Need to Motivate Employees? It Might Be Time to Shift Your Management

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Motivating employees can be tough when organizational goals are regularly changing, so you must be willing to shift your viewpoint.

As you well know, businesses are anything but static entities. They’re more like variable organisms that change on a day-to-day basis.

So how do you deal with the issue of motivating employees when organizational goals are regularly changing? Well, you must be willing to shift, pivot, or turn at any given moment.

Being ready and willing to shift is the first important part of the equation, but the next and larger part is that you must know where and how to shift. 

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Changing Organizational Structure

Sometimes you need to light a fire under employees for a few weeks—or just enough time to finish a project or meet a deadline. Other times, it needs to be permanent. In these situations, you have to consider a fundamental change in your organizational approach and structure. There’s no better example of this than Zappos.

In late 2013, the progressive online shoe and clothing company shook the business world at its core when CEO Tony Hsieh announced the company would be replacing its traditional organizational structure with a holacracy—or radical self-governing model with no managers or job titles. Instead of having a typical top-down management model, Zappos decided it would introduce a flatter model that equally distributes power across the organization.

The motivation for this shift was two-fold. First, Hsieh was looking to encourage employees to take more responsibility for their roles. “Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their roles, and Holacracy empowers them to do so,” he said. Second, Hsieh wanted people to be intrinsically motivated to come to work each and every day. “One of the core principles is people taking personal accountability for their work,” he reiterated. “It’s not leaderless.”

While Zappos may have been the first to transition to a holacracy, it isn’t the only company to make a change in recent months. All across the world—in virtually every industry—businesses have discovered that changing the organizational structure within their companies is an effective way to motivate employees and harvest new success.

For example, taking a look at Housing. This young, India-based company is the first online real estate platform in the world to reach one million verified property listings. While a lot went into making this accomplishment a reality, much of the success was a result of how company leaders dealt with motivating employees through strategic organizational changes.

To garner so many listings, Housing used a team of Data Collectors (DCs). These are people that visited properties, gathered information, and organized data. “The path to success however, has not been an easy one,” the company blog reads. “In a field that is often plagued by a high attrition rate, low motivation and several operational issues, creating a performance model that was mutually beneficial for the DCs as well as the business took some trial and error.”

Ultimately, Housing realized that the traditional hierarchy wasn’t the best way to motivate and communicate with DCs. Instead, they decided to reach out on an individual basis through an internal SMS campaign. The decision worked, with listings growing by 250 percent the following month.

Motivating with KITA

Sometimes it’s individual employees that need motivation—not the organization or team. In these cases, you obviously shouldn’t shift your entire company structure to deal with a few isolated cases. One effective method of motivation is a good old-fashioned kick in the rear—or KITA for short.

Don’t worry—your HR department isn’t going to come after you. We’re talking about a psychological kick, not a physical one. While there’s all sort of talk about secretly motivating employees, sometimes it’s best to simply lay it all out on the table. Give employees a healthy dose of reality and tell them exactly what you want. Obviously you’ll need some sort of positive or negative reinforcement to provide leverage, so here are a few tips:

  • Less time at work. People wrongly assume that KITA motivation has to have a negative threat attached, but it can actually go the other way. You may be able to motivate employees by allowing them to leave when they’re done.
  • Opportunities for personal growth. Money is certainly a motivating factor, but it does have its limitations. Ultimately, you need to tap into what really matters to the individual. Maybe the employee wants to travel and see the world. Maybe they’re hoping to spend more time with their family. Get to the heart of these issues and find ways to motivate the employee with these desires.
  • Positive and negative recognition. Most employees won’t admit it, but recognition goes a long way in motivating. Not only does recognition make the individual feel good, but it also encourages their peers to pursue the same goals. And, contrary to popular belief, you can use negative recognition to motivate, too. In addition to honoring the top salesperson, you can also make mention of who the bottom salespeople are. When done the right way, this negative recognition is an extremely effective motivator. 

Make Communication a Priority

Unmotivated employees are typically employees who don’t understand the company’s goals. While this could be the individual employee’s fault, this issue usually falls on the shoulders of the company. It’s up to you to make communication a priority.

Employees should feel like they understand the mission of the company and where they fit. If there’s a disconnect between their role in helping the company accomplish short and long-term goals, it’s going to be challenging to motivate them.

Furthermore, employees should feel like what they say matters. Otherwise, they’ll feel overlooked and won’t put forth as much effort as they can. “A company's decision-making process includes active communication throughout the organization,” George N. Root writes for Chron.com. “Employees should be allowed as many ways as possible to offer their ideas and opinions, and be part of the decision-making process.”

Related Article: Motivation First: The Steps to Building a Mindful Company Culture

Don’t Overthink Things

Sometimes business owners get too caught up in the psychology of motivating employees and overlook obvious solutions. Have you ever considered that the issue with your employees’ overall level of motivation may not be super complicated? Increasing productivity and motivating your workers may be as simple as switching up your office environment.

According to psychologist and business professor, Matthew Davis, studies have shown that the physical office environment plays a powerful role in shaping numerous psychological and behavioral outcomes, including work motivation.

Talk with employees and find out if there’s something you can do to establish a better work environment. Commonly suggested tips include incorporating more natural light into the office, keeping the temperature between 71 and 77 degrees, using neutral colors, and encouraging employees to keep tidy workspaces.

Make Motivation a Priority

Are you motivated to make motivation a priority? It may sound like a silly question, but the truth is that many businesses are content with where they are. Company leaders may complain about an overall lack of motivation when they’re disinterested themselves. If you want to maximize each employee, you need to make motivation a top priority. It will take some work to get there, but you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Study what other companies are doing, immerse yourself in new ideas, and don’t be afraid to institute changes in your organization. Treating businesses like static entities will get you nowhere; you must be willing to shift.

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