When it comes to motivating your team – authenticity is key. Did you know that studies have revealed nearly two thirds of employees have been offended at some point by a compliment from their boss? They key reason for this offense is that they feel it wasn’t sincere. Employees, just like consumers when it comes to marketing, can tell whether your attempt at praise is authentic.

Let me tell you a secret – motivation is not something you can do to anyone. Motivation is something people choose to do themselves. People choose when to go the extra mile and to give their best. Leaders can only create an environment that may or may not result in people choosing to be motivated.

Ironically, when trying to motivate, leaders often do the opposite and de-motivate. In fact, research has shown that only 21% of employees think their performance is managed and measured in a way that motivates them to do well.

Not taking the time to praise good work

Ask yourself a question, when is the last time you sat down with an employee and praised their work in a formal setting for more than a few moments? Taking the time to just say “hey good job in the meeting this morning” or a text or email saying, “had a look at that report and it looks great”, may not be enough. To the employee this can comes off as informal and inadequate. Its highly likely the employee had to invest a significant amount of time and effort in to delivering a piece of work. Imagine they had to work for 9 months to deliver a project. A quick informal thank you doesn’t cut it.

Instead, as a people leader you should take the time to sit down with the employee and explain that you thought the work was good and ask them how they managed to deliver such good work. By doing this you acknowledge that the contributor of the work was as important as the actual output that was contributed. By truly listening to them and acknowledging the effort they put in they will feel their work truly mattered. Furthermore, by listening to how they approached the work and solved problems, which parts they liked and disliked and what they are most proud of – you gain invaluable insights into what future assignments and opportunities they will be motivated by.

Overcompensating because you feel guilty

Have you ever given a team member a project that you know means they must work late? We have all had to do it at some point. We have required a member of our team to make a sacrifice in order to deliver a piece of work. The worst thing you can do in this instance is to overcompensate with sickening praise. “I owe you one for this, I am so grateful” etc. Or even worse, if you feel super guilty, you will say something in public, like “Can we all give Sally a round of applause for pulling together a great project?” If we are honest, what we really mean is “Sally saved my backside as I forgot about this deadline, and she worked all weekend so that I didn’t have to”.

Instead you should take the time to acknowledge the price at which the work was done. You should share that you understand the employee had to work until midnight, or over the weekend, or that they had to sacrifice some family time in order to get the job done. Most employees try to cover up the difficulties they had in getting something delivered as they don’t want to look weak or incompetent. But by creating an environment where a team can be open that things are tough sometimes; they are more likely to be open about challenges and seek help or support. As well as feeling appreciated for the sacrifices that they had to make to deliver.   

Why was it important?

Finally, to go the extra step it helps to explain to the employee exactly why the work they did was important. Most research indicates that about half of all employees have no idea how their day to day work impacts the overall business. So, when you ask for someone to go the extra mile, often they only know they must do it because you have asked them to do it. But how does it fit in to the larger business strategy? This purpose and understanding of the bigger picture creates a sense of purpose and importance to the work and a sense of pride that they are responsible for delivering it.

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