Motivating Employees for Small Business Success

Greg Roworth
November 21, 2008 — 3,421 views  
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Most small business owners are very focused on motivating their employees to achieve high performance levels. But is it really possible to motivate employees? In this article, I will highlight the keys to motivating employees that are well know to successful business owners, but seem to be hidden from most, such as those who complain, "You just can't get good people these days." My response to them is that they are looking in the wrong direction for the cause of the problem.

While the concept of motivating employees may be problematic, it is certainly possible to demotivate employees. Many business owners actually create demotivation by creating a work environment that kills motivation instead of enhancing it.

These days, many of the factors that were used for motivation in the past are no longer effective, if they ever were. Employees are not simply motivated by money and employment conditions. Neither are they motivated by overbearing and demanding bosses. They are far more motivated by finding work that provides meaning and fulfilment in their lives.

To achieve business success and motivated employees, you must create a culture that encourages and enhances people's lives as they work. You must lead and manage your employees proactively, through all aspects of the employee relationship. This starts with selecting the right people in the first place.

When your people support your cause and become passionate about it, there is no need for external motivation. Their level of support increases in direct proportion to the extent to which your inspirational business values extend into the vision and mission of the organisation. People find meaning from their work by having something to stand for. Think of the way charities recruit volunteers to work for no pay.

You will only get employees to act like volunteers when they share the same values that are at the foundation of the company's vision and if they buy into the mission statement and make it their own cause. You only get real commitment and develop the behaviour you want from employees when they are driven by their own motivation to fulfil the company mission. You won't get that if they are only there for the money. You need to define the selection criteria for your people to take into account, not only their technical ability to do the job, but also their values and vision. Actively promoting your vision, mission and values and living by them, will tend to attract the right people to you.

Successful companies also employ proactive strategies to ensure they not only attract, but also retain and develop their people throughout their time with the organization. Motivated people respond positively if they feel cared for and valued. Even volunteers will lose their passion for the cause if they are made to feel like they don't matter. People want to know that their contribution counts and that their efforts are important. If the leadership does not pay attention to the people and does not give feedback to make people feel valued, the result will be low morale and unmotivated employees.

As a leader, you need to do whatever you can to empower your people to deliver the best work they can do and to become the best they can be. If you want to retain talented people who can lead your organization in the future, don't risk them leaving through the neglect of not providing career growth opportunities within your organisation. You need to develop the culture and environment that motivates others to step up and have their say, rather than hold back out of fear of getting it wrong. It is easy to squash initiative and motivation by being over-controlling and fearful of mistakes. Freeing your people to find their own greatness means that you open up avenues to excellence that would never normally be discovered. People discover their greatness through the belief that you, as a leader, demonstrate in them. This belief motivates employees to rise above their own self-imposed limitations to discover a greatness that never would have been realized otherwise.

What managers fear most is motivating employees who are underperforming. This issue can virtually be eliminated by giving the employee some degree of ownership of their own results and rewards from their involvement in the organisation. When this scenario can be engineered, there is often very little input required from the manager, because the employee is motivated to put in the requisite amount of effort and beyond, to achieve the results they want. Self motivated people are inspired by their own goals and don't need feedback or encouragement from anyone else. They make their own judgment about their performance. If their performance needs improvement, they will look for a coach to help them. But they rarely need external motivation or a pat on the back from the boss.

People who are looking for more than a job are inclined to feel somewhat resentful if they spend all their time working to make someone else rich, even if they are being paid well for the work. After a while, salary and wage income ceases to be a motivating factor in job performance. Reward systems are important in the mix, but you must not rely on your reward system itself to provide ongoing motivation. There has to be more. There has to be a sense of achievement and a sense of meaning that comes from seeing the results of contribution. There has to be a team spirit, a sense of camaraderie that motivates people to want to do it for the other person, a sense that if I don't do my best, I'll be letting the side down. There has to be the shared joy that comes from winning together.

The business owner's role in motivating employees can best be described by Frederick Herzberg's observation, "It's the job of a manager not to light the fire of motivation, but to create an environment to let each person's personal spark of motivation blaze."

About the Author

Greg Roworth owner of is an author, mentor and specialist in motivating employees and has helped many small business owners transform their average businesses into businesses that work so well, the owner can live a life of freedom, fulfilment and reward.

Greg Roworth