The beginning of the year is full of new resolutions and goal setting, but is the start of a new year really the time to be thinking about goal setting? Picture this, you attend an amazing motivational and inspirational conference, and at the end, you’re full of inspiration and drive to set out changing the world. This excitement and push last about a few days to a few weeks; maybe you’ve started implementing some of your ideas, maybe you haven’t. Eventually, you realize all that good will has transitioned right back to your daily routine, and that motivation that was once felt has fizzled.

That’s how employees feel when company’s attempt to deploy motivational tactics each January. Full of grand ideas and motivation that tend to fizzle out the further the year goes on.

The truth is, it’s really hard to make sure employees are happy. I know because this is one of the single most discussed topics amongst entrepreneurs, and through the benefit of collective experience, I’ve found that there are three key elements of keeping employees motivated.

However, let’s get this cleared up right from the start; there is no gimmick, trick, or magical pill to motivate your team members. The answer isn’t a raise, a Ping-Pong table in the office, or free beer on Fridays. Ultimately what we need to consider are the most basic and primal behaviours of human beings: to feel safe, to belong, and to feel worth.

Keep Employees Safe

The first question to ask yourself is, do you truly have the back of your employees? I remember listening to Simon Sinek’s TED talk on “Why good leaders make you feel safe” in 2014 and that was a turning point on how I thought about building businesses.

 

Sinek relates the workplace to the military and how medals are awarded to those willing to sacrifice themselves so that their friends and colleagues may gain. However, in business, we tend to give bonuses and reward to those who are willing to sacrifice others so they may gain. It’s a backward scenario that needs to be fixed.

Small business leaders need to look at their team as a whole and adopt a policy whereby individuals have the ability to be either coached up or coached out. Give individuals the opportunity to shift within the organization if something isn’t the right fit, and ultimately you’ll either end up with a happier employee or a clear understanding they aren’t the right fit for the team.

This sense of safety relates to outside influences as well. Do you go to bat for your staff when conflicts arise, or do you bend to the demands of the customer? Truth be told, the customer is not always right. Stand up for your people, and they will stand up for you. Everyone should be accountable, but everyone should also have each other’s back.

Create a Sense of Belonging

Nothing is more powerful in driving employee satisfaction than a sense of belonging. This starts by ensuring that everyone is treated equally. This could mean making sure everyone gets and takes advantage of, paid holidays. This doesn’t mean a “working holiday”, it means completely disconnected and spending the time with the people they want to spend time with. This highlights how much the team cares about each other’s individual happiness.

It’s important to extend that dynamic into the regular work schedule as well. Take some time each to chat about each other’s personal lives, personal goals, and personal happiness. This develops personal connections and creates a bonded team. Dr. Dylan Selterman puts it best when he says, “people have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds that form close relationships are a major part of human behaviour.”

A happy employee will consistently perform better than one who isn’t happy; it also means they are less likely to jump to another company for more money and let’s face it, as a small business, there will always be another company that can offer more money to your qualified employees.

Develop Worth

This is where the value of true leadership shines through. Employers hear it all the time, “I want to make an impact”, especially from Millennials. But what does that truly mean?

Let’s be real, most small businesses are not solving climate issues, water shortage, or tackling global health crises. But a company does not need to be that lofty or ambitious to provide a sense of worth. The real impact people want to make is within your company. Employees want to feel a sense of worth in the business; that they have contributed some way in making it better than it was yesterday.

That’s where the leadership comes in; don’t be a hero in your business, be a coach. Don’t try to solve everything for everyone, because they become reliant on you. What happens then is they stop thinking on their own, stop finding meaningful ways to contribute and no longer feel like they are making an impact.

One means of engaging employees in a meaningful way is by encouraging them to come up with possible solutions to problems prior to booking a meeting or asking a question. More often than not, the solutions they come with are the same ones you would have prescribed. This trains them to be confident, and more importantly, this trains them to use what’s most important to your business, their brains. Without the value of individual contribution, what’s the point in having an employee maintain a role that a machine could just as easily automate?

Be that coach for your team, and they’ll make some real changes in your business, and make a positive impact.

At the end of the day, great leaders spend more than 90 percent of their time on people because we know it costs three times more in salary when hiring the wrong person, but when you get it right they are your company’s greatest assets.

Make those employees genuinely happy, and you’ll never need to think about motivating them again in the new years. Remember you are dealing with people, not just employees. Developing a strong connection to the personal interests of your staff unrelated to the business operations, build trust, and provide worth and you will build connections that hold value beyond the traditional workplace offerings.

About Jeremy Choi

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur, mentor, and an irredeemable golf addict. Possibly like you, my big hairy audacious goal (vision) is to make a positive dent in this world. I write about creating better leaders, workers, and people. I also write about my experiences in all aspects of my life. These ideas are my experiences living & learning through my own core values; integrity, authenticity, leadership, inspire, and health.

CEO & Co-Founder of WPUP, Co-Founder of Athlete Activation System, and Co-Founder of Dyma.
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