Motivating Employees: 6 Questions To Improve Performance

October 8, 2014

How do you motivate an employee? There are many theories, but the one I found most useful as a manager is Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory. The writings about this theory can sound very academic, but the practical implications are solid. I will not detail the theory here but rather address several questions suggested by this theory. To be better at motivating your employees, ask yourself these questions:

1. Have I made the level of performance I expect clear to those I manage? It is easy to think you have made clear the performance you expect when in fact you have not. Perhaps you assumed people knew what you expected. Perhaps the standard is clear in your mind but not theirs. Perhaps you communicated the standards but the communication process broke down. Do your employees really know the performance standards to which you are holding them accountable?

2. Is the level of performance I expect achievable? As a young manager, I expected all my employees to match the performance of my very best employees. This was unrealistic. I wised up and figured out that I really should be setting standards based on good performance. Then I communicated those standards and implemented training for all to get there. Within a year, my team was winning performance awards.

3. Does each employee see the level of performance expected as achievable? This will vary but is crucial. How do employees see the relationship between their effort and the level of performance required? Some employees know they can achieve the standards but others may have doubts. Why those doubts? Do they need training? Equipment? Coaching? Or are there other issues distracting them from their efforts? In a few cases, the person-job match may not be a good one. If I do not see my efforts resulting in achieving the performance expected, my motivation will be low.

4. Do I give feedback and hold employees accountable? Sometimes employees may not understand what is expected or may not realize they are not measuring up to expectations. Without feedback they will not know. To develop employees, feedback is essential. I think a major responsibility of managers is growing their employees. Give positive feedback where warranted. Give corrective feedback where needed.

5. Do I make clear to employees the relationship between their performance and outcomes they desire? Feedback from managers in corporate America: This is where we drop the ball. Linking performance to desired outcomes is key. Some systems are designed to reward everyone equally, or in turn, or there is little or no relationship between performance and outcomes. If I see no or little relationship between my performance and the outcomes I desire, my motivation will be low. Which leads to another key point.

6. Do I know the outcomes that employees really value? This can be tough. Nearly all want to keep their jobs, perhaps increase pay, achieve desired promotions. The tickets to the professional baseball game that everyone received may be nice for some but not for all. If I do not value the outcomes, my motivation will be low. Highly desired outcomes can vary widely from person to person. If your span of control is 20 or less, you may know your direct reports well enough to know the outcomes they really want. This really helped me as a manager. For example, I took over an operation with an outstanding program leader who had not received a promotion in many years. I told him, “Just give me the consistent high level of performance you gave your last boss, and I’ll do all I can to get you promoted.” He did and with some help I made it happen. But if I had failed, my employee would still have known I cared and I tried.

You might also like:
• The Root of Motivation
• 5 Rockin’ Motivation Techniques That Won’t Cost a Dime
• Motivation: Three Questions to Discover What Makes Your Employees Tick

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About The Author

John Ballard PhD is is the author of Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations. A Professor of Management at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, he has over 20 years of consulting and managerial experience. Connect with John at, www.facebook/johnballardphd, and on twitter @johnballardphd.

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    I think that this is a very helpful blog and that managers will see many ideas that they can implement.

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