Business Leadership Today

How Leadership Can Contribute To Employee Motivation


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Leaders play an important role in keeping employees invested in their roles and motivated to do great work. All of their actions and behaviors can either help or hinder the work environment and thus impact employee motivation. 

Ensuring that the impact they have on motivation is positive requires leadership to have an awareness of employee needs, a commitment to employee success, and a willingness to contribute to the employee experience in ways that help employees connect with their jobs. 

Leadership can contribute to employee motivation and support a positive employee experience by creating an atmosphere of trust, regularly checking in with employees to find out what they need to succeed, celebrating their successes, letting them know they are making an impact, and facilitating their growth.

When leaders take these steps, they’ll ensure that all team members are engaged with their work and motivated to do their best.

Create an Atmosphere of Trust

High-trust work environments are conducive to a high level of employee motivation and have an overwhelmingly positive impact on employee performance, employee well-being, and a host of other factors. 

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout. 

Trust improves communication, which, in turn, improves transparency, clarity of expectations, and performance, all of which help to reduce the anxiety that workers develop (and that can cause them to leave) when communication breaks down or during difficult times when they need to be reassured about where the company is headed.

A high level of mutual trust also eliminates the perceived need to micromanage employees. In high-trust environments, micromanagement is unnecessary because trust empowers employees by giving them a sense of autonomy, equipping them with the tools they need to achieve their goals without constant monitoring, and making them feel more capable of doing their jobs. 

Dr. Paul Marciano, author of Let’s Talk About It: Turning Confrontation into Collaboration at Work, says establishing trust with your employees provides the motivation employees need to engage with their work and do it well.

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Check in Often To Find Out What They Need

Employee needs vary from person to person. What motivates one employee might not motivate another. To tap into the kind of intrinsic motivation that helps employees engage and commit to their roles, it’s crucial to understand what tools they need and what obstacles to success need to be removed for them to do great work. 

One way to find out what employees need to succeed is to check in with them often. Weekly 1:1 meetings are a great way to check in with employees, find out what’s going on in their lives, and give them a chance to express themselves. 

Andrew Freedman, Business Leadership Today contributor and author of Thrive: The Leader’s Guide To Building A High-Performance Culture, says leaders should treat these meetings like the most important meeting of the week because they provide an opportunity to authentically connect with team members. 

“One of the ways to use 1:1’s is to understand where your people are. How are they actually feeling and doing? And are there things you can do, including just being a good ear, for your people?”

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Celebrate Their Successes

Recognition and praise increase employee motivation because acknowledging and celebrating the hard work, achievements, and successes of employees lets them know they are valued and the work they do has an impact. Recognition builds trust, boosts team morale, increases employee retention and loyalty, and improves performance. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind when recognizing employee achievements:

Be genuine: By finding an aspect of the employee’s performance you truly find praiseworthy, your recognition will be genuine and job-related. For example, you can recognize an employee’s ability to remain calm under pressure or handle difficult customers with tact and professionalism.

Keep it specific: Recognition can be offered in a variety of ways, but it is always more useful for employees when it focuses on a specific action or behavior. Rather than generalizations, like “great job,” find detailed aspects of your employee’s performance to recognize.

Single out their efforts: When an employee achieves something big for the organization it provides a great opportunity to recognize them. However, results-oriented praise, such as “Congratulations on landing that big account!” or recognition that focuses predominantly on profits, can be less effective than praising the efforts your employee made to achieve that outcome.

Make it a team effort: While research clearly shows a link between recognition from top leadership and improved job performance and loyalty, encouraging employees to compliment and recognize the achievements of their co-workers helps reinforce the organization’s strategy and inspires commitment, helping employees to feel good about the work they are doing. 

In my recent interview with Robert Hefner, Vice-President of Human Resources at David Weekley Homes, we discussed the importance of recognizing achievements and celebrating organizational and employee success.

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Talk To Them About Impact

Helping your team members to see a bigger purpose in their work, find meaning in their day-to-day duties, and see the impact of the work they do can have a positive effect on motivation. 

For many people, work helps them meet their need to accomplish goals and make a difference in the world. Having a job where the work one does is purposeful and has a deeper meaning beyond the daily tasks improves motivation.

Effective leaders measure performance with impact. They use impact, rather than quotas or profits, as a measure of success, and help employees see the connection between their day-to-day activities and the larger mission and vision of the organization.

In this video, Brandi Olson, author of Real Flow: Break the Burnout Cycle and Unlock High Performance in the New World of Work explains why individual performance should be measured with impact instead of perceived productivity.

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Facilitate Their Growth

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows employees that you want them to succeed. When they feel that you care about and encourage their growth and give them the means to grow, it can do wonders for motivation and performance. 

Sara Canaday, author of Coaching Essentials for Managers: The Tools You Need to Ignite Greatness in Each Employee, says leaders should practice developmental coaching (not just performance coaching) to keep employees motivated:

“One of the best ways to get team members more engaged is to spend time with them through developmental coaching. When you demonstrate that you genuinely care about their career aspirations and want to support them, you can bet those employees will be ‘all in.’  To do it well, you need to really get to know your employees—their strengths, challenges, and professional goals.”

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Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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