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New year, new goals: keep your employees motivated

Have you ever walked into an office, store or other business and immediately wanted to walk out? The employees look miserable, bored or both. The atmosphere is oppressive. If enough customers walk out of your business--literally or figuratively­--you're sunk. So what can an employer do to ensure that employees do their jobs with skill and enthusiasm--and communicate that excitement to customers?

Keeping people at the top of their game is challenging. Most people have periods where they're just not that motivated. But it is possible to inspire your employees. These four strategies can help keep the fires burning on the work front.

Know your employees

Every employee is an individual with specific needs, skills and aspirations. If you don't know the people who work for you, it's nearly impossible to motivate them. Venture out of your office. Ask your employees what they like and don't like about their jobs. Talk with them about their career goals and what they want to achieve. Learn something about their lives outside the office. Do they have children, run marathons, restore antique cars, volunteer in the community? Showing respect and interest are great motivators.

If you know your employees, you're also in a much better position to spot changes that may indicate a lack of job satisfaction.

Power to the people

The best motivator is a sense of ownership and pride. Your employees will never do their best work if they don't feel empowered. Solicit their views about how to improve quality and efficiency. Create an environment where initiative is encouraged. Implement good ideas. Be sure your employees have the tools and flexibility they need to excel. If they're frustrated with busywork or need additional resources, address those issues. Provide training and mentoring as needed. Give your employees the opportunity to show what they can do.

Tie rewards to performance

Workplaces can be hotbeds of paranoia and perceived favoritism. By making rewards (bonuses, promotions, pay raises, etc.) performance-based, you've gone a long way toward making the workplace seem more fair and merit-based. In addition to rewarding the people who generate the big-ticket items - increased sales and revenue, new clients etc, - be sure you also pay attention to the hardworking team players who make those big successes possible. Every organization needs its stars to get to the next level but they can't do it alone. And don't forget to say thank you. While tangible rewards are great, everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Share the big picture and look to the future

Treat your employees like competent, thoughtful adults. Share essential information, particularly if there's any kind of transition, shift in strategy or other significant change under way. All of these things directly impact job security and other critical concerns. If you don't communicate, rumors and misinformation will take over, killing morale, sapping motivation and significantly diminishing performance. While it's not always possible to be completely open, strive to involve your employees as fully as possible. After all, when the going gets rough, that's when you need your team at its energetic, problem-solving, motivated best.

- Cindy Somers is an owner of Spherion Staffing Services in Champaign. She can be reached at (217) 359-4488 or