gurus love to say that motivating employees is easy: Just ask them what they want. Then dangle the right carrots that entice them to excel.
But you can't always take what people tell you at face value.
"An employee can say, 'I'm motivated to get more training' and then you provide lots of training," says Dana Jarvis, adjunct professor of management at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. "But that may not result in significantly better performance. You have to dig deeper to find what drives your employees."
Someone who requests training may be bored. Ask, "What's your favorite work activity?" and "How would you rate your job satisfaction on a 1 to 10 scale?"
To determine what truly motivates someone, study each worker's experience. Identify when the individual operated at peak productivity or earned the most success—and discover what conditions were present at that time.
For instance, an employee may boast about the superior effort he gave when he knew he could control the outcome of a project and climb the organizational ladder as a result. Or she may recall how hard she worked when she could qualify for profit sharing.
Such comments can help you craft appealing motivational strategies. Because people like to pursue well-defined targets, your challenge is to identify the goals that matter most to them (such as authority, independence, acclaim, etc.).
Also, broaden your thinking about which key drivers might work best. Money and recognition are common motivators, but some people value unusual perks such as having the company buy them the latest tech gadgets to reinforce their "early adopter" status.
Above all, don't stop after asking employees, "What motivates you?" Gather wide-ranging information to better understand what each staffer covets.