Friday, August 14, 2009

7 Ways to Energize Employees

Times are tough and there is no room for gloom, so what can you do to keep your staff energized and productive? My first response is, please don’t tell them they are lucky to have a job! Nothing is as demoralizing, alienating, and just plain unfeeling as having the boss not care. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of a hard sell, so let’s agree that it’s sucky and move on.

I drew up a list of things that have worked for me time and again – in up markets and down. These tactics dont' seek to buy favor, won’t cost very much, and really build relationships that produce tangible results for everyone. You might notice many of these items require personalizing the experience to the individual – that’s on purpose. I’m not a fan on one-size-fits-all managing, because it never works. People are unique and should be recognized and treated as such. Do the work, trust me, it will pay dividends.

Provide Structure

For many, the quickest way to get them cranked up about their job is to clearly define it. What are the expectations? How will accomplishments be measured? What defines a positive result? Documenting and sharing these answers will provide certainty, security, and allow business to continue smoothly when things get bumpy.

Thank them. Personally.

People like getting thanked for going the extra mile. I don’t usually thank people for doing their job, because it’s their job, and it sets a bad precedent since they are getting paid to do it. Strong leaders get the heck out of the way and let people do their thing, but they make sure to step in and say thanks when the situation calls for it.

Recognize people the way they like to be recognized

I once worked at a place where every month at the big department meeting managers would put up someone from their team to be “recognized.” As their names were called, these people were made to stand up. Usually they were being thanked for doing their job, which we covered in the first bullet, and managers thought they had done a good thing. People hated it. Many did not like being praised in public for doing their job. They thought it was stupid. I use note cards to thank people. Most like it because they know I actually went out, bought stationary, and took the time to detail why I was appreciative and what the benefit of their action was. Many have kept them, hanging them in their cubicles as a sort of collection. How did I decide on note cards? I asked.

Do something unusual

Ok, so I didn’t tell the whole story above. When I first asked the recognition question, the response was, “Show me the money!” It’s always, “Show me the money!” which makes it one of the hardest conversations to have. Money as recognition is just bad. It’s a short term fix that sets up all the wrong precedents. Money is for salaries, or bonuses, not recognition. If you aren’t comfortable having this kind of conversation try this instead, invent something unusual. It gets noticed and, believe me, the more creative it is the more personal it feels. Here’s what this looks like: To help fight the winter blues, I once held a celebration in February for Waitangi Day. It wasn’t much, just a cake and some drinks supplied at lunchtime along with a few printouts of what Waitangi Day is all about. It broke the monotony of winter and gave the team something to talk about.

Introduce them around

Although I said money-as-recognition is not recommended, there is another kind of currency that you can tap – social currency. People like to know they are going places in the company, but it feels even better when someone else sees it too. Taking the opportunity to introduce staff to others in the organization – whether its to others in a higher position or another area of interest to your employee – indicates that you are aware of this persons value and are willing to cultivate it through helping them build relationships.

Time for training

This one pays for itself. Allow folks the time to get training, and not only will they appreciate the experience, but the group benefits from their new skills as well.

Challenge them with “The Impossible Task”

A longtime favorite of mine, the impossible task is an idea that will significantly improve the business. I say “idea” and not “project” since it should really be a radical game-changing idea, just outside the bounds of possibility. When President Kennedy announced on May 25, 1961 that we would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, much of the science, materials, and technology to make this happen didn’t exist. It was an impossible task. By marshalling resources and applying focus, America was able to land on the moon in 1969. The impossible task allows employees to have ownership over a common goal that gives purpose and provides focus. And, it is that energy that allows for quantum leaps in business.

What are some of the ways in which you energize your employees?

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