How to Motivate employees and Retain them



motivating-and-retaining-employeesWhat motivates your employees?

Every employee has different reasons for showing up at work and there are different ways to motivate each of the people working with you. Since one size does not fit all, it is best to stop guessing and to find out for sure what it is that makes those reporting to you love their jobs. Knowing what motivates your direct reports is also a great way to ensure you retain your direct reports. Of course having a good professional relationship with each of your direct reports goes a long way to ensuring that issues which may demotivate them are brought up early and resolved in open dialogue and discussion.

The exercise below can be used by you to first establish what you believe would be motivational before you ask your direct reports to complete the exercise below. Understanding that, as their supervisor, you are most likely not going to get it right without their input may further instill the practice in you to always check your assumptions before you engage when it comes to understanding what would motivate others.

The list below contain outcomes that could be motivational to your direct reports in their jobs. This means that these outcomes would keep them interested in continuing to work in this role, for you and in this company.

Instructions: Rank the list below in terms of 1 to 14 where 1 means “motivates me the most” to 14 which means “this does not motivate me much.” The ranking is not to say that this is how it is RIGHT NOW, but in the perfect environment, what would be the most vs least motivational to the person doing the ranking.

A. Rank these from 1 to 14

  • Receiving market-aligned compensation for the job I am doing
  • Recognition for my efforts by my supervisor
  • My work is interesting and challenges me in a positive way
  • The company/job comes with excellent benefits (separate from my annual salary)
  • Pleasant working environment (ambiance, set-up)
  • My supervisor is fair in making decisions and communicating them i.e. promotion, recognition, expectations.
  • The knowledge of my colleagues which is shared with me
  • I have all the information I need to have in order to understand what my priorities are and why I am performing the tasks that I am assigned
  • I understand exactly what my supervisor expects from me
  • I have a great feeling of accomplishment in this role/job
  • This role/job provides me with a lot of learning options, which can lead to promotions in the future
  • I have a chance to contribute to discussions and decisions that impact me
  • The people I work with are great people who make me feel included and valued
  • My opinion is often asked for and is valued by my supervisor

B. Level of current motivation

The next step would be to ask the same employees to rate how much they are currently motivated by the same items from above.  Comparing these answers with the answers in A. can help you identify possible ways in which you can improve the motivation of each employee reporting to you. For example, if someone had a high ranking motivator in A. and that same item gets a low score in B. that means you should look for ways to impact that area to motivate and retain that particular employee.

motivation-ranking

Once you have captured the feedback from those who report to you, have individual discussions with each one of them to determine how you can better impact the areas that they scored the highest:

  • How can I, as your supervisor, help you to have a better experience of this item (high ranking items from A. the list above – especially if that same item has a low score in B.)? _____________________________________________________
  • Are there ways in which you feel that I can remove obstacles or improve your experience in this regard? (see highest ranking items with low scores in exercise B.) ______________________
  • Is there anything that you and I need to discuss or resolve to remove any bad feelings or negativity from the past to move forward on a positive note? _________________________
  • Is there anything that I, as your supervisor, can do better to improve your enjoyment of your job/role at the company?

Be sure to mention (as appropriate – be truthful and honest):

  • I want you to know that I value your contribution and you are an important team member to this project/department.
  • I believe we can achieve great accomplishments in this department/team if we work together and communicate openly about what needs to be done and how to support each other in order to have a better overall outcome for the team/department.
  • I hope you will take the time to let me know of any obstacle that you see which may hinder us in achieving our goals. And I hope you will see any feedback from me in the same light – I want you as an individual to enjoy what you are doing (realizing that not all of our jobs are highly enjoyable – some parts are typically repetitive and maybe mainly administrative) and I want your contribution to the team/department to be clear to you in terms of expectations and how things are going.
  • Is there anything else you would like to bring my attention or which you think we should discuss before we end our meeting?

After the meeting you may want to consider reviewing your notes. Some items may be easy to action, simply by you emailing or calling someone in order to set something up. Other items may not be so straight-forward. For example, someone with a performance that does not meet expectations may ask for an increase. Set up a meeting with your HR Business Partner or representative to talk through the items and set priorities. Always make sure you are able to provide direct individual feedback to each employee on the items you discussed in your individual meetings with them.

Employees are motivated by different aspects of their roles/jobs at the company and there are many ways in which you are able to influence these aspects. The professional relationship you have with your direct employees also greatly impacts whether someone chooses to stay or leave the company/their role.

