1. Delayed Gratification
Numerous studies have shown that the discipline of delayed gratification is crucial to success. Children taught this skill at a young age grow up to be more successful in their adult lives than their instantly gratified piers.
The good news is that thanks to neuroplasticity it’s never too late for your employees to begin acquiring this trait. Delayed gratification may even be context specific, meaning that you can create a super staff for the workplace even if your team has no interest in delayed gratification while they’re away from the daily grind.
One way to get started is to structure the workday so that the more unpleasant tasks are scheduled for earlier in the shift while simultaneously minimizing other potential distractions or responsibilities that could just serve as a means of procrastination. Your team will be more satisfied and productive in the long run, and you will likely be nominated manager of the year.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface when it comes to ways of incorporating delayed gratification into your department’s structure. This topic deserves its own article (which we plan to post soon).
2. Immediate Gratification
After all that hype about delayed gratification you are probably thinking you accidentally wandered onto another website, or that this writer has flipped. The truth is however, that immediate rewards are necessary for some people, namely those who respond positively to them. Now this doesn’t mean you have to drain your petty cash allowance just to get your team through a single workday, or use any cash at all.
One example of healthy, low-cost high-return immediate gratification is praise. I once directed a contact center and would occasionally find myself at a desk in the center of the floor reviewing the running stats for all of the agents. Then I would shout, “Great job on that upsell, John,” and “Look at Katie with 3 completes this hour!” This nearly always lead to an increase in positive energy, healthy competition and most importantly – increased productivity.
(Noticed that this was done occasionally. As it definitely energized the workforce when practiced for 30-60 minutes at a time, too much of this may turn your team into a group of praise-o-holics.)
3. Gray Goals
This might resemble the name of a popular vodka, but I assure you that you can incorporate ‘gray goals’ yet still safely drive home from your office. You have heard by now that you should set SMART goals for your team (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) and I couldn’t agree more. Goals also need to be challenging enough so that it really means something when a team member achieves it.
Many companies get it wrong by making the goal and the threshold of acceptable performance one in the same. If goals are indeed a challenge, then penalizing someone for falling just below goal sends a confusing message. This will likely to lead to lower productivity, especially when your employee realizes that a specific goal is not longer attainable for a given time period. What incentive remains to keep pushing forward if hitting 95% of the goal brings the same shame as hitting 75%?
When an acceptable performance level is synonymous with achieving a goal productivity naturally suffers. Establishing a “gray goal,” an acceptable range of performance independent from the goal itself maintains the integrity of the initial goal and provides a reasonable allowance for the inevitable ebb and flow of human performance.
From a psychological perspective advancing from 95% to 105% seems far more attainable than climbing from below goal to above goal, so your employee is more likely to put in the extra effort.
4. Make the Path Clear
Motivated employees want to advance in their careers and will work very hard to do so when they have a clear idea of what advancement looks like.
This may seem axiomatic but I have been to companies where career advancement is often touted, but the path to get there remains a mystery amongst the staff. Conveying to your team which positions within the company they would be eligible to apply for next, along with some success stories of those who have already traveled this path will go a long way to keep employees working their hardest.
5. Be Smart about Incentives and Rewards
Research has shown that tying financial incentives to tasks that are already part of an employee’s job description actually lowers performance. With this in mind financial rewards should be reserved only for performance that reaches above and beyond.
According to Harvard Business Review some employers have made things worse when using incentives as a quick fix to boost performance. The fast gains enjoyed as a result of the new incentive program prevented employers from discovering the real reason that performance was suffering in the first place. Furthermore, despite the initial gains the performance eventually returned to baseline despite the fact that the incentives remained in place.
The moral of the story is don’t use an incentive program to mask a deeper reason for plummeting performance.
Get to know your team and offer rewards appropriate to the audience. No matter how exotic a 10-day Caribbean cruise sounds to you – or how expensive it may be – is meaningless if most people on your team are prone to seasickness.
6. Timing is Everything, Sometimes
Some managers and entire companies employ policies where all disciplinary action, performance warnings and the like must take place at the beginning of the shift. This is often counterproductive as you have now lowered the morale of the employee, and disgruntled employees are not known for their awesome productivity.
Corrective action at the beginning of the day often sets the tone for the entire day. While some more serious infractions truly do need to be handled immediately, non-emergency offenses are best addressed later in the shift – about 75% into the workday.
While disciplinary action may be necessary, demoralizing your staff members is not. How we as management deliver feedback is of the utmost importance, and a topic we will explore more in future articles.
7. Sustain a Structure Conducive for Productivity
Good employees want to know what is expected of them, how to efficiently carry out the tasks they are assigned and who to turn to when they have questions.
Assess your department’s culture and determine whether or not this type of structure exists. Be sure that your entire team feels they have the necessary resources to thrive. If they do, there’s no doubt that they’ll be productive employees.
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