Old-school motivation techniques are seriously out of step with today's talented employees.

It's no secret that there are managers who have a covert need to control. They have worked hard to get to where they are today, and now they feel that they deserve to call the shots.

In recent research that I have conducted, I have found that the older a manager is, the more likely he or she is to have an “old school” management style. Old-school managers don't believe that it's important to recognize employees, and so they rarely do. They feel that if they pay their employees well and give them decent benefits, that should be enough to keep them motivated. Some managers are even fearful of thanking people when they do a good job, thinking this might lead employees to take advantage of them, or, even worse, they might ask for more money.

Those old-school management techniques might have worked in the stable, predictable work environments of the past, but they are seriously out of step with the needs of today's talented employees, who are working in competitive businesses within a tight labor market.

Top management at Ford Motor Co. realized that they had to change their management style when company chairman Harold Poling observed: “One of the stepping stones to a world-class operation is to tap into the creative and intellectual power of each and every employee.” President and CEO Donald Petersen also helped to improve employee motivation at Ford. “When I started visiting the plants and meeting with employees, what was reassuring was the tremendous, positive energy in our conversations,” he said. “One man said he'd been with Ford for 25 years and hated every minute of it — until he was asked for his opinion. He said that question transformed his job.”

If you are from the old school, it's not too late to learn some new tricks. Tap into what your employees have to offer. Ask them how they think things could be done better. Listen to their ideas, and give them permission to pursue those ideas. Engage and involve them in discussions and decision-making. In short, trust them. Then systematically look for and act on opportunities to acknowledge your staff on a daily basis for the ways that they have helped you and the company to be so successful. Because they have.

Bob Nelson is president of Nelson Motivation Inc. in San Diego, and is the best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, and 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, as well as his Rewarding Employees newsletter. Contact him at (800) 575-5521, on his Web site at www.Nelson-Motivation.com, or by e-mail at BobRewards@aol.com.

Take Out

  1. Listen to your employees — Find out what's on their minds, what they think could be done differently, and what things could make them more successful in their jobs. Even if you can't act on everything, just the act of listening will show that you care.

  2. Catch employees doing things right, not wrong! — Most employees report that the only time they hear from their boss is when they make a mistake. Be the exception by acknowledging them when they do good work.

  3. Involve employees in key aspects of their jobs — Ask their opinions about pending changes, and involve them in any decisions that affect them. This will increase their buy-in to what is ultimately decided.