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Feature   December 1, 2012   by Chris Talbot

Managing and motivating employees: Not as difficult as it sounds

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch had what he knew was the secret to effectively managing employees.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch had what he knew was the secret to effectively managing employees.

“If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings — and put compensation as a carrier behind it — you almost don’t have to manage them,” he once remarked. Welch made management sound easy. So why is that so many business owners and managers have such a difficult time attracting, motivating and keeping top talent?

One of the reasons is that managers frequently focus on the middle part of that quote. Nobody can deny monetary compensation is an important element of an employee’s work life, but most managers might be surprised to learn it has consistently fallen far down on the ‘Top 10’ lists of things that employees say motivate them to greatness. On the other hand, the average manager has consistently believed for decades that the way to manage and motivate is to dangle a carrot by way of financial compensation.

According to Greg Weatherdon, an experienced entrepreneur and motivational speaker who regularly speaks with Canadian organizations about how to “get more life” out of their businesses, managing employees takes time, effort and an understanding of the employee mindset. But really, proper management begins even before a new employee joins the team — before you even start collecting resumes, actually.

Hire right … the first time

An employee that doesn’t fit in with your organization or its culture is not only difficult to manage; it’s an impossible situation. Like Welch, Weatherdon knows the secret to effective management begins with effective hiring.

Good hiring techniques aren’t about advertising for a list of technical qualifications or credentials, but instead a list of the traits and behaviours that will mesh with the culture and set the potential employee up for success, he said. Hiring is never easy, but finding the right person for the job takes time, effort and patience.

If you’re hiring the right people, you can get more out of them because they’re happy in their job, said Jay Forte, performance coach, author and speaker and president of Humanetrics LLC.

“You have to hire well so you don’t waste all of your time trying to drag somebody into better performance who just doesn’t want to do it anyway,” Forte said.

It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T

If money isn’t the top employee motivator (it’s usually around number six on every list over the last 30 years), then what is? Aretha Franklin sang about it, and if managers want to better motivate their employees, they should get used to giving it. Of critical importance to employee motivation and happiness in any job is respect and appreciation.

The old management techniques no longer work. The gruff boss who gives orders to employees like he’s a drill sergeant doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced world; and managers need to take a more personable approach to dealing with employees. That doesn’t mean they should be their best friend and go drinking with them on Friday nights, though, said Merge Gupta-Sunderji, leadership expert.

Simply getting to know employees at a somewhat deeper level, asking them about their long-term goals, working with them to achieve goals for their own betterment and the success of the company, and doing something as simple as saying “good job” goes a long ways towards motivating employees. A happy employee is a productive employee, after all.

Gupta-Sunderji recommends managers schedule 30-minute one-on-one coffee meetings with employees to chat, allowing the employee to lead the conversation. It’s a simple gift of time, which she said is a huge motivator. Simple and genuine communications goes a long way.

Create a culture of education

Education and training, whether it’s formal instruction or more informal on-the-job training, may seem like a daunting and expensive element of a business, but it’s another great motivating factor in good management techniques.

Managers are frequently concerned any training they provide will be an opportunity for the employee to seek greener pastures, but that’s not the way owners should look at it, said Bob Greenwood, AAM, president and CEO of Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre. Instead, look at it as an investment that keeps employees engaged, improving their work and, ultimately, creating a better customer experience.

“The employer has got to understand education is an investment, and that is something so many do not acknowledge,” Greenwood said.

Another unfortunate aspect of education and training is most businesses simply do not allocate enough of a budget, Greenwood said. Unfortunately, there’s no magic dollar figure every parts dealer should input into their training budget.

Even if that budget is available, though, employees have to be motivated to continue their training, whether it’s learning more about the business or taking courses to upgrade their skills. Owners have to foster a culture of learning within the business, Weatherdon said. That also means providing the means to learn during work hours. It’s incredibly demotivating to expect employees to take courses and upgrade their skills on their own time without compensation, he said. It’s even worse to expect them to pay for it out of their own pockets.

Embrace the traits of a good manager

Walk the walk, talk the talk and learn to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty when push comes to shove. It may be a jumble of clichés, but they’re all traits of a good manager — one who not only keeps employees focused, but drives efficiencies and helps to create a friendly, fun work atmosphere.

There are a number of traits a good manager possesses, including being personally interested in their people, a good listener and communicator, driven and focused, a good worker, self-discipline and perseverance.

Not everyone is born with these skills, and some will need to spend more time cultivating these disciplines than others to be truly effective in managing employees and motivating them to peak efficiency. In the end, though, when the right people are in the right jobs in the right company, employees will take the initiative and help drive your company’s success.

“Most good employees leave due to bad management. And management’s blaming the staff,” Greenwood said.

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