Companies are always trying to figure out how to get more productivity from their employees, but the definition of “productivity” has changed. During the Industrial Age, employees were measured based on how efficiently they could keep producing more of the same stuff at lower cost and higher volume.
Back then it made sense to reward people based on this measure of productivity, but in the post-Industrial Digital Age that we live in now, where everyone is more interconnected than ever before, the definition of “productivity” has changed. The old physical limitations of the factory model of employment are less relevant, and the metric of employee productivity has evolved from “who can make the most new widgets” to “who can come up with the best new ideas.” Innovation and creativity are the name of the game for today’s companies of all sizes. Employees need to be rewarded and evaluated based on their initiative, adaptablility to new challenges, and the new ideas they can create and implement in a way that makes life better for customers.
This is one area where small businesses can potentially enjoy a big competitive advantage over larger companies. If your company can motivate and inspire your employees with a fun, creative, supportive, entrepreneurial work environment, you’ll be able to out-compete and out-hustle the bigger, slower, more bureaucratic corporations that are still mired in “factory” thinking.
But unfortunately, too many small business owners and managers are still struggling with outdated methods of managing talent. With all of the growth potential that your best employees represent, you can’t afford to mismanage and demotivate any of them.
Here are a few of the biggest ways that managers and business owners kill motivation and innovation in their employees – and ideas for what you should do instead:
- Micromanaging: Talented, creative employees want to feel trusted. They want to know that you believe in them, and that they have the freedom to innovate and try new things without constantly having to look over their shoulder. If you are regularly nitpicking your employees’ performance and insisting on updates for every little step of the process, you are running the risk of killing innovation at your company. Instead of micromanaging, give people free rein. Lead by example. Work alongside your team and inspire them by the way you handle problems and the way you serve customers. Be a mentor or coach, but not a micromanager.
- Not listening to employee feedback: When employees are asked to offer ideas and feedback about how to make the company better, it’s really discouraging and demotivating when their ideas are ignored. The best innovative companies know how to draw upon the ideas and talents of people from the entire organization, not just the people at the top. Good ideas can come from anywhere. You might get some great insights for how to improve your customer experience by talking with front-line customer service staff, even if they’re at a lower pay grade than the top managers and strategists.
- No sense of purpose: Yes, we all need to work for money. But innovative employees want a job that is more than just a paycheck. Especially among younger workers like millennials, it’s more common than ever before for people to expect a sense of mission and purpose to their daily work. Look for ways to show your employees why their job matters, and how it connects to the larger mission and goals of your organization.
- No connection between effort and reward: Do you pay your people for performance – with the best performers getting bigger rewards – or do you give everyone the same small pay raise whether they deserve it or not? Employees often get demotivated when they feel like there’s no additional reward for being a star performer. If stars never get rewarded and poor performers never face consequences, everyone will settle into a depressing pattern of mediocrity – and that’s not good for your employees or for the company.
- Feeling bored: When people feel bored at work, their motivation suffers. People who feel like there’s no point in making an effort are never going to be as innovative and motivated as they could be. Actively disengaged employees are a big problem for companies. Even if your employees are physically present and appear to be working, if they’re not feeling energized by work everyday, they’re costing your business money in missed opportunities to innovate.
- Employee award programs: Some companies like to offer special employee award programs, like “Employee of the Month,” or awards for attendance and punctuality. These programs are well-intentioned and can be fun, but a Harvard Business School study found that sometimes these employee award programs can backfire. The study followed a commercial laundry plant that introduced an employee attendance award; employees with perfect monthly attendance and no tardy arrivals were entered into a drawing for a $75 gift card. Sounds like a great way to reward employees, right? Actually, the results were more complicated: the Harvard study found that after the award program was introduced, some of the plant’s best employees showed a 6 to 8 percent decrease in productivity. The reason: when employees only do things for a chance at an award, they start to game the system; some employees started calling in sick rather than showing up late, because they didn’t want to lose eligibility for the award. The best employees might have been demotivated by a new award program to reward other employees for something that they were already doing – showing up everyday and on time. People often respond better to the overall culture and daily work experience of a company, rather than to specific “carrot and stick” incentives.
- No friends at work: Are your employees friendly and convivial, or do they sit alone with no one to talk to all day? It sounds simple, but not having friends at work is a major morale killer. According to Gallup research, cited in the Harvard Business Review, “We All Need Friends at Work,” close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent. Take a close look at your hiring practices to make sure new hires are a good cultural fit – people need technical skills, but good people skills and a sense of “fitting in” with the rest of the team are also essential to a more harmonious workplace.
- No coherent company culture: What is the personality and culture of your company? Company culture can be hard to define, but it’s important to have a coherent set of shared values, beliefs, and assumptions about the “right way” to work and the right way to recognize good work. Culture evolves over time, but it is set at the top. If you show your employees that you expect a collaborative, collegial company culture that rewards innovation and nurtures new ideas, then people will respond to that. If you create a negative culture of suspicion, backstabbing and mistrust, then people will emulate that too. What sort of culture do you want to create and promote for your company?
- Bad communication: People get demotivated when they work for companies that do a poor job of communicating. Do big announcements get made in an open, generous fashion, where employees learn about the decisions affecting their jobs early? Or does your company allow information to spread via the internal rumor mill? When running a business, there is no such thing as too much communication. Communicate early and often. Create a sense of transparency and trust, and your employees will feel more confident about their company’s leadership and their career futures.
- No celebrations: Employees get demotivated when they don’t get a chance to celebrate their successes. If the only reward for a job well done is “more work,” people will start to feel frustrated and will be less likely to be engaged. Jack and Suzy Welch wrote in “How to Build a Winning Team” that winning teams celebrate: “Most leaders don’t understand the tight link between celebrating small successes along the way and achieving the big one at the end. But it’s irrefutable. Teams that get pizza when they land a new client, or go on trips when they hit a sales milestone, or otherwise whoop it up every time something good happens create a delicious dynamic. They teach people what it feels like to win, which is, well, a very good feeling. It makes people want to win more. In fact, they never want the feeling to go away. So they do everything to keep winning.” Celebrate your people’s successes, bask in their triumphs, and share the rewards – and your people will want to keep innovating and keep succeeding for the greater good of the whole team.
Small businesses need to be creative when it comes to finding ways to motivate and inspire their employees. Fortunately, this is one area where small companies have an advantage. Because of your small size, you have a better chance to offer the human touch and be responsive to your employees’ needs in a way that big companies cannot duplicate. The most innovative companies aren’t always the ones that pay the biggest salaries or have the most exacting hiring processes; they’re the companies that create a powerful winning culture of innovation where people actively want to work, where people feel that they can be their best, and where people continually collaborate and evolve as a team in promising new directions.
Which one of these 10 motivation-killers are you guilty of? Tell us in the comment section below.