When a manager says, "I wish I could motivate Alex," that usually means "I wish I could get Alex to do the job better." Here are six keys to doing exactly that.
1. Ask for performance. Describe how the job is being done now, and how you want it to be. Then ask the employee to do it that way.
2. Use lots of positive reinforcement—and personalize it. Don't take acceptable work for granted. Thank people for it. And praise them every time they improve. Remember, though, that while everyone likes to be recognized, what motivates one may leave another cold—or even irritated. So find out what works with each of your people, and use it.
3. Build relationships. This doesn't mean be buddy-buddy with your employees. But it does mean you should treat your people like real, live human beings. That's what they are, and they will respond best when your actions show you respect their individuality and trust their intentions.
4. Understand your employees' point of view. Make a habit of listening to your people and asking their opinion before you give directions or offer advice. If you listen first, and listen with an open mind, people are much more likely to cooperate when you decide something has to be done differently.
5. Model what you want. Approach your own work with a sense of urgency, use your time efficiently and meet the goals you set. Show employees, by your actions, that the job really does matter, that quality is important, and that deadlines are real.
6. Refuse to accept. Though textbooks on motivation seldom admit it, supervisors do have to tell employees when their performance is not acceptable. Sometimes this means a reprimand. At other times you can handle it through coaching. But either way you're demonstrating that standards matter—and that, in itself, is motivational. As the old saying goes, "It's better to aim for 'Excellent' and hit 'Good' than to aim for 'Good' and hit 'Average.'"