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Motivating Your Employees

Article by Alan Kruglak

Bob Dylan was wrong when he sang "The times, they are a-changing." They have already changed. Consider employee motivation. Not too long ago, most corporate managers followed Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: "Walk softly but carry a big stick." Some companies still practice this outdated philosophy, thinking that they motivate employees every two weeks with a paycheck. Other companies, swamped with work, believe that the only way to motivate employees is by throwing money at the problem. It is a start, but it does not solve the problem. With an almost full-employment economy and one of the lowest pools of available workers since the 1950s, techniques for motivating employees requires a different approach. A successful program will not only increase labor productivity, but it will also help retain existing employees and attract new talent.

Identifying employee needs

Like selling products and services, the first step to developing an employee motivation program is examining their needs. The more your company meets their needs, the greater the likelihood that you will achieve increased productivity. Employee needs that are directly related to motivation include:

 Equal pay and fairness. Money is not the primary motivator for most employees. When it comes to money, employees want equality within the company and parity in the market, commensurate with their skills and capabilities. If you are not paying equally or at market levels, you will demoralize your employees and push them into looking for greener pastures. As a rule, pay technicians at the upper end of the wage scale because good ones are hard to find. If you provide high-quality services, you can always pass your costs through to your clients.

 Job security. Many technicians who worked for us lived paycheck to paycheck. Your employees need to know their jobs are secure. If problems with a manager or potential financial failure of the company threatens job security, the results are demoralization, low productivity and a flight to competitors for safety.

 Internal advancement. Most technicians will one day grow tired of carrying ladders and will look for other opportunities with greater financial returns. A key motivator for employees is being able to see a logical pathway for advancement within the organization. Even if they do not take advantage of it, knowing a pathway exists fulfills a desire for opportunity, giving a sense of security.

 Technical challenge. Everyone needs new challenges, especially your technical workforce. Failure to tackle new types of projects and products will dull their technical skills and have an adverse impact on job satisfaction.


Motivational techniques

Several guidelines used at my former company include:

 Developing rules of measurement. Everyone, including your technicians, needs measures of success to guide them. Measurement can take a number of forms, including meeting or coming in under budget, the number of call-backs, certification for a higher skill level, promotion or assignment of more complex projects. Measurement should also be coupled with written goals for your staff with periodic review and feedback.

 Providing continuous compliments. Such compliments as "job well done" go a long way. Remember, criticize behind closed doors; praise in front of others.

 Creating job-related incentives. Use the free-market system to create incentive programs that reward employees for work tied directly to your goals. For instance, we offered our project managers an incentive of 10% for every dollar they saved on a project. Although that may not sound like much, we used this program for a large project that had a budget of 60,000 labor hours. By being resourceful, the project manager saved $330,000. We responded by writing a check for $33,000.

 Issuing discretionary bonuses. It may be hard to reward employees for a specific project. For instance, an employee did a good job, but the sales estimate was off, and the job came in over budget. To reward good, positive behavior, we issued discretionary bonuses quarterly. The key is being objective and equitable. If it is treated like a popularity contest, then it will fail to motivate.

Coordinating raises with certification and testing. Technicians continually ask for raises, and the frequency of these requests has increased proportionately with the decreasing unemployment rate. Although it is impractical to give raises to all employees, there is an alternative—link raises to acquiring specific skill sets or competency levels on specific equipment. Passing tests makes the technician eligible for a raise and more responsibility, which, in turn, motivates him to hone his skills and increase productivity.

 Other rewards. There are other ways to reward the achievement of company goals. One highly coveted reward at our company was the issuance of vehicles. Crews with the best performance records were issued newer vehicles.

 Peer recognition. Everyone wants to be looked up to by their peers. To gain peer recognition, awards and plaques were given to the best employee in each department at our annual Christmas party and events ceremony. To recognize a project manager, we mounted a poster of a building he was working on, placing a photograph of the project manager and the building manager in the lower right-hand corner with their names.

The biggest challenge for management in the next decade will be motivating employees. Without measurable and attainable goals, employees will be hard pressed to achieve the desired productivity level. Unmotivated, employees may seek shelter at other companies within or outside the industry. If you fail to develop a proactive program, you might as well be blowing in the wind.

Kruglak, former owner of GIC, a $20 million security systems integration company with a 54% gross margin, sold his company to Sensormatic Electronics in 1995. This article is an excerpt from his new book, The Battle for Higher Gross Margins, The Guide to Increasing Profitability for Low-Voltage Contractors. For more information, he can be contacted by e-mail at

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