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As I travel around the country conducting leadership training, I frequently get asked intriguing questions that have universal impact. I want to share one of those questions with you:

“I have a hard time finding good employees to replace the ones I have who seem unmotivated. How do I reach or light a fire under the employees I have so I can avoid losing potentially good people?”

Start by seeing motivation as something both within your control and outside of your control. You cannot motivate anyone; you can only create a culture where the employee is inspired to do his or her best. Motivation is up to the employee. It is like an internal light switch. You can’t see it but you can tell when it is turned on or turned off. You also have this internal light switch that you sometimes have difficulty turning on.

The issue is today’s job candidates see their actual or a potential job not in terms of the duties but as a position within a desirable and nurturing corporate culture. McKinsey & Co studied 77 American firms and found that the number one criteria for a great employer is “values and culture,” with “having exciting challenges” as the third highest criteria. The same study found that a great job is defined first by “freedom and autonomy,” and secondly by “exciting challenges.”

My recommended solutions to inspire your human assets before they leave for greener pastures are the following:

  1. Create a clear definition of your cultural ideals. They need to be so explicit that every employee is hyper-aware of their existence within your company. Make them available to everyone. Solicit specific feedback from anyone who notices when people are not living up to those ideals.
  2. Revisit the firm’s mission with employees on a regular basis. I have noticed recently that in nearly every company I consult with, employees are unable to articulate what the mission is and even worse, cannot describe how they fit into that mission.
  3. Invest in regular and on-going dialog with all your employees. This can be accomplished with the use of focus groups, interactive surveys, forums and online discussions. Companies who do this generate a wealth of knowledge on what is working and what is not. They also experience low turnover and high levels of trust. Panhandle Bank surveys its employees twice a year.
  4. Get to know each employee as an individual and especially get to know the generation he or she was shaped by. Each generation in your workplace has its disparate needs and set of values that define what they seek in their work.
  5. See your performance review program as something not done once a year but as a day-to-day mechanism for fostering open communication with each employee. By doing so, when the performance reviews take place, there are few surprises and even less hurt feelings. Your managers and supervisors will no longer avoid doing the reviews.

In a recent leadership session, a financial leader of a large corporation and major employer complained that his team had terrible communications and he could not understand why. “Hugh” told me that he was treating his employees like they were of his generation: the Xers. However, the people he supervised were mostly Baby Boomers. When Hugh took over the position he stopped all face-to-face meetings because he thought they were a waste of time and he preferred email. Hugh grew up as a latch-key child who did everything on his own and therefore preferred working alone. However, he quickly realized through my coaching that his employees had a different background and they needed to meet with him and each other regularly. Hugh reinstated meetings as a way to communicate with and inspire all his employees.

This solved much of his team’s communication and morale problems.

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