Kelly & Alyce Lee: We recently wrote a column about leadership and motivating employees. A reader responded at length and we asked if he would like to turn it into a guest column.
Michael Johnson: Most employees don’t feel appreciated for their work. This can lead them to feel like their work doesn’t matter, disengage from work, and reduce your impact. The good news is it’s easy to address, and anyone can do something about it.
This is written with my friends at nonprofits in mind, in hopes it might help one or two of them. I have a strong commitment towards making stronger organizations which in turn means making an impact.
I’ve spent years managing at a corporation with exceptional employee engagement, read top management literature on the subject, and interviewed a few nonprofit professionals.
Here’s what the for-profit world says about how to motivate someone:
Ask: the simplest way to get someone to do what you want
Pay: if just asking doesn’t work, you can pay them more to do it (but that’s expensive)
Intrinsic motivation: help people find meaning in their work and they’ll do it for its own sake
I’ll discuss each as they apply to nonprofits.
Ask: In nonprofits, we often assume that mission-motivated employees will just do what we ask. I know a lot of people who are managed this way – the problem I’ve seen is you have to ask over and over and working relationships suffer.
Pay: Money matters a little but not much more than other factors. While people accept lower pay in nonprofits for the sake of the mission the lack of truly adequate pay can be a major de-motivator. Low pay is a real issue for many nonprofits but I understand there is no easy solution. It’s important to note that recognition may not engage employees who are inadequately paid or working in dysfunctional work environments.
Intrinsic motivation: Nonprofit professionals care about the mission. Still, as a manager, that alone is not enough to say they’re engaged in their job. Intrinsic motivation is about specific connections between the day-to-day work and the mission (and other parts of who we are).
Intrinsic motivation is the most important piece of the puzzle because that’s where we can do better. Recognition is a great way to build intrinsic motivation.
Motivating others by giving recognition
Giving recognition can help others see how their work makes a difference.
The key components are
Public: in front of the team, their boss, or others
Mission-tied: relates what they did to how it impacts the mission
Sincere, accurate and positive
For example, “for the last 5K run, Karen stayed late to make sure the sponsors had what they needed. That’s what makes the money so we can all run our programs! Great job.” This helps Karen see herself as a successful fundraiser on the team. It shows how specific work she did made a difference.
Almost anyone can recognize others for their good work, and it’s almost always a good time to do it! Here are some ideas:
• Staff: Call out your peers’ contributions. You see the hard work and details more clearly than anyone. CC their manager for extra “umph.”
• Managers: Re-share credit. The best managers I’ve worked with almost always give the credit to their staff.
• Leaders: Help people overcome the fear that they’ll be perceived as selfish, by tying recognition to impact.
Nonprofit staff – keep up the good work – it does matter, whether people see that or not.