When we work with small business owners, often the conversation will turn to employees and their performance. Business owners want to know what motivates an employee and often times they can’t understand how some employees just can’t stay motivated and be productive. The reason this is sometimes so hard to understand is that small business owners (by their very nature) are internally motivated. They have dreams that push them to do what may be uncomfortable or scary. Employees don’t have these desires. That’s why we sometimes get these types of questions in our coaching and leadership sessions:

Do I throw more $$ at them?

Do I put them on commission?

Do I write them up?

Can I just kick them in the butt? Like, is that legal?

Okay, so how do I just get rid of this employee?

Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions? Chances are that as a small business owner, you have. Of course most times, these questions are asked tongue-in-cheek, in jest, or just simply in frustration. The question that is really being asked is, “How do I get better performance from this employee?” Motivating people is a difficult problem that many managers and leaders struggle with. The truth is: Everyone has a motivational style that is unique to them and many factors contribute to it. It is all of these factors that will form what we call motivational currency.

Motivational currency

We all have a currency for motivation; it’s the thing that gets us going, keeps us going – it’s the thing that is in the background, motivating us to succeed (and believe it or not, it’s not usually dollars and cents).  As a matter of fact, money is 4th on the list.  Employees typically find the following more important:

  1. They want to be respected
  2. They want to have their accomplishments acknowledged
  3. They want to feel valuable

So, long before you get to the money stage, find out what your employees’ currency for motivation actually is.

How to discover your employees’ motivational currency

If you ask your employees what motivates them, you may get the odd person that can actually tell you what really motivates them. In most cases though, they’ll give you a puzzled look. Most people really haven’t figured it out yet. If they had it pegged, they would probably motivate themselves internally and be your best employees! So, how do you figure out what motivates them? Simple! Ask questions. And then listen.

Get them to tell you about what’s important to them now and in the past. You can ask positive, open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no), like:

  • What are your hobbies?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What were you good at in school?
  • Did you play sports or were you more interested in the arts?

On the flip side of the coin, you can ask negative questions that will also give you clues (because behind the negative energy is equal & powerful positive energy). Some suggestions could be:

  • What drives you crazy?
  • What can’t you stand?
  •  What do you believe must happen?

When you’re asking these types of questions, watch for resonance (where they perk up, light up, or show energy). It will be your clue to what’s truly important to them. From there, you’ll get an idea what their motivational currency is.

Motivational currency can change

Remember that motivational currencies can (and will) change/evolve over time for each individual. Another thing to remember is that everyone’s currency will be different. Right now you may have people in your small business who are motivated by advancement, a sense of accomplishment, a challenge, job security, or by praise. But, what worked before may not be the hot ticket now. Some employees like to get pats on the back in front of everyone else and other employees, well… that would be the kiss of death. Your job is to learn what each person needs.

Keeping up on employees

You will want to learn the individual motivational currency for every employee that you have. What gets them juiced? What gets them excited? What gets them going?  Knowing this will not only enable you to lead your team effectively to get the job done, but it will be done with great personal satisfaction.

One of the best ways to lock into that currency is to have a file on everyone – a system where you know what they are all about. Having a file on everyone and adding to it as things roll along and you learn more about them is important. Here are some things to consider:

  • How do they communicate?
  • What they are doing?
  • What are they motivated by?
  • When do they perform their best?

Once you tap in to your employees’ emotional currency, you will be more successful, and guaranteed you will have a lot more production. People will perform much better and they will be happier too. It’s a much better environment for everyone.

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