What if "TGI Monday" became your staff's mantra?
STORY BY CHRIS BURSLEM
Behavioral researcher and author Alfie Kohn likes to tell a joke that many small-business owners can no doubt relate to:
An elderly man who lives near a school is regularly harassed by a group of students. So one day he approaches them with a deal: He’ll give each one a dollar if they’ll all return the next day and yell insults at him at a pre-ordained time. They do so eagerly and receive the money as promised. But the old man also tells them he will be able to pay them only 25 cents the next time. More or less still happy to be paid, the children are there again the next afternoon to taunt him, whereupon the old man explains that, henceforth, the daily reward for hurling abuse at him will be one cent. “A penny?” The kids are highly offended. For such a pathetic amount of money it’s not worth the effort. Forget it, they say, and never bother him again.
The story illustrates that challenge itself is what people pursue with the most care and motivation. Sustained performance happens when people choose to act — not when they have to act. This should inform how you motivate.
That said, motivation flows and morphs. Sometimes a surprise slice of free pizza will get the best out of an employee. Other times it is a heartfelt one-on-one talk. To unlock every employee’s fullest potential, you will have to experiment — every day and every week. In the following pages, we present a few ideas to help you on your way in this most vital and often mystifying field.
1. Tweak, tweak
Success in guiding employee behavior happens in the thousands of daily interactions and decisions between you and your staff. “Great managing is about release, not transformation,” says Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based management school. “It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein.”
2. Make it clear individuals matter
Building a great store culture requires imagination and personality. Washington’s Green Lake Jewelry has that in spades. An example: When the Seattle branch lost designer Mitch Kelley’s effervescent personality to their new Bellevue studio, the staff made “Mitch masks” attached to wooden dowels “as though they were at a Venetian masquerade ball in an effort to cope with his unsettlingly empty desk,” says Eric Robertson, the store’s creative director. “The idea gained popularity in Bellevue too, where even today the workshop is filled with images of Mitch’s face super-imposed onto cowboys, rappers and even a little baby.” We’re guessing Mitch feels pretty important to Green Lake.
3. Know what triggers to pull
“It’s not always about money, some people respond to different ways of motivation. You must find what that is and push those buttons,” says Jim Alati, manager of Simmons Fine Jewelry in Meridian, ID. Buckingham concurs: “A manager’s most precious resource is time, and managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to identify exactly how each employee is different and then to figure out how best to incorporate those enduring idiosyncrasies and how to translate them into outstanding performance.”
4. Look on the bright side of work
Promote positivity, says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explaining that an optimistic mindset boosts intelligence, creativity and energy levels. “In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37 percent better at sales,” he says. But just how to do it? Achor recommends meditation, gratitude lists, more exercise and acts of kindness like sending a two-minute “thank you” email every morning.
5. Promote direct contact
If you have jewelers, be sure they meet the people who are the direct recipients of their skilled work. Interactions with the beneficiaries can be highly motivating because they heighten employees’ perceptions of the impact of their labor. Business professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School, for example, found that fundraisers who were attempting to secure scholarship donations felt more motivated when they had contact with scholarship recipients.
6. Get staff to record what they do
Logging certain aspects of your life can be a surprisingly powerful practice — not because there’s much value in the record you create, but because the very act of recording exerts an interesting psychological effect. Get staff to spend a couple of days recording their time use in detail, productivity experts advise, and they’re likely to find themselves using it more efficiently. The first observation is likely the discovery that they are frittering away many hours.
7. Game Time
Games, contests and spiffs can be a fun way to spark engagement. “As an employee, I loved spiffs,” recalls Erica Lorenz, a manager at Michael & Sons in Reno, NV. “They encouraged us to ask for the sale, pursue upgrades and all upsales!” But Mark Snyder, owner of Snyder Jewelers in Weymouth, MA, said that in his store, “people got mad when they realized they couldn’t win and then stopped trying. I have found that sales contests should be kept to a group winning or losing as a team.”
