Managers who want to get the most out of their employees can employ a variety of proven tactics to properly energize and motivate their workforce.
Hard skills are required in management, just as they are in most professions. But Dr. Mike Crant, the Mary Jo and Richard M. Kovacevich Professor of Excellence in Leadership Instruction at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, says that soft skills, such as dealing directly with people, can be equally important.
”Management is a social art,” Crant says. “Management is about getting things done through people.”
The ability to choose and develop the right employees, and knowing how to motivate them to help achieve success, is critical. According to Crant, managers should view employees as assets.
“People are human capital, and it makes sense to invest in them,” Crant says, “and do whatever you can do to try and improve their productivity on the job.”
Effective managers, those who rise to the top of their respective organizations, are capable of influencing others to help them succeed.
In order to do that, managers must motivate by directing and sustaining employee efforts in a way that keeps them engaged and focused on the tasks that matter most. Crant says managers want employees who embody the WIN principle – What’s Important Now.
“They’re spending their time where it needs to be spent. They’re not surfing the internet. They’re not paying their bills,” he says. “They’re focused on what’s most important for the organization at that point in time.”
Motivation can be as simple as keeping the best employees engaged so they remain with the organization. Motivation can reduce or eliminate absenteeism. At its peak, proper motivation can cause employees to instinctively go above and beyond what’s expected, to take risks and perform tasks that might not necessarily be part of their job description.
How managers deal with employees, especially employees who struggle at times, can be paramount to success.
Job performance, according to Crant, comes down to three criteria: Ability, situation and effort.
Employees must have the ability to perform the specific job they were hired to do. Some people are best suited for work that requires strong reasoning and research skills. Others are more social and need to work in a public capacity. And still others may be more mechanically inclined.
Hiring or promoting the wrong people to fill certain jobs can spell disaster. But placing the right person in the right situation, whether an environment, a job design or a specific task assignment, can yield dividends. Finally, the employee must possess a willingness to work hard and give maximum effort, which also is an indicator of proper motivation.
“Job performance is a function of all three things, and they all have to be present for someone to perform at a high level,” Crant says. “Lots of one of these won’t compensate for a lack of the other.”
When an employee is not performing his or her job to expectations, managers must be able to diagnose what area they are lacking in before they respond to that individual’s poor performance.
If the issue is a lack of ability, the answer may be to provide training to the employee to help get them where they need to be. It also might be time for a review of internal criteria to ascertain how someone who lacks ability was hired, Crant notes.
If the issue is the employee’s situation, the manager must tackle that head-on.
“Management is about putting other people in a position to succeed. Management is about creating favorable situations,” Crant says. “So if an employee is struggling not because of ability or because of effort but because we’ve asked them to do something that for whatever reason is a seemingly impossible task, it’s up to management to help remove the hurdles from their path.”
One critical error that some managers make is to simply blame the employee for struggling instead of considering the situation that might be causing the issue.
What should managers do, though, when they determine that an employee is properly skilled at a job and has been placed in the right situation, but simply lacks the desire to put forth enough effort?
According to Crant, they must drill down deeper to try to figure out why the employee is lacking motivation. There are seven specific determinants of motivation that Crant suggests a manager must consider, ranging from the employee’s personality to whether the employee is being properly recognized or rewarded on the job.
“A big determinant of motivation is rewards systems,” Crant says. “What are the outcomes that people receive following their actions at work? Are they rewarded commensurate upon their contributions? This is a huge determinant of a human’s motivation. How do they feel about the treatment by their manager and employer in general?”
People as a whole are motivated by how they feel they are being treated, and this can result in either positive or negative behavior.
Even how the employee feels about himself or herself can impact their performance.
“What about someone’s true beliefs about their likelihood of success? How much self-confidence one has -- this determines motivation,” he says. “People that believe in themselves are far more likely to succeed than people who harbor doubts.”
Employees who are dissatisfied with their job can exhibit specific indicators – showing up late for work or not at all, using prohibited substances at work or just presenting a negative attitude. An employee with a bad attitude can influence other workers subconsciously, creating a deeper issue.
Two significant facets of job satisfaction come from how well an employee feels they are being compensated financially, and how challenging they believe their job to be.
Managers can proactively influence job satisfaction by routinely inquiring what their workers think about what they are being paid, how they are being supervised and whether they believe opportunities exist for promotion.
“When your subordinates make statements that imply they feel dissatisfied, you should pay attention,” Crant says.