MOTIVATING your employees

Bob Dylan was wrong when he sang "The times, they are a-changing." They have already changed. Consider employee motivation. Not too long ago, most corporate
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MOTIVATING your employees

Apr 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Alan Kruglak

Bob Dylan was wrong when he sang "The times, they are a-changing." Theyhave already changed. Consider employee motivation. Not too long ago, mostcorporate managers followed Theodore Roosevelt's dictum: "Walk softly butcarry a big stick." Some companies still practice this outdated philosophy,thinking that they motivate employees every two weeks with a paycheck.Other companies, swamped with work, believe that the only way to motivateemployees is by throwing money at the problem. It is a start, but it doesnot solve the problem. With an almost full-employment economy and one ofthe lowest pools of available workers since the 1950s, techniques formotivating employees requires a different approach. A successful programwill not only increase labor productivity, but it will also help retainexisting employees and attract new talent.

Identifying employee needs

Like selling products and services, the first step to developing anemployee motivation program is examining their needs. The more your companymeets their needs, the greater the likelihood that you will achieveincreased productivity. Employee needs that are directly related tomotivation include:

- Equal pay and fairness. Money is not the primary motivator for mostemployees. When it comes to money, employees want equality within thecompany and parity in the market, commensurate with their skills andcapabilities. If you are not paying equally or at market levels, you willdemoralize your employees and push them into looking for greener pastures.As a rule, pay technicians at the upper end of the wage scale because goodones are hard to find. If you provide high-quality services, you can alwayspass your costs through to your clients.

- Job security. Many technicians who worked for us lived paycheck topaycheck. Your employees need to know their jobs are secure. If problemswith a manager or potential financial failure of the company threatens jobsecurity, the results are demoralization, low productivity and a flight tocompetitors for safety.

- Internal advancement. Most technicians will one day grow tired ofcarrying ladders and will look for other opportunities with greaterfinancial returns. A key motivator for employees is being able to see alogical pathway for advancement within the organization. Even if they donot take advantage of it, knowing a pathway exists fulfills a desire foropportunity, giving a sense of security.

- Technical challenge. Everyone needs new challenges, especially yourtechnical workforce. Failure to tackle new types of projects and productswill dull their technical skills and have an adverse impact on jobsatisfaction.

Motivational techniques

Several guidelines used at my former company include:

- Developing rules of measurement. Everyone, including your technicians,needs measures of success to guide them. Measurement can take a number offorms, including meeting or coming in under budget, the number ofcall-backs, certification for a higher skill level, promotion or assignmentof more complex projects. Measurement should also be coupled with writtengoals for your staff with periodic review and feedback.

- Providing continuous compliments. Such compliments as "job well done" goa long way. Remember, criticize behind closed doors; praise in front ofothers.

- Creating job-related incentives. Use the free-market system to createincentive programs that reward employees for work tied directly to yourgoals. For instance, we offered our project managers an incentive of 10%for every dollar they saved on a project. Although that may not sound likemuch, we used this program for a large project that had a budget of 60,000labor hours. By being resourceful, the project manager saved $330,000. Weresponded by writing a check for $33,000.

- Issuing discretionary bonuses. It may be hard to reward employees for aspecific project. For instance, an employee did a good job, but the salesestimate was off, and the job came in over budget. To reward good, positivebehavior, we issued discretionary bonuses quarterly. The key is beingobjective and equitable. If it is treated like a popularity contest, thenit will fail to motivate.

- Coordinating raises with certification and testing. Technicianscontinually ask for raises, and the frequency of these requests hasincreased proportionately with the decreasing unemployment rate. Althoughit is impractical to give raises to all employees, there is an alternative- link raises to acquiring specific skill sets or competency levels onspecific equipment. Passing tests makes the technician eligible for a raiseand more responsibility, which, in turn, motivates him to hone his skillsand increase productivity.

- Other rewards. There are other ways to reward the achievement of companygoals. One highly coveted reward at our company was the issuance ofvehicles. Crews with the best performance records were issued newervehicles.

- Peer recognition. Everyone wants to be looked up to by their peers. Togain peer recognition, awards and plaques were given to the best employeein each department at our annual Christmas party and events ceremony. Torecognize a project manager, we mounted a poster of a building he wasworking on, placing a photograph of the project manager and the buildingmanager in the lower right-hand corner with their names.

The biggest challenge for management in the next decade will be motivatingemployees. Without measurable and attainable goals, employees will be hardpressed to achieve the desired productivity level. Unmotivated, employeesmay seek shelter at other companies within or outside the industry. If youfail to develop a proactive program, you might as well be blowing in thewind.

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