Energizing Your Employees
by Bob Nelson

The new business realities of the '90s bring with them a need to find innovative ways to involve employees in the workplace. To be competitive, every organization needs to get extraordinary performance even from ordinary employees. And they need to do this at a time when they have fewer traditional rewards. Promotions are less common; budgets for pay increases are tight. Because of this, it's more important than ever to be creative in tapping the potential energy of employees from all levels of the organization. Instead of using the power of their positions to motivate workers, managers must use the power of their ideas to inspire today's employees to be their best. Instead of using threats and intimidation to get things done, managers must create environments that support their employees and allow creativity to flourish.

The world of business and the employees who work within it have become much more complex than they were only a decade ago. Consequently, the traditional methods of motivating employees - either with carrots (promotions or cash) or with sticks (intimidation or firing) - are no longer effective in the workplace. Fear and intimidation only serve to make employees resentful of their managers and less productive in the workplace. And while it used to be that an annual bonus was considered all it took to guarantee an employee's best work and loyalty for another year, this is no longer the case (if it ever was the case).

As Peter Drucker has observed, "Economic incentives are becoming rights rather than rewards. Merit raises are always introduced as rewards for exceptional performance. In no time at all they become a right. To deny a merit raise or to grant only a small one becomes punishment. The increasing demand for material rewards is rapidly destroying their usefulness as incentives and managerial tools."

So, where does that leave managers today? Left without the traditional carrots and sticks that once formed the foundation of most managers' repertoire of employee motivation techniques, how can managers today energize their employees and put forth their best efforts every day of the week? Let's explore that question farther to see what managers can do.

Creating Energized Employees

Before you do anything else, take a look at yourself and at the other managers in your organization. Do you make it a point to "catch people doing something right," or do you always seem to find fault with things your employees do for you? What about the other managers in your organization? Is there a culture of criticism instead of a culture of praise? If so, it's unlikely that your employees will ever be inspired to take the initiative to be their best. Instead, they will do little more than what they're told. What you do as a manager sets the tone for your employees.

As we have seen, managers today have fewer ways to shape employee behavior -coercive and authoritarian behavior is no longer a viable option. To be effective, today's managers must create supportive work environments that can influence, but not force, desired behaviors and outcomes. The role of today's managers is to provide leadership and to take on an entirely new set of management practices - a set of management practices that takes into account these new ways of doing business.

The next time an employee doesn't live up to your expectations, and you are at a loss as to how to motivate him or her to do a better job the next time around, refrain from the usual knee-jerk reaction to criticize or to punish. Instead, consider the following new set of management practices and apply them as you redirect the behavior of your employee.

1. All energy starts with you.

You set the example.

2. Say what you want.

Be clear and specific.

3. Reinforce what you want.

It's true: You get what you reward.
The employee-manager relationship is a relationship built on trust. Without trust, the relationship will wither, and employees will have little motivation to give you their best efforts. However, when trust between manager and employee is strong, the relationship will flourish, and your employee will give the best of everything that he or she has to offer.

Creating An Energized Workplace

While the one-to-one interactions between managers and employees are the breakfast of champions, you can't always be there to personally help and guide your employees. The solution to this dilemma is to create an energized workplace - a workplace that allows your employees to give their best efforts every day of the week, whether or not you happen to be there. Here are some of the most effective ways to create an energized workplace:

Make Your Employees Feel Safe

Are your employees as comfortable telling you the bad news as they are telling you the good news? If the answer is no, you have not created a safe environment for your employees. Everyone makes mistakes; that's how people learn. If you want energized, involved employees, make it safe for them to take chances and to fail on occasion. Telecommunications giant MCI encourages its employees to thrive on action rather than focus on mistakes. According to one executive, "We at MCI don't shoot people who make mistakes, we shoot people who don't take risks."

President Tom McConnell of Boston's New England Securities Corporation urges his employees to try to solve problems themselves when he sees them and to take pride in and "ownership" of the solution. To inject a dose of energy into his workforce, McConnell distributed customized T-shorts with the slogan "See it, Do it, Own it" to employees.

Employees at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, are given tremendous latitude in deciding how to get their jobs done. Employees respond to this freedom by working with an intensity that is hard to find elsewhere. According to one employee, "You have everything you need to create just about anything, and the independence to decide exactly what to build."

Open Channels of Communication

The ability of all your employees to communicate openly and honestly with one another is critical to the ultimate success of your organization. Today, the quick and efficient communication of information throughout your organization can be the main thing that differentiates you from your competition. Encourage your employees to speak up, to make suggestions, and to break down organizational barriers - rampant departmentalization, turfism, and similar roadblocks - that separate them from one another.

