Q&As: Get Employees to Stretch for High Goals

Q: How do you motivate employees to reach for higher goals?

A: People have a place that I refer to as their comfort zone. It’s a place that’s familiar and risk free. Reaching for higher goals means leaving the comfort zone, and leaving the comfort zone means taking risks; if the risks are too big, fear will demotivate, and no action will take place. Through coaching, a manager can encourage an employee to set goals that would take him or her out of this comfort zone. When the risks are reasonable and the goals achievable, the employee will experience feelings of accomplishment, power, and self-esteem and, subsequently, will be motivated to set more goals outside the comfort zone.

Q: Joe is my top salesperson, but he never completes his paperwork on time. His procrastination is interfering with the productivity of the entire office. How can I motivate him to get his paperwork turned in on time?

A: Explain how the problem is interfering with company productivity, and assign Joe the task of finding at least two solutions to the problem. If he’s unable to find agreeable solutions, analyze the task and procedures to discover new strategies for dealing with the problem. For example, because he dislikes the task, he probably procrastinates and finds himself overwhelmed. One solution could be to make it a daily task of 30 minutes rather than a weekly task of 2 to 3 hours; another solution could be to pair Joe with another salesperson or employee who is paperwork efficient so they can share organizational strategies; and a third solution might be to consider Joe’s people personality. Is he the most productive in people-stimulating situations? Arrange a work environment that accommodates that need.

Q: How do I motivate an employee who is going through a family crisis so he or she maintains productivity?

A: Employees only have so many points of attention they can give their work. When there’s a family crisis, even though they’re physically present in the workplace, most of their attention is given to the family crisis; therefore, productivity diminishes. Short-term decreases in productivity can be ignored; however, with a prolonged crisis, the manager should meet with the employee to express concern and support as well as offer options with regard to time off. The manager can’t control the crisis but can provide a caring and supportive work environment. When people feel understood, they free up points of attention that, subsequently, will be refocused on the completion of work tasks.

Q: Our company has just gone through a major layoff, and the remaining employees are being asked to take on new responsibilities as well as continue previous tasks. How can I motivate them?

A: Before you can motivate people to take on new responsibilities willingly, you must provide time for expressions of anger, resentment, and fear of the future. People need time to vent their feelings either in a group or a one-on-one situation. Once that process has taken place, managers must commit to open and honest communication, particularly about the company’s financial future and direction. Managers also need to coach individuals about new roles and responsibilities, use creative problem solving to redesign tasks and procedures for more efficiency, and offer continuous training so employees feel capable of performing new tasks.

Q: Because of the restructuring of our industry, the long-term employees are feeling resentment that all their years of dedicated service no longer ensure job security. How do I motivate them to continue their commitment?

A: Job security, as many employees once knew it, no longer exists. The only real security exists within the employees and is expressed in the trust and beliefs they have about themselves. Managers can help build that trust and new beliefs by encouraging employees to view themselves not just within the boundaries of a specific job but to see themselves from a broader view—in charge of their own personal career development. By meeting with employees and pointing out strengths and weaknesses, managers can guide them to consciously plan their own careers by learning new skills, taking courses, and enrolling in long-range development programs. Employees will be motivated to continue their commitment when they realize that taking responsibility for their career development will replace their lost feelings of job security and also provide them with choice, freedom, power, and a sense of purpose.

Q: How do I motivate my employees to deliver the results I want?

A: When communication improves, so does motivation. Employees are not mind readers. The more clarity, direction, information, guidance, instruction, training, and support you give employees, the more likely you are to get the results you want.

Q: How do I get an employee to take responsibility for his or her own performance?

A: Good managers create the environments that foster motivation and responsibility. In such an environment, communication is open and safe; employees know the work they do is meaningful; they know how their specific contribution supports other teams; and they know why it’s critical for them to produce quality work. In this environment, risk taking is encouraged, goal setting is ongoing, and both managers and employees are involved in problem solving and decision making. In addition, managers provide feedback, resources, and growth opportunities; communicate encouragement and acknowledgment; and provide recognition, rewards, increased levels of responsibility, and job advancement. Employees experience the benefits of taking responsibility for their performance.

Q: Two of my employees are constantly bickering about work tasks and responsibilities. How do I motivate them to be more productive and less disruptive in the workplace?

A: Employees generally bicker over work tasks because their manager has not clearly defined their roles and responsibilities. Meet with each employee individually to discuss the problem and clarify any uncertainties in roles and responsibilities. If the problem persists, ask each employee to provide two solutions to the problem and work to come to an agreement. If the bickering continues, it’s likely that job tasks are not the real issue, and I would suggest the use of a conflict mediator to get to the real source of the problem.

Q: How do I motivate my employees to take initiative rather than rely on me for continuous direction?

A: Taking initiative is a risk. If you want your employees to make decisions and not rely on you for continuous direction, you have to create a work atmosphere that encourages risk taking. That means when an employee makes a mistake, he or she is guided, not chided! When you, as the manager, allow and encourage initiative without backlash, it will happen.

Q: How do I motivate myself when I feel overwhelmed, criticized, and unappreciated?

A: Focus on your past successes. Remember times when you were highly motivated, and look for what pushed you and gave you that internal drive. Break down your work into manageable tasks, and delegate. Let go. Look at criticism to see whether there are legitimate points. Face your critics, and ask them for suggestions. Appreciate yourself by acknowledging your personal effort. Use your strengths to move forward, and seek to improve areas where you are weak. Put things in perspective. Take a vacation day, and do something you enjoy. Just remember, when you are motivated, your employees will be more motivated.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.