Micromanaging your employees or team doesn’t usually have a great outcome. And while you don’t want to be the kind of manager who takes your eye completely off the ball and let your people have free rein, you do need to strike a balance between managing them and giving them some level of autonomy.
Throw remote working into the mix, however, and your role as a manager or leader becomes twice as hard. So how do you make sure you’re getting the best out of your employees without breathing down their necks every minute of the day - especially if you’re not currently in the same physical location?
It might seem that employee incentives are the way to go, but do you really want to work with people who are only bothered about doing a good job because there’s a cash bonus at the end of it? True, employee recognition is vital - and incentives can play a part in that. But if you’re constantly taking the carrot and stick approach, you’re not reaping the benefits of having a workforce who are emotionally connected to your business and who truly care about getting results. Likewise, instilling fear into your team isn’t a good motivator either. No one prospers from a culture of fear - and while you may get results for a couple of projects, something that has your employees handing their letters of resignation in hand over fist is not a long term strategy.
So what are the building blocks on which an organisation staffed with people who are genuinely motivated to do a great job is built? How do you turn your averagely committed employee into a true brand advocate?
It all comes down to our old friend, company culture.
A great company culture is motivation in itself: people want to come to work, they enjoy their time at work, they have positive relationships with their colleagues, they feel able to talk to their leaders, they participate in the giving and taking of employee feedback, and they respect the fact that you have fair policies and perks in place. If you treat your people with respect and integrity, they will do the same for you and your organisation.
But getting to that point can be easier said than done.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so they say, and an awesome company culture doesn’t just spring up overnight, no matter how hard you might will it to.
First of all you need to lay the foundation for the type of relationships that you want to see fostered between you and your employees. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can motivate your people to step up their game, contribute to your company culture, and bring home the results - all without you having to micromanage them.
How to build a company culture that motivates employees
Lead by example
Of course this is fairly self explanatory and if your goal is to create a company culture in which respect, accountability, transparency and honesty are the cornerstones, it needs to come from you and your management team.
Even the most keen of employees will eventually fall by the wayside if the conduct exhibited by the organisation’s leaders doesn’t live up to the standards you’re expecting from your people.
To instill respect, transparency, accountability and all those other great qualities in your employees, you must be willing to treat them with respect, practise transparency, and hold yourself accountable when things go awry. If you own up to a mistake and treat it as a learning moment, your employees will likely follow suit. Likewise, if you’re sweeping issues under the carpet, they’ll feel it’s okay to do the same. And that’s not going to contribute anything positive to your culture, or help employees to feel motivated about their job.
Practice clear communication
There’s nothing worse than not knowing what a manager wants you to do or expects of you. It’s demoralizing and stressful. And it’s not fair to blame employees for not meeting a target if they didn’t know a) what that target was or b) how to reach it in the first place.
If you’re assigning a new project or task to someone, it’s part of your job as a leader to make sure they understand what you expect them to achieve and how they can go about meeting that goal. The same goes for when you’re onboarding new employees and are walking them through your new hire checklist. Make sure they have a good grounding in company and department goals and expectations.
Communicating something to remote workers? This makes crystal clear instructions even more crucial. Whether you’re trying to increase engagement with your remote team, or you’re onboarding a new remote hire, make sure that you’re telling them everything they need to know.
When a new project starts or new responsibilities are handed to an employee, you have to make sure they understand the expectations otherwise they’re doomed to fail from the start - and that’s a big no-no in the motivation department.
Build a level of trust
When someone shows that they trust us, unless we’re generally an awful person, it usually means that we want to do our best for them! So rather than using the incentive approach, or getting your employees to do their work by instilling fear in them, build a level of trust - it will increase motivation and have the added bonus of making your workplace an all round nicer place to be. But it goes deeper than getting your employees to trust you: you also want them to trust their teammates. That way you’ll increase accountability and make your department more efficient and productive.
Of course, not many of us decide to trust someone overnight, but there are ways to build trust. Clear and transparent communication - as covered above - will go a long way to establishing trust. As will asking for, listening to, and acting upon employee feedback.
Check in with your people - both remote and office based - in team meetings, but also in one-on-one chats. These don’t have to be as formal as a yearly review or an annual stay interview (although you should really have those in place too.)
A friendly chat over coffee in which you ask your employee how they’re feeling about work, their team, the company and their achievements and progress is a great way to build trust. Just make sure you’re following up on any concerns they might have, or any requests for something such as training. Otherwise you’ll be doing more harm than good by making it clear that you’re only paying lip service.
There’s nothing quite as demotivating as being asked for your opinions, thoughts or concerns in the spirit of open communication and trust, only to have them ignored once the meeting is over.
Positive vibes only
No one likes to dwell on the negatives - it’s demotivating and unproductive. Yes, sometimes people mess up and lessons need to be learnt but if your reaction is to be negative when issues arise, you could be undoing all of your hard work and making a mockery out of your great company culture. Of course, that’s not to say that if someone does something that warrants some form of punishment, warning or even firing, that you should take a lax approach, but try not to let negativity become your default MO.
Something’s gone wrong: make sure the employee knows why they failed and how they can do better next time. And move on.
Taking a positive approach to work will have a much better outcome. For example if you praise employees for work well done, they’ll be more likely to want to exceed your expectations for the next project.
And as we mentioned earlier in this post, praise doesn’t have to take the form of massive bonuses. If you want to incentivize with gifts, you’ll be surprised at how far a gift card to the local coffee shop will go. Otherwise a heartfelt shout out in the department meeting or even in the company newsletter is also a valid way of providing recognition to a person or team.
The link between company culture and employee motivation: conclusion
As a leader or HR department, creating a company culture you can be proud of starts with you. You can’t expect employees to show up to work and decide to make the place awesome. You need a foundation on which to build.
Follow the steps above to start building that culture and you should soon find that with clear communication, respect for all employees no matter what level they are, honesty and transparency, and recognition for a job well done will soon result in more engaged, productive and motivated people.