To break down communication barriers between managers and workers, a large Canadian forest products company instituted a series of 30 dinners over the course of a year. At each dinner, 10 employees and their spouses spend time socializing with their bosses. After the meal, there is a long and intense question-and-answer session about all aspects of the company. According to the company's president, "By the end of the evening I'd often see a remarkable change in attitude on the part of even the crustiest of the union guys."

CEO Hal Rosenbluth of Rosenbluth International, a chain of travel agencies headquartered in Philadelphia, is accessible to all his employees through an 800-number "voice-mail box." Employees are encouraged to call in with suggestions, problems, or praise, and about seven employees do so every day.

When chairman Rafael Rubio drops in on workers at the various locations of his San Diego based Rubio's Home of the Fish Taco fast-food chain, he pumps them for ideas on how to improve the business. "You can have the best product in the world," says Rubio, "but you have nothing if you don't have the right people."

An employee suggestion program at Preston Trucking in Preston, Maryland, brought in almost 8,000 suggestions in a recent year, and the vast majority of them were implemented. All employee suggestions --- including ideas that ranged from repainting the lines in the parking lot, to placing a rubber mat in front of the ice machine to prevent employee slips and falls, to purchasing rechargeable batteries for pagers --- are printed in the company newsletter. Preston's management responds to and appreciates its employees' suggestions, and employees are energized because they know that their ideas are heard and valued.

Develop Your Greatest Asset ... Your Employees

By helping to meet the needs of your employees, you are also meeting the needs of your organization. Challenge your employees to improve their skills and knowledge and provide them with the support and training that they need to do so. Concentrate on your employees' positive progress and recognize and reward them for it whenever possible. British supermarket giant, Tesco PLC, gives each of its employees 100 educational credits each year. Employees are allowed to use the credits to "buy" the training courses of their choice - from sources inside or outside of the company. As a result, employee training activity increased dramatically, as did employee energy and involvement.

Tassani Communication, an advertising agency in Chicago, sponsors "Food for Thought" brown-bag lunches where employees learn about a wide variety of topics --- both job and non-job-related. Lecture topics have included stress management, crime prevention, and time management.

Employees can be energized by the opportunity to explain what they do on the job to co-workers. Integrated Genetics, a bio-engineering company in Framingham, Massachusetts, brings its employees closer together by sponsoring a weekly in-house seminar titled "Science of Non-Scientists," in which company scientists explain their work to the company's administrative staff.

The Payback

So why bother with all this? Wouldn't it be much easier to go with the way you've always done business? The fact is that it only takes a little effort on your part to earn a huge return in terms of the efficiency, productivity, involvement, and loyalty of your employees. Consider these examples of what can happen when managers take the brakes off of their organizations:

The president of the Pizza Hut fast-food chain asked employees how to eliminate needless paperwork and tasks and improve their working conditions. The result was a company with fewer layers of management, less corporate paperwork, and a 40 percent growth in sales. In one year, employees at Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles generated more than 23,000 ideas. The company's management demonstrated respect for employees be adopting most of them --- resulting in savings of $477 million.

At American Express Travel Related Services, a Great Performers program was established with the hanging of life-size posters showing famous people with their greatest performances in prominent locations throughout the organization. After a round of nominations by co-workers, supervisors, and customers, a new set of posters was created and displayed picturing the winning employees and their best performances. The program energized the company's employees and helped increase net income 500 percent in 11 years.

When asked how his company was able to increase earnings by 246 percent - to $3.7 billion - Chrysler's chief executive officer, Robert Eaton had this to say: "If I had to use one word, it's empowerment."

Your path is clear. You can continue to manage your employees in the same old way, and you will be assured of getting the same old results. However, you have an alternative. Creating energized employees demands a new set of leadership priorities. By adopting the methods of energizing employees and organizations as outlined above, you can dramatically improve the performance of your employees, and the results of your organization. It's up to you - you're the one who holds the key to unlocking this vast well of energy.


Bob Nelson is founder of Nelson Motivation, Inc., and Vice President of Blanchard Training and Development, Inc., in San Diego. He is author of 1001 Ways to Energize Employees and the best-selling 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, both by Workman Publishing, and co-author of Managing For Dummies and Consulting For Dummies, both by IDG Books Worldwide. He may be reached at 1-800-575-5521, or via e-mail at BobRewards@aol.com.

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Copyright 1998 by Bob Nelson. All rights reserved.

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