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Marconi: The Truth About Employee Motivation

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At lunch a few weeks ago, a shop owner friend, we’ll call him Al, asked me, “Joe, how do I motivate my employees?” Al owns a 10-bay repair shop with six technicians and three service advisors. I asked Al to tell me what was really on his mind.  He said his employees, for the most part, are fine. But they don’t seem as motivated as they once were.  He sees moral suffering and fears that some employees aren’t happy. Then Al said, “I’m thinking of raising everyone’s pay. That should motivate them, shouldn’t it?”  

Let me state upfront that I don’t hold a doctorate in industrial psychology.  However, nearly five decades in the auto industry, particularly 41 years as a shop owner, have awarded me a working man’s degree in understanding employees. Here are a few truths on motivation. The most important thing to remember is that no one can motivate the wrong people.  Employees that align with your mission, vision, and culture and who are self-motivated will do all they can to lift your company toward success. While pay is crucial, throwing money at the wrong employees will do nothing. In fact, it may hurt your business, especially when others see that you may be rewarding those who are not pulling their weight.   

It's often said that your employees are your greatest asset. The truth is that surrounding yourself with the right people is your greatest asset.  The connection between your company’s success and employing the right people must never be underestimated.  When I look back, my best years in business were those when I had a team comprised of the right people.  

Another thing to consider is the link between leadership and its impact on motivation and business success.  The vision of the leader is a driving force for any organization. However, great vision means very little when you employ people who are not aligned with you and who are not self-motivated.  

The reason why self-motivation is so essential is that self-motivated people do the right things for the right reasons. They believe in the company’s mission and goals. They strive to excel and want to contribute to the company’s overall success. Self-motivated people recognize the importance of achieving company goals and align them with their personal and career goals.  

An even bigger issue is when a company has the right people, but the boss or manager demotivates their employees due to poor leadership. This can be devastating to a company. The right people want to be part of the company’s future. They find ways to incorporate their talents and strengths to continue to find ways to improve not only the company’s success but elevate their own achievements. Leaders must be careful not to discourage self-motivation. Leaders must promote a work environment where self-motivated people thrive. This is done by listening more, praising more, recognizing employee accomplishments, and including employees to be part of the company’s future. Mistakes made should be viewed as learning tools, not situations to punish. After all, there isn’t a shop owner reading this that hasn’t made critical mistakes of their own.  

I told Al to look at himself first, “Have you slipped lately and not been the leader you should be? Have you become complacent?” I also advised him to honestly assess his employees, “Do you have a team of superstars? Or are some of your employees bringing down the rest?” Remember that one bad apple in the barrel will affect the entire bunch.  

Every company needs strong leadership. But your ability to attract and retain the right people will become your pathway to future growth and long-term success. With the right people and the right leadership, the issue of employee motivation takes care of itself.  

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