Surprising ways to motivate and get the most out of your team

Feel like you’ve tried every trick in the book and your staff is still phoning it in? Here are some unexpected tactics to motivate your employees.

Surprising ways to motivate and get the most out of your team

You know that employees who are passionate about what they do are key to your team’s success. But with only 32% of employees in the U.S. saying they’re engaged at work, according to a recent Gallup poll, there’s a good chance some members of your team fall into the “less than inspired” category.

You’ve been trying your hardest to push them but to no avail. And now you’re feeling understandably frustrated. According to Susannah Brade-Waring, an expert in motivation and performance at Aspirin Business Solutions in the UK, “There’s a huge amount of potential waiting to be unlocked.” You just need the tools to break through.

We’ve rounded up research and asked experts for ways to motivate employees that you may not have tried—and these just might bring the kind of results you’ve been hoping for.

Be transparent about salaries

Yes, salary talk is usually considered one of the biggest workplace taboos, but being open about how much money people make can increase employee collaboration, according to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

But before you broadcast everyone’s salaries, think about how your team specifically will respond. Brade-Waring says this level of salary transparency may backfire if employees don’t see the salaries as fair. To make sure you’re setting competitive salaries, check out online compensation comparison tools such Monster's PayRight.

This may not be a policy your company’s HR team wants to endorse, but if you’re in a position to make big changes, taking the secrecy out of what people are paid can remove resentment and encourage better teamwork, according to the study.

Set specific parameters for promotions

Sometimes, employees lack motivation because they have no idea if their efforts will be rewarded with a raise or promotion—or how to get that seemingly elusive bump up. “Employees may be more motivated if they know getting to the next level isn’t based on favoritism, says Rebecca “Kiki” Weingarten, an executive coach based in New York.

Motivate them by creating a roadmap to success that they can easily follow. Put together an outline of what it takes to get to the next level, and then meet with each individual or set up a page on a website that everyone can refer to.

“If they know these are the traits that are valuable to you, this is how you move up, no one has to wonder,” Weingarten says. Instead, they can start taking the steps needed to advance their careers.

Involve them in recruitment

“Everyone wants to feel valued, and when a manager demonstrates that they value their employees’ ability to recruit great team members, the benefits are widespread,” Brade-Waring says.

Choose team members who have similar skills to the role being filled to take part in sifting through applications and take part in the interview process. Your team will be motivated to find a good fit, and those good vibes will trickle down to the new team member.

“The individual will see firsthand that people’s opinions are valued here,” Brade-Waring says. “Their motivation will be boosted, as will their interest in joining the organization.”

Compliment employees in front of one another

A study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics found that complimenting someone in front of their peers motivated not only the recipient but also those who weren’t on the receiving end of the compliment. The researchers dealt with university students, but they noted the findings could be applied to personnel management, too.

Just be sure to keep the compliments specific. “When you say, ‘I love the way you organized the material,’ what you’re doing is letting the employee know that you value what they did, and you’re letting other employees know how they can do it, too,” Weingarten says.

Be tough on them when needed

It may seem counterintuitive, but coming down on employees (in a kind, not cruel, way) can inspire them to work harder.

“If you know they could be a much better performer, a much higher achiever, sit them down and have a conversation,” Weingarten suggests. Tell them you’ve seen their work on other projects and know they can do better.

“That kind of thing can be very motivating because the employee feels you see something in them,” she says. “And chances are they’ll live up to your expectations.”

Ask about their new puppy

Being all business all the time might seem efficient, but getting to know each employee one on one can be beneficial—yes, even if it takes time. “The 15 minutes you put in getting to know your employees multiplies exponentially to the work and the value that they will bring to the team,” Weingarten says.

“Team members don’t want to feel like they’re just something to be ticked off your list,” Brade-Waring adds. They’re individuals and will be motivated if you treat them that way.

“I have a client who said to me once, ‘If you’re managing everybody on your team the same way, 99 percent of the time you’re doing it wrong,’” says Cornelia Shipley, an executive coach and founder of Georgia-based 3C Consulting.

Take the time to ask how life with a new puppy is going and find out what’s meaningful to them. And then get back to work.