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Employee Motivation - How to Improve Performance

(by Scott McKeel)

Have you ever heard the old saying, “one bad apple spoils the bunch”?  Removing bad apples from a bunch is easy enough; it’s not so easy when dealing with personnel. The old fashioned way to deal with this is to fire the apple (remove it from the ‘bunch’). This typically happens after issuing warnings and write-ups, and frustrating yourself because you have to babysit. Sound about right? Here’s the downside to that approach: Getting rid of people is far more expensive and complicated than apples, (e.g.: you don’t have to train apples). There are other ways…

Dealing with employees that don’t do what you expect of them is usually very draining to you the manager/business owner. Worse yet, poor performance can be contagious. Make no mistake, your employees know when one of their coworkers is doing less than they do, showing up for work constantly late, taking a long lunch, etc.. Often they know this even before the manager does. Left unchecked this behavior can influence others to do the same. They might think, “I do everything right and the apple doesn’t; we get the same treatment, so why shouldn’t I be an apple too?” Of course this might not happen—the other employees may have more integrity than that—they may just look for another job.

 So what can you do about it?

Here are 4 steps that you can follow. The first three lay the foundation for step four. 

 Step One - Make sure you know what you want and expect of the people who work for you. Many business owners don’t take the time to clearly articulate core values and expectations. Your core values are more than just a paragraph on a Web site; at a personal level these values guide us in our selection of friends, our spouse, and drive how we live our lives. At a company level, clearly defined values and ethics will guide you in your selection of employees and guide them in their selection of you. It will also drive how you do business and with whom you do business.

 Make sure you take the time to figure out what these values are, then…

  • Write them down
  • Keep them simple
  • Memorize them
  • Repeat them every chance you get.
  • Highlight each point with posters, coasters, mugs (you get the idea)
  • Live by them consistently each day

 Step TwoHave a written employee manual on hand and easily accessible to all which includes the general rules that apply to everyone. Keep this simple, the Semco company in Brazil has written what they refer to as their “survival guide” in a short comic book style. This makes it very easy and more importantly fun to read.

 Step Three Write a description of everything that is done and how it’s done. This is not necessarily the same as a job description. I am referring to a list of things that need to be done to accomplish each task/job at hand.  Employees can wear many hats, their duties may change and of course you may hire new ones. This information is hugely valuable in terms of reducing training time and increasing efficiency. WARNING – Don’t get locked in to doing things a certain way, always look for a better way to do something, and get your employees involved with this. This can be an article or book unto itself—actually there are several. I will simply say this philosophy works for Toyota, it will work for you too.

 Now that you’ve laid the foundation in the first 3 steps we get to the fun part….

 Step Four – Social influence AKA Peer Pressure – You may think that the first three steps sound like a lot more work for you, meaning you’ll have to micro manage the people who work for you even more. Well, that could be right if you want to stick with the way companies have typically done business for the last century or so. Today there are a few companies who are catching on to new ways to manage people. There are a couple of basic premises at the core of this:

  1. People want to do the right thing
  2. People want to follow the crowd.

The first premise assumes that you’re not dealing with a sociopath. The second premise helps even if you are, after all sociopaths mimic the behavior of the crowd to blend in. All of us from childhood onward have some degree of craving for normalcy, and that means doing the same things everyone else is doing. You can take advantage of this psychology in the workplace by making sure everyone knows what ‘normal’ means at your workplace. You can do that by putting more responsibility in the hands of a group of peers. Let them hold meetings to discuss what’s working and what’s not. Get them involved in making improvements to how things are done in THEIR company. Simply put, give them the chance to feel like they are making a difference. At Semco they take this even farther; theirs is a very democratic approach. The group has the power to ask a nonperformer to leave the group. This is usually a mutual decision since everything is out on the table and the nonperformer is usually as unhappy as the rest of the group. Of course, this rarely happens since it was the group that hired them in the first place.

 Following the steps outlined above will do more far more for you and your company than simply taking care of a bad apple. They are a path to a more successful and happier life for you and your employees. In other words, this will teach you to grow a healthier apple tree.

If you want results fast or this seems overwhelming, pull out the big guns and ask us to help. It costs you nothing to ask if we can help. What does it cost you to not do anything at all?

Contact Strateja & MerHan Associates by phone at (503) 639-2727 Ext. 1 or Click Here to send us an email.


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