts
Following the tips we’ve outlined above will help you motivate and retain the right employees and better position your SMB to achieve it’s growth goals.
What strategies do you have for reducing turnover? How else do you motivate employees and keep them engaged at work? Tell me in the comments below.