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Motivating Employees: 3 Ideas That Just Might Work for You

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I recently got interviewed by one of my employees who is looking to hone in on his career path. He's a newly appointed manager and he wants to make sure he's on the road to success. The topic: How do you motivate people?

I was kind of blindsided by the topic because at first blush I don't think I'm a great motivator. I'm pretty good at coming up with new ideas for our customers and I'm good at my discipline (marketing). But I never really thought of myself as the motivator until we started talking about how we motivate people at my email marketing company, VerticalResponse. After a few minutes of thought, I landed on three specifics about how I think we do a nice job with motivation:

1) public recognition
2) liking who you work for, what you do and where you work
3) a willingness to be open and honest.

Motivation Through Attaboys

Public recognition can really go a long way. Whether it's stopping by a team member's desk to say thanks for staying late to fix a problem, a company-wide email recognizing a salesperson completing a great deal, or a personal handwritten note saying, "Great job on the TPS report," people just want to know that they're doing a good job and that you notice it. Maybe it's because we all need to feel valued, and that what we all do makes a real difference to the success of the company. Or maybe it's for our own egos. Either way, it's important and you and your managers should be doing it on a regular basis.

At VerticalResponse, I make it a point to call out when someone has a good idea, since anyone at our company can. I am not a fan of someone taking credit for an idea they didn't come up with. As a result, we have a culture that fosters great ideas from anywhere. Our marketing communications director came up with the idea to give our email marketing product away for free to non-profits, and I constantly tell people that. A brand-new salesperson - I think it was his third week on the job - came up with our new company tag line while on the phone one day: Unbelievably Simple, Incredibly Effective. I ran out of my office when I heard that one.

Happy Employees = Happy Customers

Another thing we discussed was that liking the people you work for is extremely important. When we conduct exit interviews with soon-to-be former employees, we've found that people loved the company and what we did, but they didn't always respect their bosses. We've gone so far as to make tough decisions on whether to keep people or not because of this.

The people that your employees have to work with on a day-to-day basis can be motivating. If you need to work in pairs and you really like the person you share your cube or a retail location with, you're that much more likely not to call in sick! Hiring can also be tricky here. When it comes to hiring someone new, we let their peers participate in the interview process and have their say. For instance, if someone is interviewing for a job that is somewhat technical in nature, and they're not very technical, their peers are going to have to pick up the slack. So it's important that they choose who they want to work with wisely.

Additionally, the company environment can be motivating. Things like changing up the office, or adding something fun like a massage chair or candy bowls, can be a nice, morale-boosting gesture. Little extras like letting people go home early from time to time, being flexible if employees need to work from home as appropriate, getting bagels on Mondays to start the week off, and stocking the fridge full of soft drinks are all small things that make it a nice place for people to spend the majority of their day. Employees are motivated to go the extra mile if they like who they work for, who they work with and where they work.

Motivating by Being Open

The newly appointed manager who "interviewed" me also asked what I do to motivate people behind closed doors, since he doesn't interact with me in many meetings. I told him one of the things we try to do as a company is remain open. We are open about our revenue numbers and growth, our doors are always open, we keep everyone updated on all the inner workings of each department, and we hang out and chat socially with each other.

After my "interview," I realized that we actually do a pretty great job at motivating employees. We pay attention to what they do and recognize it. We make an effort to listen and make sure people like who they work for, because, frankly, it has become the No. 1 reason why we've lost great people. And lastly, we are honest and open with everyone, which can be a huge motivation factor to keep employees around.

What have you implemented in your company to keep your employees happy?

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Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, which provides a full suite of self-service online marketing solutions for small businesses and non-profits including email marketing, event marketing, online surveys, social media and direct mail. She's also the CEB (Chief Executive Blogger) of the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses.