How to motivate your team without being 'The Boss'

MRSB Consulting Services shares some advice on how to get your team's best performance using a non-pushy approach

There are times in every business when your team could use some extra ‘get up and go’. As management, one of your most important challenges is to motivate your staff while not making them feel as if they’re being told to do something they might not want to do. Essentially, this is effective leadership at its best. And the benefits of a highly productive team cannot be understated; you get more work done, the outcome is of a higher quality and your business enjoys greater profitability and a stellar reputation to boot.

So what can you do to get your team performing their very best, while not coming across as a dictator? Here are a few ideas that are fairly simple to try and cleverly disguise your role as boss man or lady.

Find out what drives each individual to succeed

Ok, so you might not be able to do this if your team is more than 25 people strong. But even with larger groups there are ways of assessing what motivates them to do their best in the workplace. Discuss this with your team, either one-on-one or during informal group sessions. If you feel you would get better responses if staff were able to submit their thoughts in writing, distribute a questionnaire. You can either suggest motivators and see which ones apply (e.g. career development, work/life balance, praise from management), or leave the questions open-ended and see what comes up.

By understanding what motivates a group of people to give their best, you can take steps toward providing rewards or circumstances that fit these goals and preferences.

Give credit where credit is due

As an owner or manager, you might not need to hear that you’re doing a bang up job. Chances are, you already know it! For your employees, though, hearing the words can be a small but positive boost to their professional self esteem. Whether you give someone a pat on the back for completing a project in record time or congratulate them during your monthly meeting for their record sales numbers, the message won’t go unheard. It doesn’t have to be verbal either, if this isn’t your style. A small token of gratitude such as a gift card to the local coffee house relays the same message: ‘You rock!’

Lead by example

Have you ever had a boss who never seemed to be happy? Who radiated negative energy no matter how good things appeared to be? Yeah, most of us have. That’s why it’s important as a leader to raise the bar in terms of office attitude. As put by Glenn Llopis at Forbes, “Successful leaders create a positive and inspiring workplace culture. They know how to set the tone and bring an attitude that motivates their colleagues to take action.” The point isn’t to force a happy-go-lucky mantra down people’s throats, but to let your own, genuine positivity rub off on the people you work with.

Another aspect of leading by example is letting your team in on the excitement you personally feel when you win a client, launch a new product or achieve a 20% cost savings for the quarter. Rather than having the mindset, ‘They don’t need to worry about that’ or ‘They won’t care’, assume the opposite. Most people want to feel that they are part of something greater than their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. They want to feel like they have a stake in the business itself, because their efforts are an important part of what keeps it going forward. This ties into our final recommendation...

Give employees a sense of control

When it comes right down to it, no one likes to be told what to do. Managers who hand their staff a pre-conceived list of items to be completed are doing just that, and might be missing out on a great opportunity. Chances are, your team has ideas about how things can be done differently, or even better. It takes the right work culture for people to feel like they can bring these ideas forward, and it’s up to you to make that culture flourish. Ask your team for ideas during meetings or via monthly emails. Encourage staff to come up with procedures and give them the freedom to go about their tasks or projects in a way that is conducive to their own style and pace (so long as deadlines are met!). They will feel as though they have some control over their work and in turn, will be more willing to put their best foot forward.

These are just a few tips for getting your team motivated. Sadly, there will always be employees who do not respond to positive reinforcement, rewards or a sense of responsibility. Paul Spiegelman at wrote a helpful (and amusing) article on dealing with entitled employees here.

 In many cases, a lack of motivation stems less from the people who seem unenthused to do their jobs at 100% than from general office culture and management style. Remember, change takes time, so put your patient hat on, try a new approach and see what happens. You might be surprised!