Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) rocked economies around the world, business has embraced a new dynamism that puts innovation and flexibility on center stage.
In the post-GFC world, it was no longer business as usual. Companies had to learn how to do more with less and how to adapt to change in an unstable economic environment. They had to innovate to accelerate and build in the flexibility to respond to new market challenges and opportunities faster than their competitors.
Many companies thrived in the new innovation economy and, as global markets recovered, emerged smarter, leaner and more agile as they entered a new era of success.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. As companies re-thought and re-structured their operations, many employees have struggled to adjust to the new paradigm. While we may have once felt comfortable seeking the next promotion in our predictable climb up the corporate ladder, today’s career map is far less linear.
In fact, employees are spending more time at each job level than ever before – about three more years than in 2010, according to research by CEB. And that has left 70 percent of employees feeling dissatisfied with their future career opportunities.
Gone is the certainty of a join-the-dots career path, declining budgets have created a sense of unfairness as employees are denied the pay raise they feel they deserve, and all the while the pressure to perform is greater than ever.
The challenge for leaders is to motivate employees by shifting the focus away from linear promotion-based career plans in favor of continuous career development. That means building career partnerships with your employees that offer development opportunities throughout their careers – not just when a promotion becomes available.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Leaders, too, are facing unprecedented demands on their time and mental space in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment. This cognitive load, according to research by UCLA, can decrease our ability to read other people’s emotional states. Or in other words, the more time we spend thinking analytically, the less likely we are to think about the needs of others.
But all is not lost. Here are five ways you can keep your employees motivated when a promotion is not on the table:
1. Wipe out negative team talk
That one Debbie Downer has the power to throw your whole team into a tailspin. The perpetually complaining employee can wield a strong negative influence on other members of your team and bring overall morale crashing down.
Millennials (defined as people born between 1982 to 1993) are particularly sensitive to negative peer influence. According to Upwork’s 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce study, Millennials are more colleague-orientated with 39 percent ranking the people they work with as a top factor to contributing to a positive workplace.
And with Millennials now the majority generation in the US workforce, it has never been more important for leaders to stamp out negative team talk. Keep your ear to the ground and address employee pain points swiftly — or remove unreasonable trash talkers from your team altogether.
2. Take an individual approach to performance feedback
Implementing arbitrary rules or generalized performance rating systems is the fastest way to kill employee motivation.
If your people feel like they are being held to a higher standard than their co-workers, or feel unfairly treated by a standardized review process that doesn’t account for their special contributions or unique skill sets, they’ll lose motivation quickly.
Rather, create a sense of fairness by taking a more human approach to goal setting and rewards that holds your people to the same standards and recognizes what they bring to the team as individuals.
And make sure your 21st century definition of performance reviews is about continuous communication and not the annual or quarterly reviews of our forefathers.
3. Offer a clear end goal
Maintaining a personal interest in the job is becoming more important to staying motivated at work, so good leaders need to give people an end goal to invest in. This is particularly true for Millennials. According to the Millennial Majority Workforce study, 53 percent of Millennials ranked ‘interesting work’ as a top priority.
To stay interested through a long task, people need to be shooting for a clear end goal. Your team needs to understand what the organization is trying to achieve on a higher level in order to feel the significance of their own contribution and why it’s important to the company, your customers and themselves.
The value of understanding ‘how my work’ is important to the organization’s goals can not be emphasized enough.
4. Provide clear, concise direction
People need to know what’s expected of them. Failure to set project deliverables, roles and deadlines will likely leave your team floundering without a clear direction, which will erode their motivation for the task.
Good leaders take up position at the helm and actively steer the ship to ensure all team members know what they’re expected to contribute, when they’re expected to deliver it and how it drives the project forward. Anything less will run the risk of sinking your staff into confusion.
5. Be a mentor
Here’s something many executives understand in concept but not in action– there is a huge difference between being a boss and a leader. A boss micromanages or points and shouts to get their demands met. A leader invites their team on an engaging journey and encourages self-development.
That’s the essence of mentorship – and people today want mentors. They want leaders they can look up to; leaders who have their backs; leaders who will help them move their careers forward.
And the more our teams become inclusive of all different types of people, the more important it is to mentor to a person’s unique assets. That sounds daunting in today’s time constrained world. Take a deep breath and remember that not everyone is like you. Or like your definition of a star performer. Look for ways to bring out hidden talents.
Get that right and you’ll build a highly motivated team that will rise to any challenge you set. Get it wrong and no number of pizza and keg parties will be able to save you from plummeting employee motivation.