The following is a series of articles that longtime Quality columnist and blogger Jim Smith penned in 1979 to motivate employees. After decades of experience in the quality field, Smith finds that they are still relevant.

 Jim L. Smith, January 24, 1979

Motivating others is a technique that one has to acquire to become a successful leader.  Accomplishment of goals, targets and objectives is based upon how well we are able to motivate people.  Probably as high as 90% of all things achieved by leaders are done through others.  A leader of people must be able to motivate sub-ordinates, peers, and superiors as well.  The motivation of others is the result of hard work on the leader’s part and requires careful study of what I call “The People Theory”.  This theory is based on the different ways people can be motivated.

Different methods and circumstances motivate different people.  The same approach can’t be used on the same person each time.  Certainly we can’t use the same approach on all people.  So what’s the answer?

Find out what motivates a person and use it to everyone’s advantage.  Maybe one person wants a better job or a promotion.  It might be that the individual is motivated by money.  This is a short-range motivational factor and we need to find another source.

A person could be motivated by the leader just spending time listening and taking an interest.  By building up a person’s self-esteem, they tend to produce more effectively and efficiently. Leaders need to encourage each person to excel and do their best at all times.  

Leaders can motivate effectively by reward but it can be tangible or intangible as long as it’s meaningful.  The reward might be a raise in pay or a promotion which may or may not come with increased monetary gain.  Let the individual know what you are doing on their behalf. 

Simple, intangible, gestures work very well.  Letters of Commendation reserved for those going ‘above and beyond’ can be an effective means of motivating certain individuals. This approach serves to let the person and the organization know about specific events or accomplishments which have led to the person being recognized.  Letters of Commendations in most organizations require approval of mid- management so the receiver should know that their efforts have been noticed by others.  Also, a copy should be placed in the receiver’s work history folder, but the signed original would be given to the individual who typically is so proud that it is taken home to be shown to the spouse. It is my personal experience that these letters are framed and hung on the wall in a prominent place for all to see. 

An intangible reward might just be a remark or statement showing appreciation for a job well done.  Everyone needs and thrives on recognition.  

The last resort in motivating people when all else has failed is the discipline or fear factor.  People who helped mentor me stressed that leaders who resort to this step should feel they have failed in some way to find the right combination of other motivating factors; however, regretfully, it becomes necessary in some situations.

Leaders are authoritative figures and most people are taught from birth to respect authority.  When certain individuals know that if they don’t perform to the minimum level of performance discipline will be applied, work effort and outcomes will increase.  However, long-term improvement is more difficult to achieve making it imperative that these actions should be applied positively.  I will try to explore some of these ideas more fully in the following paragraphs.

One of the most productive ways to motivate others is by example.  Leaders can use various approaches to address problems and difficulties as a motivating factor for subordinates.  Leaders can let their enthusiasm and aggressiveness project themselves and continually demonstrate these attributes in all aspects in the performance of their responsibilities.  In doing so, leaders become a role-model for others.  

People see the positive results and will emulate the leader’s actions and reactions.  In a sense leaders will be programming this into the sub-conscious minds of others.  Remember that the impression leaders give an individual has a lasting effect.  Leaders must demonstrate high expectations and set high standards for themselves and their work force.  This tends to motivate people to the leader’s expectations.  To get people to act or perform enthusiastically and aggressively, the leader must act or perform in like manner.

I have also found a high motivation factor when leaders are not afraid to work alongside their workgroup.  An individual typically performs in direct relationship to his/her leader.  When an employee is having problems, the leader would find it useful to assist in correcting the situation.  Sometimes this may require the leader to actually perform, temporarily, the employee’s function.  

Each situation requires a complete and concentrated effort on the leader’ part.  By giving advice, or instruction, the individual feels and gains greater respect for his/her leader.  Leaders should never be reluctant to get their hands dirty.  To impress a 100% work effort attitude in people, the leader must be willing to put forth 100+%.  Personally I have had employees tell me that this approach has been inspirational to them.  The attitude of the leader will definitely have a direct relationship on the attitude of the employees.

