Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Challenge to Motivate Employees

By the motivational speaker, Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor

I was blindsided last month by an innocent question during a manager training session, “How can we motivate our employees?” I off-handedly answered, “The truth is no one can motivate another. You can hold a carrot, but it will only work if the person wants a carrot. Motivation comes from within to want to do a good job.” I then went on with the rest of the session.

I was there to teach how to identify, interview, hire and manage the best. When I asked one guy if he had someone he should get rid of, he answered, “Yes. But she’s a great employee when I’m there.” That’s the crux of motivation.

A good employee has to be motivated from within to do the right thing when you are not there watching everything. A great employee finds things to do, exceeds expectations and makes the manager look good.

Too often we find people who are not self-directed, not friendly and not ready to work in retail but hire them anyway. Then we scratch our heads trying to come up with bonuses, contests and rewards to get them do to the requirements of the job.

That’s wrong.

You shouldn’t have to find ways to get them to do the basics. The rewards come for exceeding expectations – adding-on to every sale and driving average check – that gets a bonus. Increasing average number of items on a sale – that gets a bonus. In that sense you can motivate/reward them for exceeding the job; that’s why I like commission sales.

But doing a cleaning checklist? No way.

Some have said managing the younger generation requires different skills. The thinking is they will take things personally if you approach them the same way as the baby boomers. That we need to “be careful to empower them, help them understand why, let them ‘come to it.’”

I wrote about this in a post about the damage of a "Trophy Day" mentality at my blog.

Maybe that works in therapy but not sound retail management. A manager has to make the tough calls, the most basic of which is hiring a good crew and saying if necessarily, “You’re not cutting it. You’re fired.” Not waiting for the person to “be motivated to change” by you but motivating their butt to do the job for which they were hired.

If we can’t get managers to do this for themselves then we need to train them as well. But if it is fundamental to who they are to constantly need reassurance to perform, then it is up to us to show them the door, not a shoulder to cry on.

Can you motivate someone? Yes. “My way or the highway,” seems to work well.

Best-selling author and speaker Bob Phibbs has helped thousands of businesses compete by using his sales approach and not discounting. His book, You Can Compete: Double Sales Without Discounting is the backbone of scores of businesses’ training programs because it teaches his methods for making a business successful. Download more free tips at his website. Follow him on Twitter at

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