Employee motivation is mission-critical for any organization, from startups to well-established companies. Motivated employees tend to align the company’s purpose with their own, demonstrate more innovative problem solving and drive more impact. I’ve learned that if your organization isn’t actively working to ensure your employees are motivated, engaged and aligned with your mission, you risk falling behind the competition and staying there.
One of a startup’s biggest advantages is that it’s easier to motivate small, tight-knit teams and continually align and realign them around ever-changing priorities. As companies grow and age, it becomes increasingly important and difficult to ensure that their culture clearly reflects their purpose and that it motivates strong individual and group performance. Processes such as goal setting, reviewing and managing performance, and recognizing achievement either build upon, or chip away at the strength of the company’s culture.
That said, after developing and growing performance-focused cultures in multiple high growth organizations I know that it’s never too late for a company to change its approach. Whatever size your business is, you can start creating a more engaged and motivated workforce by doing the following three things.
Develop a ‘philosophy of performance’
When a large majority of employees express a sentiment that performance reviews are little more than a needless HR requirement, it’s a sign that companies aren’t giving enough thought to the process. This is often a result of workers feeling that their day-to-day activities aren’t impacting the mission of the business. Motivation doesn’t come from perks like ping-pong tables, free lunches and unlimited vacation; it comes from continuously nurturing a sense of purpose that unifies managers, employees and the entire organization.
A performance-driven culture demands a performance philosophy. Make a commitment to align individual goals to the company’s overall strategy and have more frequent performance-related conversations that focus on career development. Share this philosophy plainly and clearly with everyone.
Make the performance discussion valuable for employees
Annual reviews fail to deliver on one of the primary purposes of any performance management program: nurturing sense of purpose or sustained motivation in employees that allows them to meet today’s goals and be ready for tomorrow’s challenges. Motivated team members have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the company’s performance. It’s essential that employees can link their individual objectives to the monthly, quarterly and annual priorities set by the business.
My company, Betterworks, develops software to support this philosophy of continuous performance enhancement. Critical to this is giving HR, managers and employees the tools to allow everyone to see the business’ key objectives, connect these with our own objectives and track our progress towards achieving them. This transparency gives everyone a stake in the process and tangible evidence to prove that what they are working on what really matters.
Once you’ve linked each individual’s goals to the wider business objectives, the impact of one person falling behind becomes obvious. You can’t hang around for that end-of-year performance review to see how everyone has done. Instead of those time-consuming, weighty annual reviews where feedback and assistance often come too late to be useful, encourage more frequent light-weight conversations.
Managers will tell you that they check-in with their direct reports all the time, but the reality is that most don’t have conversations with their reports nearly enough. When they do occur, these conversations are usually about day-to-day tasks and rarely touch on the wider goals and development opportunities. To break this cycle, I encourage managers to hold short monthly conversations, that they can incorporate into regular one-on-ones, where they would ask three simple questions around goals: 1) What do you need more of? 2) What do you need less of? 3) How can I help? This allows timely course correction that keeps work on track.
You shouldn’t expect perfection from the start. People need practice giving and receiving feedback with regularity to become effective at it. In my experience most managers either want or need additional help when it comes to coaching employees and teams toward improved performance. That said, I believe that frequent, short, (even awkward) conversations are better than not purposely touching base on performance at all. With each month, the discussions become smoother and more valuable for both the employee, manager and, ultimately, the business.
Technology can help bring your performance philosophy to life
Articulating your performance philosophy is key to cultivating a performance-driven culture, and technology plays an important role in bringing it to life. To be effective, a continuous performance process requires a seamless, easy-to-use way for people to see how their goals tie to the broader business and to track their monthly conversations.
This approach needs help from technology to execute successfully, and as HR industry analyst Josh Bersin notes this has opened the market for more nimble and innovative solution providers who can better support a continuous process.
No matter where your company is on the growth curve, creating a performance-driven culture that provides purpose and encourages communication will help you retain and motivate your best employees and that will keep your business ahead of the competition.