Two articles in this issue speak volumes about what you need to do to help your company survive through this bafflingly slow economy to a grand old age. The stories, Senior Editor John McClenahen's Managing In A Slow-Growth Economy and Jill Jusko's Secrets To Longevity, address the very nature of success -- what builds it, maintains it and keeps it in sight even in the face of obstacles. Many of the strategies suggested in the articles highlight the importance of nurturing a motivated, if not passionate, workforce. The January issue of "Harvard Business Review" (HBR), which reprised some of the most compelling research conducted on workforce motivation throughout the years as well as published several new studies, helped me compile the four most important strategies for gaining a high level of commitment from your employees. HBR's overall conclusion? "We learn that while traditional rewards and punishments can, if ill managed, severely damage motivation, they have little beneficial effect even under the best of circumstances. It's the fuzzier things -- feelings of purpose, belonging, engagement -- that push people to do their best." So what do you need to do?
Provide work with a purpose. The words "core ideals and core values" turn up repeatedly in Jusko's article. Indeed she sites research findings that show one of two "over-arching characteristics" of older companies is that they "articulate a core ideology of core values and a purpose that extends beyond simply making money." The HBR issue cites several research studies that find employees rank the opportunity to do "important work [that] gives a feeling of accomplishment" higher than pay as a prime motivator.
Eliminate barriers to performance. Another HBR report declares: "Research consistently shows that even the most committed employees will rapidly become demotivated if they cease to find their work meaningful or they can't succeed at it." More importantly, the research found that "those who cared most about their work were the most demoralized when they were thwarted from doing their best" by factors beyond their control such as role ambiguity, inadequate resources and overwork.
Allow employees to become fully engaged in their work. Too often we tell employees not only what to do, but how to do it. As we've discovered in more than 15 years of Best Plants research, giving employees more responsibility for their work and the way it gets done, along with clear measures for accountability, spurs employee productivity and inspires employees to be more passionate about their work.
Build trust through "fair process" decision-making. Employees want to be heard by and want to hear from executives. Even when the decision made is not to their liking, research shows that employees will likely accept it if you engage people in decisions that directly affect them. This speaks to the need to encourage a more democratic, rather than autocratic, style of management. Research shows that even in the toughest of times, workers who are motivated -- or not demotivated -- will rally behind the company and help it to thrive over the long term. With the economy having battered employees with layoffs, reorganizations and increased workloads, now is the time to invest in motivating your employees. The research clearly shows that your efforts will pay off handsomely. Patricia Panchak is IW's editor-in-chief. She is based in Cleveland.