How Motivated are your Employees, Really?

“Motivate your teams.” “Engage your employees.” Senior leaders make these directives clear to managers. But why are organizations continuing to focus on employee motivation and engagement during a time when so many talented people are desperately looking for a job?

Informed leaders know that an engaged employee will produce far more for an organization than it costs to employ them. In fact, in a recent study by the Human Capital Institute, a fully engaged employee will produce 120% of their salary value, while a disengaged employee will produce only 60% of their salary value.

At a time when organizational resources are often scarce, disengaged employees can be the difference between business success and failure. In addition, the Corporate Leadership Council found that for up to 76% of employees, engagement is malleable; given the right environment, the engagement of these employees can be improved.

But what does it take to engage an employee in their work and the mission of the company? The task can seem very daunting to a manager, especially when employees are seemingly motivated by so many factors. Conventional wisdom tells us that employee engagement is impacted by everything from relationships with senior managers to a company’s reputation for social responsibility. However, a 2010 study published by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer in the Harvard Business Review has given us new insight.

Amabile and Kramer conducted an extensive, multi-year study of hundreds of employees and found that employees were most engaged and motivated on the days they made progress, even incremental progress, toward their goals.

As such, below is a list of important factors in creating motivated, engaged employees:

1) Clear, obtainable goals
Managers should ensure that the initial goals created with their employees are relevant to the organizations overall priorities and need to avoid the temptation to change those goals indiscriminately. Managers are typically proactive individuals who are aware of changes in organizational direction. However, often times managers wanting to appear proactive can change directives for their team without fully understanding if, in fact, the business priorities have changed or if they are just hearing organizational noise. Additionally, setting goals that are overly ambitious can make even small setbacks seem overly important, causing employees to quickly disengage.

2) Protection from unimportant work
In any organization, a team has a primary purpose. When the team fulfills that purpose, they are making the most impact possible toward the overall goals of the company. Small requests will often be made of any team that have little to do with their intended purpose. A manager should carefully evaluate any requests made of their team that take resources and focus away from their primary function and goals. Managers should also identify and, whenever possible, eliminate bureaucratic processes that add little value or are outdated. Nothing feels more defeating than compiling a detailed report that no one reads.

3) Performance management
A sound performance management process will give employees a yardstick to track their progress. With continual feedback and coaching from their manager and regular formal performance reviews, employees will have a very clear picture of where they stand in the progress toward their goals. Keeping track of this information for multiple employees over time can be challenging. A talent management system such as the one offered by Halogen HR Software can provide tools that offer relevant and objective data to help measure performance.

4) Charting team goals
In addition to managing individual performance, charting team progress can be a powerful way to motivate employees. Along with progress, Amabile and Kramer found collaboration as another key employee motivator. When employees feel they have team mates to depend on, they are more engaged. Managers who track team progress will encourage collaboration and remind teams of the past successes they achieved together.

5) Help in removing obstacles
If progress toward a goal is the key to employee motivation, a manager can greatly engage their employees by actively working to remove obstacles in their way. This can be as simple as asking an individual what is standing in their way and providing suggestions during regular one-on-one meetings or as complex as getting your department’s senior leader involved.

As a manager of a team, determining how you enable and how you impede progress for your employees may be the first step toward necessary adjustments. The good news is that putting effort toward motivating and engaging your employees will result in a large return on investment.

This helpful advice was provided by Vanessa Mackay.

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