7 strategies for maximising workforce motivation

Leadership, Productivity,

Modern or ‘new-school’ leaders and managers should implement seven strategies to improve motivation and discretionary effort on the part of employees, according to a leadership expert.

“Leaders and managers in today’s successful and growing organisations are much more strategic and focused on the individual than ever before,” said Adrian Goldsmith, manager of Leadership Management Australasia’s Leadership, Employment and Direction (LEAD) Survey.

“In essence the ‘old-school’ adages of ‘one size fits all’ and ‘treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen’ no longer allow organisations to get the best from an employee or team member.”

Goldsmith said leaders and managers who don’t invest time and energy in understanding their people and their motivations run a very real risk that the needs of their people won’t be met or supported by the organisation – and those valuable team members could become disengaged, disillusioned and unproductive.

“In time they will be the first to jump ship when other, more gratifying and satisfying opportunities arise,” he said.


Goldsmith observed that leaders and managers in many organisations still routinely forget that true motivation to perform comes from within the individual: “it’s not something we do to our people, it’s something they do for themselves.”

“It comes through their identification of the needs they seek to fulfil through their work and their commitment to perform to their potential, to work to satisfy those needs,” he said.

“As leaders, managers, coaches, all we can really do then is support their initiative and impetus to help them on their journey.”

As such, he recommended seven strategies to help improve motivation on the part of employees:

1.Connect with your people: take the time to discover or rediscover them as people rather than simply employees. Take an interest in their lives and them.

2.Understand their motivations: discuss with them their goals and aspirations, where they’d like to develop and progress, how they’d like their roles and careers to develop.

3.Develop individual motivation plans/profiles: create a profile of each employee/team member that can be added to and enhanced to improve your understanding of them and their needs.

4.Develop team goals and objectives with the team and cascade them to each individual: by developing the goals and objectives with the team and helping them to translate those goals to their own performance you make a strong connection with their motivations.

5.Develop agreed meaningful measures of performance: work with the individuals and the team as a whole to identify the most appropriate and meaningful measures of performance. Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as needed to guide the individuals and the team towards the desired goals/objectives.

6.Provide feedback regularly: celebrate success, identify opportunities for improvement and give people the opportunity to draw on their self-motivation to perform to their potential.

7.Be flexible and prepared to adjust to retain and develop people: the modern organisation needs to exhibit high levels of flexibility in order to derive the best from its people. Flexibility in how the work is performed, how the leaders and managers support the individual to fulfil needs and flexibility in recognising and rewarding performance.

“If you’re not spending significant time in your people’s worlds seeking to understand and support them and tap into their motivations, they are very likely not going to want to spend a great deal of time in yours,” Goldsmith said.

“And all the ranting and raving in the world will not help you to generate the performance you seek from them.”

A sporting parallel

There are a number of parallels between the corporate and sporting world when it comes to leadership and motivation, and Goldsmith said modern sports coaching methodology is the same as leadership training adopted by successful business organisations.

In past decades, Goldsmith said some memorably explosive tirades from coaches often saw individuals and whole teams reverse the flow of the game and soar to new heights – in many cases to claim the title – to appease, or even vindicate, the coach.

“As time has passed and the professionalism, complexity and sophistication associated with sport has evolved to higher levels, so too have the methods used to get the best performance from the various contributors,” he said.

“Far from witnessing a vitriolic, hot-headed attack on the playing group, imploring them to perform as a unit, in today’s sporting environment we are far more likely to see a number of coaches and assistants working with smaller groups and individuals to discuss and plan the approaches to be used to improve performance.

“These discussions are based on sound data, accurate measurement and monitoring and high quality feedback.

“The conversations are specifically tailored to the individual or the small group and are based on a strong relationship, rapport and understanding of each person, developed over months or even years of close interaction and collaboration.”

Support can be provided in a number of forms and based on the latest LEAD Survey results, organisations need to be mindful of what makes people want to perform, to apply their discretionary effort to benefit themselves, their teams, departments and organisations.

The latest Top 5 Positive Influences on Employee Performance reveal a wide range of potential motivations to perform and highlight the gulf that often exists between what employees know influences their performance and what managers and leaders believe influences that performance:

Given the variability in the rankings of influences on performance, Goldsmith said it was clear that few managers and leaders understood the importance of the team in motivating the individual to perform.

“Working with a team we like to work with can override or allow us to overlook deficiencies in other influences, for example, the inability to provide market-competitive salaries in a tight economic environment,” he said.

“Likewise, leaders seem to believe good feedback and communication can influence employee performance ahead of all other influences — ranking it #1 influence — including reasonable salary/pay which they rank at #4, flexibility (#7) and relationships with other staff (equal 8th).”

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