There is no "easy fix" to the challenge called motivation. The first lesson that you as the small business owner should 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 motivate themselves.

As a corollary to this statement, what motivates you (the boss) may not — and probably will not — motivate the people who work for you. Unfortunately, some leaders believe that they know what motivates people, and all that has to be done is to determine what they will give their employees so that x, y, and z are accomplished. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it might appear.

For example, consider the younger generation from which you will try to recruit the people you need for your business success. The characteristics of this next generation may include the following:

  • Highly interactive online. Everything, including their lives, is constantly tuned into electronic devices that allow them to communicate with one another and any place on the earth in real-time and in a variety of ways.
  • The future is now, speed is king, their attention spans are a lot shorter than their predecessors, and they constantly multi-task.
  • They value lifestyles that are customized and unique.
  • They form small, very tight social groups.
  • They are autonomous–plugged in and yet tuned out of anything that doesn't grab their attention.

Take a minute and make a list of what you think motivates this "generation next." If you wrote down your list, then you may not understand this generation, since they don't "write down" anything. They look it up on their smartphones while they talk or text someone else. When was the last time you saw a member of "generation next" (out of grade school) use a pen to write something down on a piece of paper? The point is that it may not be possible to make a list of what motivates a group of people from “generation next”. Motivation is very personal.

To be an effective motivator, you must find out from your people, one-on-one, what motivates them, and then help them devise their own plan and make their own personal commitments to achieve that plan. If you want to be a great motivator, be a good coach. If you establish a consistent track record of genuine respect and caring, you’ll increase the chances that your employees will reciprocate by becoming long-term, high-contributing employees.

To help motivate an employee, you have to create a setting and an opportunity for each employee to satisfy his/her need for growth and development – and it will be different for each person. If you are a good coach and listen well, your employees will probably give you many good hints at what is important to them. To feel good about themselves, your employees must have their need for self-esteem met by their own accomplishments, accompanied by your public recognition of what they have achieved.

What about the proverbial "carrot and stick" approach to motivation?  Many bosses think that throwing money around is the key to motivation. 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. Incentive systems can be 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 a desired behavior. If the stick achieves adherence, then it is at the lowest baseline level that will avoid the stick being used again. And, the employee knows that if he/she doesn't cross the unacceptable behavior line, then the stick won't be applied. Sticks never achieve greatness, only minimal compliance. No one achieves the "most they can be" through the constant threat of or actual application of a (figurative) beating.

To be an effective motivator, take a one-on-one approach to your employees, helping them get what they want so you (and your business) will get what you want: long-term, high-contributing employees who help drive your company’s success.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC