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The Key to Performance: Motivating Employees

The Key to Performance: Motivating Employees


People, of course, are the main element of the People Principle, and inspiring the best possible performance by people should be part of the mission of every forward-thinking company. But getting the best out of your work force involves more than setting up a system of standards and rewards. And as we have seen, individual and group performance can be affected by a company's leadership, its customer orientation, its organizational structure, and any number of other things that go beyond the requirements of a particular job. It's also important to recognize that organizational improvement requires a cooperative effort from everyone in the organization from top to bottom.

In fact, adopting a customers-first policy will backfire unless companies understand that employees are their first "customers," says Lance Secretan, author of Reclaiming Higher Ground: Creating Organizations That Inspire the Soul. "Let's get things in the right order by treating employees the way we'd like employees to treat customers." By selling employees on a customer-focused vision, companies can fully harness the power of the People Principle, enlisting the commitment of all involved in delivering the marketing promise.

But employees don't become leaders by magic, and empowered employees who lack the necessary skills to take on decision-making responsibilities are likely to do more harm than good. Thus employee development is a key factor in applying the People Principle. Smart organizations recognize that helping workers develop marketable skills is something they can offer in place of job security to a new generation of workers.

"A leading cause of poor performance in many organizations is the feeling among employees that they could be without a job tomorrow," says Roger Addison, a past president of the International Society for Performance Improvement and a vice president at Wells Fargo Bank. "Companies like Sun Microsystems, Pepsi, and Disney recognize that true employability through continuous training is as valuable to key employees as job security once was. And it's just as useful in generating employee loyalty and retention."

Performance measurement, performance feedback, and positive reinforcement are necessary ingredients of any employee development program, of course, but employees also need to be sold on the importance of performance improvement both to themselves and to their organizations. It is management's job to let employees in on how they are being measured and how changes in their behavior can affect their performance. Rewards and recognition will help, says Lance Secretan, but "consider how much more powerful an effect those rewards will have in an enriched and enlightened workplace committed to helping people grow as individuals as well as employees."

Feedback, in particular, is important to all employees, not just the top performers. Progressive companies also recognize that feedback is important to management as a way of improving leadership skills and overall management performance. A number of leading companies, including Rosenbluth International, have instituted a "360-degree review" program for managers whereby they get feedback from employees and peers about their leadership qualities, communication skills, and interpersonal skills.

Maximizing performance through people requires an understanding of human motivation rarely considered in most business boardrooms. For example, it helps to know that the more employees earn, the more they respond to recognition as opposed to cash. Tangible recognition, which might include merchandise, travel, debit cards, gift certificates, invitations to special events, trophies, or jewelry, provides a way not only to thank major contributors dramatically but to send a message throughout the organization that outstanding performance is highly valued.
The ultimate goal, of course, is loyalty--on the part of employees as well as customers. "For one thing, it takes time to build solid personal relationships with customers." says Frederick F. Reichheld, author of The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value. "For another, loyal employees have greater opportunities to learn and to increase their efficiencies. For a third, the money that these employees save their employers in reduced recruiting and training costs can be invested somewhere else-for example, in measures that will increase customer satisfaction. Finally, the same business philosophy and operational policies that earn employees' loyalty and boost their morale is likely to work for customers."