Beauty & Brains in Branding & Web

How-to Motivate Employees in the New Year


Conan O’Brien, 2010

Happy New Year! December was full of holiday celebrations with family, friends and colleagues. Many companies used the season to demonstrate appreciation and recognition for the work done in the past year. Now, the holidays are behind us and the Mayans started a new calendar, now what? Leaders should seize the season of self-improvement plans and resolutions as an opportunity to motivate employees to improve their professional performance as well. Here are a few concepts that will help organizations who value their intellectual capital to build their muscle by motivating their workforce:

1. Cash is NOT King

Got your attention? Good. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, paying employees too much can be just as demotivating as paying them too little. Think back to the high-flying days of over-valued IPOs in Silicon Valley: employees who entered the company early got stock options and became millionaires over night. How motivated would you be to come in and work “9 to 5” if you won several million dollars in an IPO lottery?

2. Satisfy the Four Fundamental Drivers of Motivation

According to the July 2008 Harvard Business Review, in order for organizations to successfully motivate employees they must satisfy the drives to:

  1. Acquire (obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status)
  2. Bond (form connections with individuals and groups)
  3. Comprehend (satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us)
  4. Defend (protect against external threats and promote justice)

These drives are the basis for everything we do. To maximize motivation, the researchers recommended a holistic approach that  satisfies all four drivers. Sacrificing one drive will be very detrimental to strong performance of the other three. Therefore, take a close look at your reward system, company culture, management system and design of jobs to see what changes can be made within your organization to increase motivation. May your workforce be with you.

3. Create a Strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

A Towers Watson presentation defines an Employee Value Proposition as the experience offered by an employer in exchange for the productivity and performance of an employee. Therefore, your objective is to offer employees a favourable balance of rewards and benefits in return for their performance at the workplace. A unique, relevant and compelling EVP will drive recruitment, motivation and retention. This is an employer branding tactic that articulates why people should work there. For example an organization could demonstrate a commitment to developing employees, improving management, providing recognition and supporting the environment. A win-win situation exists when the EVP matches what the employees value in their work. The result is a motivated employee who finds their work meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Don’t Be a Bad Boss

For fellow Spider-man fans out there, heed the immortal words of Uncle Ben “with great power, comes great responsibility”. According to BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement 2011 Report, employees flee bad bosses but won’t necessarily stay for a good one. Here are some tips you may find useful:

  • Avoid “carrot and stick” approaches
  • Yelling doesn’t solve anything
  • Don’t take credit for other people’s work
  • Address problem employees
  • Make sure everyone pulls their weight
  • Sincerely listen to your employees and treat them with respect
  • Lead by example by being pleasant and productive
  • Allow new employees to walk before encouraging them to run
  • Promote from within based on merit and ability, don’t play favourites
  • Budget permitting, provide cool gadgets too

Forbes identified 31 Telltale Signs You’re a Horrible Boss – odds are that if you’re reading this post, you don’t have much to worry about.

5. Foster a Positive Culture

Build trust by keeping the lines of communication open with your team. Be consistent, fair, transparent and fun.

  • Create bonds between team members and help them enjoy coming to work. Schedule offsite activities, e.g. mini-putt, BBQs, holiday parties etc.
  • Encourage communication among people who have to work together. Overcome cubicle walls by creating opportunities for people to work collaboratively.
  • Allow casual dress days (on Fridays, before individual vacations, holidays or in sync with major sporting events)
  • Provide a comfortable work environment with plants, a stocked kitchen, a fun common area and bright decor


Many people have trouble articulating objectives clearly and the SMART framework is an excellent framework for setting key performance indicators (KPIs). In case you aren’t familiar with it, here are the terms behind the acronym:

Letter Major Term Minor Terms
S Specific Significant, Stretching, Simple
M Meaningful Motivational, Manageable, Measurable
A Attainable Appropriate, Achievable, Agreed, Assignable, Actionable, Adjustable, Ambitious, Aligned, Aspirational, Acceptable, Action-focused
R Relevant Result-Based, Results-oriented, Resourced, Resonant, Realistic
T Timely Time-oriented, Time framed, Timed, Time-based, Timeboxed, Time-bound, Time-Specific, Timetabled, Time limited, Trackable, Tangible
E Evaluate Ethical, Excitable, Enjoyable, Engaging, Ecological
R Reevaluate Rewarded, Reassess, Revisit, Recordable, Rewarding, Reaching
S Satisfactory Satisfies Strategic Vision


Align employees’ objectives with strategic vision to encourage strong performance where it matters. Make sure everyone knows the big picture and where their department and individual jobs fit in. Have a vision for each employee and confirm that it aligns with their career goals.

