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The art of motivation: Fuel your employees to give their best


In a leader’s desire for encouraging employee engagement, inspiring discretionary effort, or in other words for your employees to do their best work, is the crown jewel. The greatest company success stories can be traced to employees who went above and beyond at work.

How can you inspire discretionary effort in your employees, especially ones who might already care deeply?

6 ways to empower your team to perform at their best

The answer is a culmination of a few foundational and complimentary practices. When each are executed well and consistently, you can create the type of environment that inspires employees to give extra effort.

1. Make sure the right people are in the right places

It starts with having the right people in the right places at the right time.

When people like what they are doing, they are generally good at it. When they are good at their work, they, generally speaking, like what they are doing. It’s a circle that feeds itself. 

As a leader you first must ensure you have the right people doing the right things. The right people in the right seat on the right train car. They must be set up to succeed and feel secure in that.

Then they have to feel appreciated and valued. When they feel appreciated for doing what they are good at and being successful at it then they go above and beyond. They give you, willingly, discretionary effort.

It feeds their soul. It is not “work” or drudgery. They don’t feel like, “I have to go to work.”  They get up saying, “I get to go to work.”

2. Build a culture of trust

Use your company values and mission as a foundation on which to build a culture that inspires discretionary effort.  

As a leader you must have a vision and communicate that vision clearly and often.  You must connect the value of what people do to that vision.

It gives them purpose and focus. It demonstrates to them how the work they do is valued and makes a difference. Feeling valued for your contributions yields discretionary effort.

Set clear expectations for what they are to produce and provide meaningful feedback and guidance. Set those expectations together. Give them a voice in how they deliver on those expectations.

Give them autonomy over managing their workday. At the end of the week ask, “Did you accomplish what you set out to since we last spoke? Did you meet your commitments to your clients? Tell me more about how you did that.”

It takes a leader’s effort, commitment and time to create this environment. It is simple. It is not easy.

3. Reward positive outcomes

Tie your expectations of the team to meaningful consequences.

That could mean a simple high-five, and a “Good job!” Or your reward system might include more tangible things, like PTO days, gift cards, lunch out or more responsibility. Recognizing those efforts gets more of the same.

You don’t have to spend big money to appropriately recognize employee’s time, effort and results. Everyone is different and appreciates recognition differently. Find out what would mean the most to each person, and tailor your approach to the person and the situation.

Dangling presents in front of employees might cause employees to work harder in the short run, but it’s not sustainable or meaningful. Instead, rewards should be a genuine appreciation for the employee’s job well done.

Everyone likes to be appreciated. You can find something to appreciate in everyone.

4. Remove roadblocks

Remove barriers for them to do what is important to them and the business.  Be their advocate for finding and garnering valuable resources, tools and support.

This can take the form of collaboration with peers too. Find time to work collaboratively as a team and bond.

For example, you and your team can meet to have coffee or tea and share what is going on in their lives. This binds people in meaningful ways. As a result, people can work more collaboratively and offer that discretionary effort that elevates the team to achieve business goals.

5. Provide opportunities for growth

Provide development opportunities for your employees to improve their skills in ways they are interested in and that elevate the business. 

Create or adjust assignments and work responsibilities in ways that leverage what they are good at. Provide development opportunities in which they can stretch their skills and succeed. 

6. Be the change you want to see

Consistently model what you want. You are the leader, and your team is always watching you. If you bring your best — your best work; your most positive attitude; your best listening skills, equanimity and above all your authentic, real self — they will too.

Don’t sweep issues under the rug or avoid difficult conversations. Give them the attention they are due.

Celebrate successes and look for the glass half full always. Be the emotional anchor. Be a model of stability and positive pragmatism.

Summing it all up

The secret to inspiring discretionary effort is really to take care of your people.

Every employee is important. Give each of them the attention they deserve, and celebrate their successes along the way. By taking care of your people, everything else gets done. They will be inspired to willingly provide that discretionary effort.

All these together create a culture of trust in which employees can thrive. This comes full circle back to feeling secure in an environment where they are valued for what they contribute and can see how that value drives the business in meaningful ways. That translates into more discretionary effort. Again, simple, not easy.

Employees providing discretionary effort is just one benefit of a strong company culture. To learn more about how building a better work environment for your employees can improve your business overall, download our free magazine: the Insperity guide to company culture.