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Motivating Your Employees

Motivating Your Employees
-by- Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D.

Studies conducted during the 1940s and 1950s of the automotive industry showed that German plants consistently outperformed plants in England. The British said, “That’s because their factories are newer.” Soon, the British built brand new plants, but the Germans continued to outperform, four to one. The productivity difference became known as ‘Factor X.’”

Psychologists tried to discover what was the mysterious factor. Before World War II, all advances in industry had been attributed to technology. But the psychological revolution was beginning. “Factor X” was a self-concept, it was discovered. A positive sense of self-worth is the key factor to excellent performance.

To experience high self-esteem, five ingredients are necessary.

1. Goal. People must have a goal. They must feel that the goal is achievable. As a leader, this means that you must work with your team to set realistic, attainable.

2. Teamwork. People must feel that they have a part in setting the goals. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, says that everybody carriers an invisible sign. “Make me feel important.” People want to know that their ideas are considered and implemented. This motivates them to achieve.

3. Clear standards. Structure the work so that everyone wins on a regular basis. Goals need to be measurable and standards need to be clearly articulated. There was a company that hired an inspector to see how well each plant was maintaining housekeeping. The inspector would write a nebulous report, “Not satisfactory,” and the workers would be denied their bonuses. The result? Self-esteem suffered. Clear standards needed to be articulated. Instead of saying, “This work area is too messy,” or “The grass is too tall,” specific standards should be written, such as, “Grass needs to be maintained at three inches.” “Shrubs to be kept at four feet.” With clear, measurable standards, everyone can win.

4. Recognition. Workers need ample praise to continue to do an excellent job. In a study of what employees expect from their bosses, at the top of the list was “Praise for a job well done.”

5. Ethical workplace. Workers must know that their company operates fully above board on all matters. Psychologist Nathaniel Brandon says that self - esteem is lowered when people betray their conscience. Here’s an example: Let’s say that a person has a moral code that says “It’s wrong to pull up your neighbor’s tulips.” One day, he has an argument with his neighbor and to vent his frustration, he pulls out some of the tulips. This is known as a violation of conscience. But through rationalizations (“He deserves to have those flowers pulled up after what he did to me.”) or he must come forth and tell his neighbor what he did. Since the later choice may have additional repercussions, he may decide not to face his neighbor and continue to rationalize. But now, waking every day, he is living a partial lie.

The incident may be forgotten at some point, but Brandon points out that deep inside the person is forming his self-concept. Over time, he will feel worthy of receiving good things in life, or not worthy depending upon the number of times he has violated his own conscience.

Companies need to be sure they do not violate any universal principles of ethics. By ignoring ethics, companies lower self-esteem in their workers who are often covertly coerced into participating in half-truths or other breaches of trust.

Some companies post a mission statement that includes their moral code. This lets employees know that they are operating within a system that is 100 percent ethical. Self-esteem will be high and workers will be motivated
to work toward peak performance in highly ethical companies.

There are two barriers to performance that de-motivate workers. The first is early childhood learning. How the individual was treated when, as a child, learned through exploration has much to do with his learning patterns as an adult. If he was constantly hit and yelled at, he registered at a very young age that learning is dangerous and he’ll have a negative attitude toward learning. To motivate people, you should not re-create any of the negative perceptions a person may have developed toward learning. Instead, let him know that it’s okay to make some mistakes.

In some companies, according to Consultant Tom Peters, people learn from mistakes and are not punished. This creates an atmosphere of trust. Such a supportive climate lets workers know it’s all right to be less than perfect. At IBM, for example, an employee made a million dollar mistake. Instead of firing the man, they asked him what he would do differently next time. He came up with a successful plan that the company adopted. In the end, he earned the company several millions of dollars.

All workers have two basic needs: autonomy and dependency. First, everyone needs to feel like an individual and to be recognized for their own uniqueness. Second, all people need to feel affiliation; they need to feel a sense of belonging. Excellent companies give people both. If you are positive and supportive, yet let people make their own decisions (autonomy), your team will have greater performance and higher output. However, if the work environment is negative and controlling, then people will perform only the minimum to avoid being fired.

To make sure you have a coherent work team, highly motivated, hire the right kinds of people in the first place.

There is a small percentage of people who do not respond to kindness and praise. They are antagonistic; they whine, complain, degrade others, or constantly play the role of the “Devil’s Advocate.”
These kinds of people will hurt your team. Just one person on your team who works against the others can lower morale in your entire organization.

Finally, make sure that you give people proper training when they first come on board. Give them a lot of hands-on experience. The U.S. Army has a great policy: Tell, Show, Do. If you hire people and then let them either sink or swim, it creates losers. Don’t put people in over their heads.

Encourage them, and then gradually add additional responsibilities.

In summary, remember that the key ingredients to motivating employees include clear expectations, praise, and democratic decision making.

Give your workers measurable goals. Praise them consistently. Give them a break when their performance is off track. And always set a good example. Remember: Each worker must abide by a universal code of ethics. Make sure your workers clearly understand ethical principles. Support them, guide the, and they will be motivated to peak performance.

Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D. is a corporate and government communication consultant and trainer, and a licensed private investigator. She is the author of The New Time Manager, Private Investigation Strategies and Techniques, Police Communication in Traffic Stops, and Coping With Difficult Teachers. Dr. Woodhull can be reached at (352) 327-3665, (352) 219-6994 or via e-mail:

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