A motivated workforce can be the difference between a practice that thrives and one that barely survives. Here’s how to motivate employees. By John Burfitt
Anyone who has ever walked out of a session with motivational guru Tony Robbins knows the feeling of being so bursting with enthusiasm, you feel ready to take on the world.
Workplace training sessions can often have a similar effect, after an avalanche of new ideas and clever concepts have rained down, leaving participants motivated to be—as the phrase promises—‘their very best self’.
Check in with the same people a few weeks later, however, and the reality of life and the demands of work have often defused any new approach. Despite the time and financial investment in rallying the troops with inspiring speakers and impressive training, too often it’s back to business—as usual.
“That rah-rah is great, but it can be so draining,” says Karen Gately, author of The Corporate Dojo: driving extraordinary results through spirited people and The People Manager’s Toolkit. “There’s plenty of research that claims only about 30 per cent of what’s covered in a training session goes back into the workplace, let alone what lingers on a year later.
“There needs to be deliberate actions taken to ensure those feelings of motivation not only last, but are authentic. Rah-rah is great, but most people in the team need much more than that to stay motivated to deliver their best. And that mostly comes down to the way the business operates.”
Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace Report offered revealing data about motivation, finding that only 33 per cent of workers claimed they were actively engaged in their work, at an estimated cost of up to $600 billion a year in lost productivity.
“Think of that and then imagine what demotivated employees can be doing to a business,” Melbourne business trainer Louise Davis says. “Demotivated employees can be toxic and turn away customers, which is even more lost opportunity.”
How to motivate employees
Davis outlines three basic rules the business owner or practice manager needs to adopt to be the kind of leader that helps create a motivated workplace. She summarises these into the one ‘Be Curious, Watch & Listen’ rule.
“To keep a motivated team, be curious to learn what motivates them and drives their performance,” she advises. “Then pay attention to what they focus on, put their energy into and what they do better than anything else. Finally, ask the important questions to notice the relationship between what people say and what they do. Then ask a few more questions to get a greater insight into what motivates them.”
Dr Brett Robinson’s approach to motivation has seen him kick winning goals in three areas—on the sporting field playing for the Wallabies, in health care as a doctor of clinical orthopaedics and in business as chief executive officer of BOQ Specialist.
Dr Robinson says the key to motivating staff in a healthcare practice is presenting a clear understanding of what the business is in operation for and why the team’s approach makes a genuine difference.
“What sits behind high-performing teams with highly motivated people is that coming together to achieve something that’s meaningful for them—whatever that may be,” he says. “Everyone on that team understands what’s going on, and so are motivated to try collectively to achieve success or a particular outcome.
“The greatest challenge I see—and this is often poorly done—is an organisation taking the time to truly understand what alignment they can create within the team to achieving a common purpose.”
“There’s plenty of research that claims only about 30 per cent of what’s covered in a training session goes back into the workplace, let alone what lingers on a year later.”—Karen Gately, author, The Corporate Dojo: driving extraordinary results through spirited people
Working with a defined purpose so that each person’s role within a team is clear and there’s an understanding of the value of their contribution, Robinson adds, is vital for motivation.
“It comes down to being clear about why your business exists in the first place, and the rewards—both financial and non-financial—that come from that. It is about each person knowing what they do matters, and then constantly reinforcing their contribution with the way you communicate with them.”
Dr Robinson claims what management does in practise, far more than what they say, is crucial to motivation. “Every little action counts and it’s got to be about how you interact and work with your people, in respecting their roles but also being honest when there are areas that need to be improved.”
Dr Sam Kovac is the owner of Sydney’s Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic, employing a staff of 35. He states how a work culture that has been established at the top and then filters down through the ranks has a significant impact on motivation.
“You really must lead by example and practise in a way that you want the rest of your vets to also practise,” he says. “Following through with what you say by actually doing it is important.”
Offering feedback can be one of the main factors in motivating a team, and Karen Gately says being an effective manager means feedback needs to be delivered in a way that’s honest but also builds skills and performance.
“Managers sometimes think they’re doing the right thing in keeping everyone motivated by tolerating the things that are not working and avoiding those conversations—and that’s a big mistake,” she says.
“You owe it to the team to be honest and have those conversations to help them improve and refine the way they work. It’s a gift of opportunity to help someone understand their reality, and do something about it. When it’s done effectively, it can be the most motivating thing of all.”
Allowing the team room within their roles to be creative and innovative can result in a far more engaged approach to work, Dr Kovac adds.
“Encouraging the staff to come up with their own ideas and then implementing them can infuse real pride in their work, as they feel directly involved, and also valued.
“Just remember it isn’t just the pay cheque the staff is working for. That feeling of recognition and appreciation for good work can never be underestimated.”
Yet for all the emphasis put on management to lead by example, Louise Davis says any manager keen on developing a motivated team needs to consider their management style.
“Is it your role as a leader to motivate your team, or to create an environment where they can motivate themselves?
“Having to be the motivator of everyone over the long term is exhausting, and not sustainable. When you create an environment where your team are self-motivated, you create a highly efficient workplace as you have taken the time to understand what’s important to each person. When you set up the right environment and allow them to succeed, the team is far more likely to thrive.”