There are many ideas and theories regarding how to best motivate people in general and employees in specific.  Most managers remember the X, Y, and Z theories of management from back in college in addition to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which has been altered recently to add a new primitive and basic need: WIFI.  I have seen an image of the pyramid with ” battery” at the bottom but thought they were taking it a little too far.  To refresh your memory, Maslow stated that all people have the same needs which he then segregated to physiological, safety, esteem, and self actualization (as shown below).  It’s not a difficult concept but back in college, it was just a theory.


When we finally got employed and for those of us who are fortunate to be deemed managers, we were given employees and told that we now have the role of motivating them.  So what we all did was go back to our textbooks and started researching “motivation.”

Through the process of trial and error, thinking that I was sometimes too lenient and sometimes too strict, and at other times thinking that I was not cut out for this job and introverts should stay away from life as it is, I came to realize that theories were put in place as tools to help us and as guidelines to set our course.  It has come to my attention that the employee I spend time talking and listening to is usually more motivated than another employee who I haven’t met with for a while.  Why is that?

Communication is key.  Knowing how the employee thinks and what he is looking for helps you, as a manager, identify what motivates him.  An employee who seems to look forward to going out in the weekends and spending time with friends would probably appreciate time off work or additional vacation days.  It doesn’t just rely on where that person is in his life, as in whether the employee is single or married, has kids, is thinking of retiring, and so forth, it also relies on the individual and his personal goals.

So let me give you a few pointers that could help:

1- When you have someone newly employed, talk to them.  Listen to their life story and try to understand what kind of person he/she is.  You will be surprised to know that most people lead a fairly similar life to you and usually have pretty clear goals.

2- Look at your employees, read their faces.  Employees are people who get affected by what goes on in their life.  They cannot just leave their problems at the door; it’s not possible, they are human.  Read their faces and find out what “happy” looks like and what “sad” or “disappointed” looks like.  You mostly need these two emotions to motivate.

3- Take cues from others.  When you hear that employee X is unhappy, he probably is unhappy.  Listen to people then try to find out if it’s true.

4- Listen to stories and try to make connections.  Many things happen around the office and when you hear that employee Y is a family man and loves his kids very much, consider that a point you can use to motivate him when needed.  So when employee Y does something good, maybe you can give him a gift voucher for a family dinner or offer to help with providing medical insurance for his pregnant wife to help with expenses:  something related to family.  More about this subject on my previous post Buying The Perfect Gift can be applied here.

5- Know your employees at a personal level without getting personal with them. This is very tricky because you don’t want to be mistaken as a friend but rather as a very nice boss.  A boss which they can talk to but who would not be invited over for birthday parties.  This is a very delicate balance where you need to be empathetic but not a pushover.  This could sometimes makes it hard to discipline but the key is to maintain their respect.

6- Do not over-complicate matters.  Some people just want and need money, others want time off, some want to be thanked in private, others want to be appreciated in public.  And of course, someone is out there to take over your job.  Your role is to know what the employee needs AT THAT TIME since needs constantly change.

Get to know your employees to be able to motivate them.  Everyone is different and people change over time.  Truly understand what makes them happy “tick” and what makes them sad “tock”  Talk to your employees: be their leader, be their coach.  Navigate them to succeed in their lives and you will get better results.