  • Coach, don’t micromanage
  • Support and provide resources for professional growth and development
  • Foster innovation and improvement

7. Catch Employees Doing Things Right

Don’t wait for the holiday season for an annual performance review. Recognition needs to be timely not annually – provide immediate praise to employees publicly. Provide helpful, constructive criticism privately.

  • Reward good performance with leadership roles and opportunities to attend off-site seminars
  • Make mundane tasks fun using gamification: incent good behaviour by allowing employees to earn virtual points and build status. If you want to take the system to the next level, attach meaning to the points by allowing employees to redeem them by selecting gifts from a catalogue (similar to loyalty rewards systems like AeroPlan).
  • Compensate employees appropriately, based on current salary surveys and their actual responsibilities, not their original job description

8. Employee Engagement, Satisfaction and Motivation

As HR professionals already know, employee engagement has nothing to do with marital status. For everyone else, here’s an explanation courtesy of Wikipedia:
Employee Engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform is at work. Thus engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture.

Job satisfaction relates to how content an individual is with their job. Motivation refers to employees desire to “do”.

Disengaged workers cost companies money because they are unproductive, they are essentially going through the motions. They cost American companies an estimated $370 billion a year. Employers need fully engaged employees because they are the ones that do their best to work in the company’s best interests. They put more energy, effort and initiative in their work. To quote Captain Picard, “engage!”

How do you engage employees? Start by asking your employees what is contributing to their low engagement. Then, you will need to address those issues head on. Don’t get distracted by the symptoms, you need to focus on addressing the root causes.

9. Everyone is Responsible for their Engagement

Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.
– Wayne Dyer

According to BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement 2011 Report, each employee is accountable for their engagement. Managers must manage their own engagement and coach their employees to higher levels of engagement. Executives shoulder the responsibilities of employees and managers, additionally they set the tone for high morale and motivation.

10. Employee Motivation Leads to a Profitable Organization

My management priority has always been to maintain a high level of motivation within my teams. I firmly believe that our projects’ success hinges on it. Similar to the concept of “happy wife, happy life”: my motivated employees deliver higher quality work, which increases client satisfaction. In my experience, improved client satisfaction has been directly related to increased company revenues (economic downturns notwithstanding). Therefore, I submit that motivating employees results in:

  1. Improved quality of production
  2. Enhanced client satisfaction
  3. Increased revenues
  4. Decreased recruitment and retention costs
  5. Higher company profits

The Bottom Line About Motivating Employees in the New Year

The success of any part of your organization can typically be traced back to motivated employees. Whether it is quality and innovation, productivity and profitability, or recruiting and retention, hardworking and happy employees enable organizations to achieve amazing accomplishments.

Do you think these concepts can be applied to your organization and help increase motivation? Share your thoughts and let me know if this article inspired you resolve to be a better motivator in 2013.

Share this!
About Kevin Miller

While climbing the ranks in the aviation industry, Kevin earned a BA in Political Science from Concordia University. After 12 years of serving different roles in the aviation world, Kevin wanted to immerse himself in the world of technology and online marketing. In 2015 Kevin joined HTC, bringing with him his interpersonal and managerial skills as well as a fresh perspective. Interested in all things Google, from AdWords to Analytics, Kevin also has a passion for sports, comics, travel and international politics.


  1. Excellent read, thank you Freddy. Speaking for myself, I think it is important for senior management to also try and slow down their pace in order to recognize these core concepts and values in their employees, and reward the good behaviors, rather than constantly looking to reprimand poor behavior. Leading by GOOD example and promoting a positive corporate culture and values is key in success.

  2. Glad you liked it Jean-Pierre! As the economy picks up strength, employees are going to have more opportunities to change jobs. In order for organizations to retain top talent and know-how, they will need to keep their employees engaged and passionate about what they do.

Speak Your Mind