Contests sometimes do wonders to motivate staff. Competition has a way of exciting employees, making them work harder and helping a company move one step closer to meeting its year-end goals. But motivating employees — at least for the long term — is often more complex, and an incentive program could end up being a quick fix with limited results.
Probably one of the more common employee contests involves goals. For a fixed period of time, you may want to institute an incentive program where any employee who exceeds his goal is eligible for a reward. The person who exceeds it by the most earns an additional day of vacation, for example, or a one-time bonus at the end of the month.
Another contest that’s now growing in popularity is one that involves innovation. In fact, “half of an organization’s innovation opportunities are created internally,” says Karl Ulrich and Christian Terwiesch, authors of “Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities.” A contest is a great way to tap into this. A company poses a problem to its staff, and then asks them to come up with a solution. The best idea earns a reward. It’s win-win. The company solves a pressing problem for little money, and the staff feels more valued, boosting morale as well as encouraging better productivity and more creativity.
Sometimes being an effective manager is more “important than the design of an incentive program,” says Ian Larkin, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. What motivates one employee doesn’t always motivate another; so recognize each member of your staff as individuals rather than a workforce. Take the time to get to know the wants and needs of employees, and help them grow as professionals individually. One employee might find ownership as a motivator, and will put more effort into her work when she’s asked to take the lead on a project. Another employee may find the opportunity to advance his career as the ultimate motivator, and opening doors or offering additional education to get that coveted promotion could encourage him to work even harder.
Loving a company can go a long way to motivate staff, so consider focusing some of your attention on the work environment and culture. It may be of benefit to take the entire staff out to a baseball game. Or offer a trip to the office that meets its goals. Or even throw a holiday party to boost morale. Happy employees are often motivated ones.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.