When it comes to making a living these days—what motivates people?
More specifically: what motivates the talented, ambitious industry ‘stars’ you seek to attract and retain as your business grows?
Your kneejerk response might be ‘a great salary and the chance to retire at 50’. But as the “Great Resignation” rages on and people question whether they want to work in physical offices and indeed the very premise of conventional careers, knowing what truly motivates the top talent matters now more than ever.
If you’ve answered that people are motivated by working for ethical organisations that are doing some good in the world, you’re halfway there. After all, for all the focus on Gen Z and their unique orientation to work, which Deloitte says is definitely around purpose and diversity, the reality’s actually more nuanced. People still want to make money and find nice lifestyles, as the current salary bounce proves. And with inflation running at eight percent this month and costs going through the roof, emphasis on remuneration is only likely to grow.
The reality is that what truly makes people want to go above and beyond is a sense that they matter. This is most clearly the case when you’re at the ground floor of a new brand setting out to conquer the world. Being one of a tight-knit, fast-moving crew sailing out on uncharted waters offers daily proof that what you do moves the needle.
When things are going right and people feel valued and recognised, all that positive energy usually results in growth. However, unless you’re very, very careful, that original coherence and mutual recognition will slowly fade. When teams are ground down by relentless new targets and the inevitable bureaucracy that comes with growth, celebrating success and recognising people often falls by the wayside.
There’s no reason companies can’t sustain their entrepreneurial energy, even as they grow. But they need to move on from what worked in the early days, like the Friday beer and pizza. As The Harvard Business Review warns, “Organisations trying to recover an entrepreneurial mindset tend to take a superficial approach, addressing behavioural norms but failing to home in on what really matters [to employees].”
In a busy growth environment, that’s just very hard to do consistently (and that much harder in hybrid or mixed team environments). The good news is by using a blend of digital and practical HR thinking, you really can win back that original sense of community, collaboration and commitment that is the best source of organic staff motivation.
The key concept underlying all this is recognition. To embed this in your culture, I recommend you start with these six steps:
Take it from the top
To be more than a phrase on the website, making a company culture real is always down to leadership. The top team must be constantly setting an example to create a strong recognition culture. Doing so is especially important in fast growing businesses that may not have time or resources to invest in a lot of conventional management training. And the best time to start doing this is today.
Support and train line managers on how to show the love
Senior team members are the ones who get the growth and the scaling happening. However, in a fast-moving growth business, they themselves might have been on the ‘shop floor’ only recently. Many won’t have received the formal management training and coaching available in larger, hierarchical companies. In high-pressure environments, some inexperienced leaders ratchet up the pressure on their teams to deliver on targets and put all the ‘soft stuff’ like recognition to one side. But it turns out that recognising people also increases the likelihood of targets getting met. Our research shows that frequent, meaningful recognition consistently boosts organisational productivity, commitment and employee advocacy.
It’s not just about your ‘star strikers’
Absolutely, celebrate the success of key milestones and the individual stars who need singling out. But no football team wins a Premiership just with a star striker; it’s a team game—as is business in the 2020s. It’s important to recognise all the colleagues who contributed to a win. And if you do this thoughtfully and with planning - even when deadline pressures are totally hectic, you’ll really boost everyone.
Failing to thank the executive assistant or intern who organised the customer dinner that led to the best deal of the quarter can bring down not just their morale, but everyone who notices the oversight. This is much less likely to happen when you build a peer-to-peer recognition system and culture where praise doesn’t just flow from the top down.
Recognition is a 365-day thing
Recognition is much more meaningful when given in-context rather than saved up for a quarterly or worse, annual review process. The best way to prevent resentment and other negative feelings building up in people, appreciate people right after they’ve contributed something really special to the company; especially if they’ve had to step outside their comfort zone to do so. In growth companies particularly, celebrating achievements can be the fuel the keeps the engine running.
… And also a 360 degree one!
Recognition should flow up, down, and across your business. The idea here is to build a culture where everyone is encouraged to call out people’s good work, regardless of their role or seniority. Think that sounds a bit too ‘un-British’? Consider this: in our recent ‘State of Recognition’ survey, UK workers were the most likely of all global regions surveyed to ‘strongly agree’ (20%) with the statement “feeling recognised for my efforts would decrease my desire to job hunt”.
Invest in systems and processes to make all this work
Of course, leaders and managers should recognise people in person at every opportunity, scaling to create a democratised recognition culture depends on technology. After all, you roll out new tools like Slack, Teams, and Asana to scale and improve communications and project management as you grow. So why not apply the same approach to scaling recognition? A social recognition platform makes it fast and easy for colleagues to formally appreciate each other, even in virtual or hybrid office set-ups.
Of course, not all platforms will be right for your growing business. Look for platforms that are highly intuitive to use, just like a social network, so minimal training is needed. Platforms that plug seamlessly into your existing productivity tools, make it easy for colleagues to recognise others in the flow of work. Finally, look for solutions that come with additional resources and support so that you don’t lose momentum. Resources should be available to help managers reach their recognition goals, including tips for ongoing campaigns to encourage usage and activity.
Boosting peer recognition at JT
To go that extra mile, the best recognition platforms have links to reward ‘points.’ This gives employees that extra bit of motivation to recognise one another and earn rewards—like in this example from JT, a telcoms company headquartered in Jersey, with employees based around the world. The company built a global recognition platform called ‘JT AllStars’ that empowers all its people to thank one another throughout the company, while Managers can allocate points that can be redeemed for prizes. In just one month, 85% of JT’s 586 global employees activated their accounts and made more than 1,000 peer recognitions.
Putting all this together, the verdict’s clear: the answer to my original question about what motivates the stars in your industry right now is any work culture that’s geared up to recognise their unique value and impact on your business.
Sonya Cattell is head of customer success, EMEA at employee engagement software leader Achievers.