In the end some employees will leave and you will need to fill those roles by promoting existing employees or hiring new employees. Ultimately, the sign of a good leader is the number of great leaders he or she creates. When they feel the need to leave to move up, applaud them, keep contact with them and congratulate yourself when you see them succeed regardless of where they end up as a result of your great coaching and support.

Action Plans for Employee Surveys


The most important action to take after you are clear on the results from an employee satisfaction or employee engagement survey is to ensure you develop a realistic action plan to address the highest priority areas of concern. I am assuming that you have already decided when you would communicate the results to the survey participants and whether or not you would wait to include the planned actions based on the survey in the feedback.

The first template helps you to describe and be clear on which areas you plan to address in making improvements to how employees experience their work environment etc. Specific actions are then selected and jotted down. (Always remember to make actions SMART – Specific, Measurable (what progress can be observed/measured from this action?), Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.)

Employee Survey Action Plan Template

The second template relates to the regular updates that management typically expect from those who are managing the process of setting the action plans, actioning the plans and updating the plans. It focuses specifically on the agreed actions with a simple indication of progress. You can always add a comments column if your manager requires more details than the indicator of progress to date.

Employee Survey Action Plan Update Template

Some reminders:

  • Remember to communicate the survey results, the actions planned and action status updates to those who participated in the survey. It motivates employees to participate in future requests for input and establishes credibility in the process and management’s intentions to ensure a good working environment and fair and supportive treatment of employees.
  • Don’t pick more than four areas to address. If you pick too many actions and areas to action you could easily be overwhelmed by the activities that need to take place on top of your normal day-to-day workload. It is important that you are able to show progress according to your plan – to management and to survey participants.
  • Don’t survey employee opinion too often – this leads to survey-fatigue and your participation rate can drop. How often? Depends on the length of your survey. A short “employee happiness” check with about 10 questions or rated statements may be done on a quarterly basis. A full-blown survey with between 40 and 80 questions should not be considered more often than perhaps 18 to 24 months apart.
  • Explain the context of actions from employee surveys. Most people dislike being expedited on the actions that they need to take according to the action plan. It is not always true that the individuals responsible for these actions understand how the action that he or she needs to take relates to the overall action plan and the employee survey. Knowing the context of their activities and how these activities relate to a greater cause can be very motivational and may simplify your job of ensuring progress on action plans.

Employee Happiness Score Chart – Smileys


Sometimes you don’t want to run a full employee engagement survey, but you just want to do a quick check to see how things are going. Call it a “mood meter” or a high level check to see if you can catch some underlying issues that may require further investigation.

Of course it is understood that a quick check is not meant for applications where the correlation between questions and outcomes require a statistically defensible position. HR folks and OD folks sometimes just need a quick tool that would help you see if there may be a trend that is worth looking into further at your location. Sometimes the trend you see can be as simple as a low level of responses to your quick check.

A few watch-outs:

  1. Don’t make this the ONLY tool you use to determine how happy your employees are. There are some very affordable and good tools available to drive a more in-depth look at your company culture or employee engagement. This is just for spotting any trends you may need to be aware of or take a look at.
  2. Don’t survey your poor employees to death. Don’t run this any more than once every other month – at most. Even that. If you do that too often, people will lose interest and you will lose credibility.
  3. You can plan to take some actions based on what comes out of this quick check, but if you really want to determine change management initiatives that will most likely take a while to implement and cost more than a few pennies – this is not enough. You would have to follow-up with something more solid for that purpose. Focus groups, a full employee engagement survey etc.
  4. Don’t give them too much time to respond or they won’t take you serious on the deadline and put things off until they forget. Don’t give them too little time either – be aware of their workload and other priorities when you decide how much time to allow. I would recommend 7 to 10 days as an average, but it does depend on factors such as whether it is a small group, are they all based at one location or spread around the globe/region?
  5. Be sure to be clear on why you are running it and what can be expected from the outcomes when you introduce the tool. People who are in some way distrustful or feel unhappy could easily read negative motivations into your introduction of this tool plus management and leaders whom you are trying to support by doing this could easily expect too much from this.

I am sure I could come up with more watch-outs, but for now, I will just post this tool for your use and wish you good outcomes! Feel free to let me know what your thoughts and experiences are/were with these kinds of quick tools.

Employee Happiness Smiley Chart