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Employee Retention and Motivation

Employee Retention and Motivation

Now that you have recruited and selected the people you want, retaining and motivating them is the next challenge you face to help your business be successful.

When looking at either of these topics, it is useful to recall Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs (physiological needs, security needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualizing needs).

To retain employees, you must meet their basic needs (both in terms of their familial obligations as well as the workplace environment). In the context of the employer/employee relationship, those basic needs are:

  • Pay and Job Security that allow the employees to meet their familial and social obligations to "family" (in this context, family means any person for whom your employee has any responsibility to provide food and a comfortable and secure place to live and sleep)
  • Benefits that provide the opportunity to care for and spend time with "family" (this can be time-off for sickness, holidays, vacation, work-from-home under difficult circumstances, flexible hours, childcare arrangements, parent-care arrangements)
  • HR (and other) policies that treat people in a basically acceptable manner (sometimes characterized as equal treatment) in the context of the workplace
  • Working Conditions that allow employees to do their jobs in a reasonable manner
  • Working Relationships with you, their peers, and their subordinates that are sufficiently cordial and friendly

At one time or another, all of these items (pay, benefits, unequal application of policies or unequal treatment, poor working conditions, and dysfunctional working relationships) have been the prime reason individuals have chosen to vote with their feet and leave a company. Suffice it to say:

If you don't meet your employees' basic needs, you will not retain their services.

Now, let's talk about growth and development needs, or, as Maslow called them, the esteem and self-actualizing needs. Mastering meeting the growth and development needs will help your business move from "good" to "great."

The first lesson that you, as the small business owner, must learn is that you cannot motivate any of your employees. Motivation is something people do for themselves. All you can do is provide an environment in which it becomes possible for your employees to fulfill their growth and development needs (as they experience those needs internally).

You cannot motivate your people and what motivates you will not necessarily motivate them. There is no "easy fix" to the conundrum called "motivation."

To be an effective motivator, you must find out from your people, one-on-one, what motivates them and then become their "personal trainer" to help them devise their own plan (and make their own personal commitments) to achieve that plan.

To motivate an employee, you have to create a setting and the opportunity for the employee to satisfy his or her pressing "growth & development need" and it will be different for each employee. If you are a good coach and have listened well, your employees will have given you many good hints at what is important to them – said differently, what need they are aspiring to fulfill. In general, and in Maslowvian terms, to feel good about themselves, your people must have their need for self-esteem met by their own accomplishment, accompanied by your public recognition of what they have achieved. That's how motivation happens.

On a closing note, let's talk about the old proverbial "carrot and stick" approach to motivation. First, the carrot is a food product that meets the donkey's need for nourishment. Likewise, many bosses think that by throwing money around (the currency we use to meet the same nourishment need) they have discovered the nirvana of motivation. If you are dealing with someone who is hungry, it probably works.

If you are trying to motivate an established sales professional, then it probably doesn't have the same motivational impact. In fact, once money is used as the sole means of recognizing someone (carrot), if and when it is taken away, a real dilemma is created, for yourself as a leader and for your employee, as the received message is quite negative. Incentive systems are important for group recognition ("the business did well, we all did well together"), but not to create individual recognition, and certainly not to "buy" motivation.

As for the stick…all "sticks" can ever achieve is minimal adherence to a norm or an expected or desired behavior. If the stick achieves adherence, then it is the lowest baseline level that will not occasion another application of the stick. And, the employee knows that if he or she doesn't cross the unacceptable behavior line, then the stick won't be applied. Sticks never achieve greatness, only minimal compliance.

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