How to Effectively Motivate Employees

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In 1968, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published Frederick Herzberg’s article, “One more time: how do you motivate employees?”. This is still one of the most widely read HBR articles ever. The most important paragraph in the article says: “If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then re-charge it, and re-charge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

How many times do we “re-charge” an employee’s battery, thinking it will bring better results? I did it all the time as a new manager. I wanted my employees to be motivated at work, so I became the department’s #1 cheerleader. I brought in cookies, games, and rewards. I didn’t notice a difference, so I then brought in even more treats, upping the ante. It still didn’t work. The result? I spent hours trying to re-charge their battery, while draining my own.

It was only when I understood the concept of coaching, and motivating an employee from within, that I noticed a change in my team’s productivity. It was only when I truly listened to them, and asked them for their ideas and input, that things started to shift as a team. It was only when I stood back and let them create their own solutions that I saw the department’s energy level and motivation increase.

It wasn’t the cookies, games or prizes that created the change. It was helping employees find their own generator, through coaching, that created the strong motivational team that won many, many awards.

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