Small businesses belong to an interesting ecosystem being that most employees wear many hats. In this process, though, employees can lose sight of broader goals while buried in tasks or burn out due to how much they’re working. With that being said, it’s helpful for small business owners to understand how to keep employees motivated.
Step 1: Make sure the goals are clearly defined.
No one likes to work at a place where the goals seem unclear or unstable. Unfortunately, it is a pretty common circumstance: 67% of senior leaders can’t name the priorities of their CEO, for example. That statistic comes from enterprise (read: bigger) companies, so it makes some sense; with so many people on board with so many different duties, important aspects can get lost in the shuffle. That’s why you absolutely need to make sure goals are clearly defined when you’re still a smaller operation.
Step 2: Make sure the goals are also communicated.
Communication is one of the only aspects of business that you should not try to scale. It works best 1-to-1 between managers and employees, or founders and initial staff. And while not always possible if you have remote staff, face-to-face communication is often 34x more effective than email and collaboration platforms.
Step 3: Understand The Hawthorne Effect.
In short, The Hawthorne Effect conveys the value of listening to your employees and showing you legitimately care. It’s all based on productivity studies conducted in a factory in Illinois in the early 1900s, but it still resonates today. Showing that you care about those who work for you will make employees more invested in their work. Here’s a simple hack: when you hire a new staff member, do an “entry interview”. Learn how the employee likes to work, what drives them, what rewards they seek, etc. Then, try to tailor their incentives towards what they find most motivating.
Step 4: Keep talking to team members and recognizing accomplishments.
Do this every single day. Don’t become one of those completely heads-down teams where everything is just about tasks, KPIs and spreadsheets. Those things are important, of course, but everyone wants to be acknowledged for their work and told what’s important and what’s on the horizon. If you want some additional ideas for consistent communication and what it should look like, consider some ideas from Kim Scott, formerly of Google and Facebook. Her approach is called “radical candor” and it helps managers approach conversations with employees about both goals and performance.
Step 5: Utilize incentive structures.
Ideally, incentive structures should vary by person -- i.e. what matters most to each employee -- but make sure you have a mix of intrinsic (impact of work, culture fit) and extrinsic (money, trips, rewards) incentives relative to how much you can afford to spend. Obviously, as a small business, you can’t fly high performers to the South Pacific for the weekend. But can you give out cash bonuses for performance above a certain level?
It’s incredibly important to keep your staff motivated. Much of conventional management philosophy has revolved around extrinsic rewards and motivators -- think bonuses, etc. But in reality, a lot of motivation stems from more effective communication, clarity of priorities, and -- like most things you want to achieve in life -- caring about the people and outcomes involved. That motivation will need to be there as you try to grow and keep the potentially (likely) overworked staff engaged.