Treating people as individuals is very powerful and will accomplish many things.  One of which is letting the individual know that he/she is respected as a person.  This gives that person a feeling of adequacy and importance, thereby, giving the person an incentive to do well.  The employee in a big organization has a basic feeling of just being another number on the payroll.  Leaders must work to eliminate this attitude and make each person feel that they are making a significant contribution.  

Again, leaders must realize that different people are motivated by different approaches.  Also, various approaches will have to be used on the same person according to the specific and desired results.

Leaders must procure and develop a motivational approach to people.  They must be positive in their approach at all times.  People will feel the positive attitude and will respond accordingly.  It is important that the leader believe, to their core, in what they are doing as the individual will detect the feeling of hesitancy.  Leaders should be as clear and precise as possible when working with others.  

Some individuals become impressed with a leader that makes quick intelligent decisions and acts accordingly.  This tends to establish their faith in the leader’s leadership abilities.  When planning their approach leaders must be honest and specific if they are to achieve positive results.

Communication, clear and precise, can be a motivating technique.  This is especially useful for more experienced and older employees.  Becoming a good listener will achieve a solid communication flow.  This also tends to establish the leader on a firm foundation.  Employees will feel and sense that the leader is interested in him/her as an individual.  

Many employees have become embittered because former leaders didn’t take time to talk to them, help them with problems, or use their ideas.  In letting them know you are interested in those things, leaders will find themselves discussing and solving many problems. Many embittered employees have valuable ideas that can be useful.  

Leaders miss valuable opportunities avoiding embittered employees.  They should never miss a chance to continually reach out to these people and to create an open dialogue with them.  In doing so, it tends to demonstrate a caring attitude and a way to keep them up mentally and psychologically engaged.  When communicating honestly with an individual a rapport will be established which creates a positive atmosphere.  Some people have to be made to feel guilty before they reach their peak performance.  If this person doesn’t perform as expected the leaders should let him/her know that they are disappointed and will expect improvements.  It’s amazing how many times this sincere approach has resulted in positive behavior.

Everyone needs a feeling of self-esteem and to feel important.  Asking a person for help in solving a problem or just in the performance of his/her job is a good way to build up self-esteem.  Individuals will work harder because they feel needed and that they are a contributing team member.  

Human beings need and want appreciation to let their unconscious mind overlook their inherent weaknesses.  They have to build up the respect that others may have for them.  They might do about anything to get their favorable attention.  Leaders who encourage these individuals will experience higher levels of performance. Helping to satisfy a person’s needs will evolve a highly motivated and sedulous person.  Leaders must remember to reward these individuals in proportion to their contribution.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictate that every person must have social relationships, self-esteem, and the need for self-actualization of their own personal goals.  Effective leaders help people realize and develop their own goals/ideas.  As people work to achieve a specific goal or idea, they will become highly motivated toward that goal or idea.  When an individual is motivated toward a goal or idea, the motivation will be demonstrated in other aspects of their work.

An effective leader must know their people’s abilities and liabilities and use them as a motivational tool.  An individual needs to be successful and do a good job; thereby, resulting in higher levels of self-esteem through accomplishment.  By matching people to particular assignments which they have a greater chance of success, leaders are insuring the individual the proper attitude and atmosphere.  Apprehension, frustration, and disgust will virtually be eliminated; thereby, tearing down barriers and obstructions to achieving the optimum.

Confidence and faith must be demonstrated in the worker to obtain the maximum motivation factor.  Effective leaders demonstrate this faith actively, not passively.  Leaders should speak to their people in terms showing they have faith and confidence of their capability to achieve expectation.  Because of this faith, the individual will strive to exceed the leader’s expectations.  If the person can’t or doesn’t at least meet expectations, he/she will feel that they let their leader down.  By communicating clear expectations and demonstrating faith in people and their abilities, people tend to over-achieve. This results in a win-win.  They succeed, letting the leader succeed.

A leader’s professional life is spent being a student of people.  At its core, the people theory is about understanding how to create and grow a culture in which people are self-motivating to achieve personal and organizational goals.  In finding the keys, as there is no master lock, the leader discovers what motivates others so they can ‘be all that they can be’ and uses that knowledge in a way that everyone wins!