When money no longer serves as a motivator

Money may be a motivator when someone starts out in their career. But at some point, it might become less important. 

And in tough economic times many small businesses do not have the cash to act as the big motivator.

The ability to motivate employees is one of the greatest skills an entrepreneur can possess, says Ilya Pozin, founder of the free internet-based television service Pluto TV. 

He quickly realised he did not have this skill, so he hired a CEO who did. 

Pozin thought that a lack of cash would make it extremely difficult to improve the company morale when they were going through tough times, he wrote in Inc., an American weekly magazine that publishes content about small businesses and start-ups. He was wrong. 

He hired Josh Goldberg, with 12 years’ experience in the corporate world, who rebuilt the culture of the organisation together with his own group of team leaders.

“He also created a passionate, hard-working team that is as committed to growing and improving the company as I am,” Pozin wrote.

Michelle Moss, a founding member and a shareholder of executive search firm Signium Africa, says they use psychometric testing to determine what motivates people and what can infuriate them when they are rewarded in the wrong way.

Some are motivated and inspired by working in a fun environment, where they can play ping-pong while solving complicated problems. 

Others are motivated when they can do things to improve the lives of others. “Sometimes that offers an explanation as to why people make strange career moves. In many instances the move is not about money or making money – it is something else that motivates them.”

Moss says it is also important to understand what motivates people when considering the generational split. Millennials prefer to work for companies with a “good culture”.

These companies care for the environment or are involved in social responsibility projects.

The secret is in the way you reward people

The way people are singled out can also make a difference.

“If the whole team worked hard and only one person is recognised and rewarded, then it is understandable that the rest of the team will feel alienated and upset,” says Moss. 

However, if a member of the team made a special contribution that went beyond what was expected, then it would be fair and make sense. 

“It should be communicated correctly, so that it is not perceived as favouring one person above the others.”

Moss says a simple “thank you” or a pat on the back can go a long way and should be done all the time. If people are given the day off on their birthdays, it should be standard practice for everyone in the company.

Other smaller rewards should be sporadic and discretionary, otherwise it becomes an expectation, she says. 

Show respect in everything you do, says Mike Michalowicz, CEO of Provendus Group, a team of business growth strategists and coaches.

“All your hard work and appreciation of an employee can be destroyed in an instant if you yell at them, disrespect or belittle them in private or public.”

He says cash has proven to be a short-term motivator. There are more meaningful and less expensive ways to show appreciation. 

Great ideas with little cash

- Michalowicz published some innovative ways to motivate people on Open Forum, an online information platform for small business owners:

- Swap desks with an employee for a day and do your work from their cubicle. 

- Take your employees on a tour of one of your suppliers’ facilities.

- Organise a catered breakfast for your team and designate yourself as the main waiter.

- Have their car professionally washed at work.

- Pay for an adult education class, such as a cooking class. 

- Give them a pair of movie tickets and time off to see their favourite movie during the work day.

- Take an employee and their family to dinner and let them choose the restaurant.

- Leave token gifts on their desks with a note to thank them for their hard work. 

Moss says it is obviously easier to do many of these things in a smaller company. Large businesses are increasingly doing work in teams. 

Rewarding the team by giving them an afternoon off to work on a social project can help to build the team and to inspire them.

Allowing employees with leadership potential to sit in on executive committee meetings or taking someone to a client meeting as part of an informal coaching exercise can boost self-esteem and help with succession planning.

9 ways to make a difference – easily

1. Be generous with praise 
It’s one of the easiest things to give. Once you are comfortable delivering praise one-on-one to an employee, try praising them in front of others. 

2. Get rid of the managers

Try removing the project lead or supervisor and empowering your staff to work together as a team, rather than everyone reporting to one individual.

3. Make your ideas theirs People hate being told what to do. 

Instead of telling people what you want to be done; ask them in a way that will make them feel like they came up with the idea. 

4. Make everyone a leader

Highlight your top performers’ strengths and let them know you consider them to be an example for others. 

5. Never criticise or correct

If you are looking for a de-motivator, tell people they did something wrong. Try an indirect approach to get people to improve, learn from their mistakes, and fix them.

Have a conversation and talk through solutions rather than pointing fingers.  

6. Give recognition and small rewards
Tangible rewards that don’t break the bank can work. Try things like dinner, trophies, spa services, and plaques. 

7. Share the rewards – and the pain

When your company does well, celebrate. If there are disappointments, share those too. If you expect high performance, your team deserves to know where the company stands. Be honest and transparent.

8. Take an employee to lunch once a week

Make it a surprise and literally walk up to one of your employees and invite him to lunch with you. It’s an easy way to remind them that you notice and appreciate their work.  

9. Throw company parties 
Do not just wait until the holidays to do a company activity; organise events throughout the year to remind your staff that you are all in it together.

This article originally appeared in the 19 July edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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