The Best Way to Motivate People

Motivating people is a primary concern of business owners and managers. Whether the enterprise is a small retail store or a billion-dollar multinational, what will make the crucial difference is the people running the daily operations. But even with this basic rule of thumb, many managers keep making the same blunders in their approach.
The reasons for lack of motivation stem from countless sources, and it is this what makes it so challenging. Since there are a number of causes for low morale, there should be a corresponding variety of solutions. However, managers tend to rely on a limited repertoire of responses that are often inappropriate for the problems. Below are some ideas that may serve to help improve your motivation efforts:
Foreign fads and formulas rarely work unless modified. There is a strong tendency for managers to read the latest so-called solutions, immediately believing that it is the panacea to all their motivational problems. This is seldom the case, and usually the expense and disturbance it causes far outweighs the benefits. Every system must be adapted to your particular situation and extra care must be taken if it will fit our local culture.
Motivational talks only have a short term value. If you are the type of manager that believes the sole way to motivate workers is to have a pep talk from time to time, then mend your ways. This technique must be combined with more lasting measures to provide a complete solution; although in critical situations this is very useful.
Some motivators may no longer be effective. What motivates people changes over time. A bonus of one thousand pesos may have thrilled employees years ago, but it takes several times that amount to get the same level of enthusiasm now. Get regular feedback from employees to gauge past programs.
Consider that people have varying motivators. I know of a pharmaceutical company that had a poll among its hundreds of employees on where to spend their multimillion peso budgeted Christmas party. The result was a wide variety of preferences. Some wanted to give it to charity; others wanted it given as a cash bonus; and there were the traditionalists who want to spend it all on the Christmas party. The lesson here is that you must not assume that everyone wants the same thing. Prior consultation with employees before implementation would prevent gross blunders.
Know how to properly use cash as a motivator. Cash is the most potent motivator — given enough cash, most people would do anything you ask. However, it has its limits. There is a point where it is no longer cost effective. Know how to properly utilize the two types of cash compensation:
1. Fixed compensation. This is the most important motivator for people to accept the job, but it is not an effective incentive to improve performance in the long term. You may be offering a higher than average compensation, but this is soon taken for granted. Nevertheless the level of fixed pay is important to attract talent. You must be willing to give at least the industry going rate in order to hire qualified personnel.
2. Variable compensation. When you associate the amount of pay to performance like sales targets, a strong motivation kicks in. This method is most effective in functions where the outputs are easily measured, like in sales jobs. However, this is very difficult to apply in situations where the output is not easily measured or attributed. For example, a manager may be able to show an increase in profits by cutting corners, like sacrificing quality or postponing maintenance work. These managers hope that by the time the effects of these poor policies become evident, they will probably be in another position.
The values of benefits are relative to what others are getting. Monitor what other companies are giving to their employees because, fair or not, there will be comparisons. A ten thousand pesos bonus may seem generous, but if a similar-sized company in your industry is giving twenty thousand then you cannot expect a cheerful reaction.
The most cost effective motivator is to give people more opportunities to make use of their abilities and to grow professionally. Providing a way for people to exercise more of their talents builds feelings of self-esteem and may even save on costs. This also encourages further improvement of their skills. A program to develop the delegation skills of managers will boost efforts to bring this about.
Motivating people will always be one of the core issues of managers and entrepreneurs. There will be no final book on this topic because by the time the book is written, the best companies have moved on to fresher ways to drive the enthusiasm of their workforce. The best way of motivating people is to constantly be on the lookout for the best ways of motivating your workforce.

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.
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