There are human capital experts who believe that your job as a leader is to develop other leaders. Your productivity and profitability will suffer if you're not promoting and serving your best and brightest workers.
I think that sounds like a lot of pressure. Yes, your executive team wants to develop and retain talented employees. However, they also want double-digit growth and increased profit margins.
So how do you motivate and engage your workforce in a useful way while also staying laser-focused on your organization's goals and objectives?
The first step is to deconstruct three motivational myths.
Myth #1: Talented workers want more work
There are a handful of employees in your company who are admired for their determination, productivity, and work ethic. These are individuals who show up every day with a positive attitude and deliver results at an exceptionally high level.
As leaders, we assume that our high-performing employees want more work and more challenges. Nothing motivates high-performing workers more than opportunities to grow.
That’s a myth.
Your elite employees would like a day off work. They're tired. On top of that, they are probably a little sick of shouldering the burden when it comes to output and results.
As leaders, you have a performance management process. Your best and brightest workers want you to use it regularly. That process should be used as an opportunity to thank and motivate your most productive employees. But you should also go one step further and address organizational and departmental challenges.
If you haven’t read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, start there. It’s time to start managing performance at all levels throughout your company.
Myth #2: Employees want feedback
Good grief, you don't have to be a leader to know that nobody wants feedback. Now, hang on – let me explain. Feedback is what you give a barista when she makes you the wrong coffee order. Feedback is what people say when they are afraid to say the truth. Feedback is what your passive-aggressive family members give you around the holidays.
Employees want praise when things go well. How you choose to recognize and reward your top performers is a strategic choice that should be aligned with your corporate values. Whether it's a monetary reward or another form of recognition, it's important to commend those workers who go above and beyond.
When things aren't going well, people don't want feedback. They want transparency, a dose of radical candor, and an opportunity to improve. That’s why managers ought to have ongoing performance discussions instead of a simplistic annual review.
No matter how or when you talk to your workforce, the challenge is to be honest and direct in the moments that matter most. If you can't be candid with your colleagues who aren’t performing well, you're not a leader.
Myth #3: Motivation comes from within
The science of motivation is more than just the science of productivity. It's the stuff of life.
Why do some of us choose to exert discretionary effort while others can do the bare minimum? Why are some employees resilient while others complain about everything? How can two workers with the same background and similar education be so different?
Science has a lot to say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Some of it is junk and some of it rooted in a hierarchy of human needs. Scattered in the cloudy waters of behavioral science, we've learned that meaningful work and purpose are important motivators for high-performing workers.
But we also know that we employ adults who make choices. It's important to fight the myth that managers and leaders are solely responsible for creating a culture of happiness and innovation. We work in communities, and we are all responsible for creating cultures that motivate and spur innovation.
Stop trusting the most common motivational myths
Have you started to re-think your approach to motivating your top performers? Instead of traditional approaches, try surprising your best workers additional PTO (that’s personal time off for you non-HR folks). Use your performance management process as a framework for radically candid conversations with your workforce. And expect the best from your entire workforce, not just your top performers who live in the upper-right-hand corner of the nine-box grid.
Embrace new ways of thinking about motivation and you might just become the next motivational guru.
Your turn: Are there any interesting ways you motivate and engage your top employees? Share your example in the comments section below!