8. Structure matters
In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely cites the case of different European countries’ success in getting their citizens to sign up to be organ donors on their drivers’ licenses. The disparity is huge and much of it comes down to a simple tweak in form design. In countries where people have to actively opt out, the willingness to donate is much higher. “It’s not because it’s easy. It’s not because it’s trivial. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s the opposite,” Ariely says of the study’s findings. “And because we have no idea what to do (in such a case), we just pick whatever it was that was chosen for us.” Design a work place where the default option is work, and people will be productive. Kelly Jensen, Plateau Jewelers in Sammamish, WA, agrees. “Management’s job is to create a system that is easy and works. Staff shouldn’t have to guess what they should do for every situation. Make it easy for staff to do a great job and they will.”
9. Shoot the Grinch
The Protestant work ethic basically equates labor with discomfort and looks darkly at levity in the workplace. But there is little in the way of science to support it as an approach to doing good work. Indeed, berating oneself for not working harder runs contrary to establishing a mood that gets things done. A fun environment, on the other hand, promotes innovation, healthy risk-taking, good morale and improved social connections. It’s something that Kessler Diamonds, a first-generation independent that has grown to be the largest retailer of diamonds in Wisconsin, understands. “I hate bureaucracy,” says owner Richard Kessler. “We have only two rules in our company: do the right thing, and have fun every day. If you can’t follow those rules, you can’t work here.”
Adds Morgan Bartel, of Susann’s Custom Jewelers, Corpus Christi, TX: “When encouragement is needed, especially around the holiday season, we crank up the Christmas music, watch some funny YouTube clips and laugh. Laughter takes away the muck and yuck. We can’t be so serious that we forget to enjoy our jobs!”
10.Opt for enabling over fear
In 1965, Howard Leventhal, a psychologist at Yale, wanted to see if he could scare students into getting a tetanus vaccination (still rare then) with a presentation of lurid images of patients struck by the disease. The students were duly alarmed — but not enough to get vaccinated. Leventhal found there was one intervention that made a difference, prompting 28 percent of students to get a shot, compared with 3 percent of the others. It was a campus map, showing how to get to the clinic and the hours it was open. Subsequent research has underlined the remarkable power of such step-by-step plans. Got something you want your staff to do? Give them a figurative baby-step map to get it done.
11. Forget big goals
The psychology of motivation has moved away from the big hairy audacious goal approach in recent years and much more toward the idea of small wins. Indeed, Teresa Amabile’s research at Harvard has found that the most motivating thing is “any” progress in meaningful work. Says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at the Fuqua School of Business: “The question for your staff should be, ‘Can I do one small thing to get better today?’ And the answer to that question is always, ‘Yeah, I’m sure I can.’”
12. Harness technology to help
There’s no shortage of apps to help your staff boost their productivity and stay motivated. One of our favorites is stikK, a free goal-setting platform created by behavioral economists at Yale University. Make a resolution and then if you don’t follow through, a pre-agreed amount of money will be sent to an organization you really detest. You then decide what’s worse, getting to work on time 20 times in a month or handing your cash over to Hillary or Donald or whoever else gets your hackles up.
13. Go easy on the meetings
For the most part, people want to work; they gripe when things like meetings stop them doing so. Indeed, a 2006 study showed there’s only one group of people who say meetings enhance their well-being — those who also score low on “accomplishment striving”. In other words, people who enjoy meetings are those who don’t like getting things done. The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself (for example, a well-run brainstorming session).
14 . Clarity Of Expectations
Define excellence vividly and quantitatively. “Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like. Keep everyone pushing and pushing toward the right-hand edge of the bell curve,” says Buckingham.
15. Flatter people
One of the most predictable and poignant (or pathetic, depending on your viewpoint) things about humans is our need to bathe in the warm glow of a compliment. Our brains light up even when we know the flattery is insincere. Think then of the power of a sincere compliment. Be on the lookout for opportunities to praise your team members (and particularly chances to highlight specific strengths and behaviors).
16. Play Pavlov
One of the reasons slot machines are so addictive is the unique power of “intermittent variable rewards.” As Pavlov showed with his dog, random rewards motivate more than predictable ones. Make a bonus guaranteed, and it loses its power to motivate. “Give them a perk out of the blue, such as free lunch,” recommends John Zeke of Zeke’s Jewellers in Brandon, MB, Canada.
17. Get rid of those bad apples
Recent research showed that if a toxic worker sat next to a nontoxic worker, the toxic worker’s influence won out, with proximity increasing the probability that one of them would be terminated by 27 percent. Firing someone is, of course, a last resort measure. But if you have provided training, counseling and patience and the person evidently does not have the inclination to be there, it’s time for you to go your separate ways.
18. Foster team spirit
Kind words and deeds count when it comes to motivating colleagues. According to research by Dan Ariely, complimentary remarks and pizza outpaced cash bonuses as ways to encourage workers to put forth more effort and show greater productivity. The results mirrored previous research by the London School of Economics and Political Science showing that people will work harder if they believe their work is appreciated. Such research is no surprise to Cos Altobelli of Altobelli Jewelers in Burbank, CA, who says he makes every occasion a special occasion, from celebrating birthdays to taking a group photo for a Christmas card going out to clients.
1. Don’t punish failure — mistakes are part of being human.
2. Don’t reward bad behavior.
3. Don’t micromanage.
4. Don’t assume that what inspires you will inspire others.
5. Don’t be overly negative — criticism has a tendency to overwhelm praise.
6. Perfection isn’t a worthy goal.
7. Don’t undermine the worth of an employee’s work. If they’ve done something, try to find a use for it.
19. Hold one-on-one meetings
Don’t assume employees know that you think they’re doing well or poorly. You have to tell them. According to Gallup research, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. “To get the best coaching outcomes, always have your 1-on-1’s on your employee’s turf not yours. In your office the truth hides,” says Buckingham, who recommends you spend at least 10 minutes with each employee each week, asking them just two questions: What are your priorities? How can I help?”
20. Acknowledge People
“Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic,” Ariely says. Indeed, some neuroscientists go as far as to say we need attention almost as desperately as food and warmth. “Paying attention to the mood of the staff and then asking questions and listening is a big motivator,” says Kristin Cornwell of Cornwell Jewelers in Athens, OH. “I let them know I care about them and I do small things like buying coffees for everyone. Those that feel a part of something tend to be happier staffers. We’ve had contests and games, but in the end I feel it is how we communicate and work as a team that makes staff want to work harder even when the hours are longer.”
21. Remember your Ps and Qs
In her book, The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan cites a recent survey of American workers:
- 81 percent of respondents said that they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.
- 70 percent said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.
And yet, gratitude at the workplace appears to be a pretty rare thing, with just 10 percent of the survey respondents saying they were regularly thanked.
Want a more motivated staff? Be more generous with the thank-yous.
22. Shorten Your Planning Year to 3-4 Months
Consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington aren’t big believers in the value of a year, at least when it comes to setting goals. A year’s too big to get your head around, they argue in their book The 12-Week Year, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future. Besides, it’s awful for motivation: the New Year surge of enthusiasm fades rapidly, while the feeling of racing to the finish line doesn’t kick in until autumn. In its place, they advocate dividing your year into quarters, and to think of each 12 weeks as a stand-alone “year” — a stretch long enough to make significant progress on a few fronts, yet short enough to stay focused.
23. Invest in your best
Spend the most time with your best people, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All The Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.
24. Who moved my cheesy quote?
The power of words can be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to harness their uplifting power. Whether it’s on the notice board or the fridge door, look for places to adhere words of wisdom. Update regularly.
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