Employee Motivation Tips

How to keep your staff engaged in the process

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When it comes to employee motivation, despite reaching a five-year high according to Gallup, it is still something that seems like an uphill battle. Based on March 2016 numbers, only 34.1 percent of the 7,194 American adults surveyed responded as being “engaged” on the job. This is up from 33.8 percent in March 2011.

The survey looked at factors that are indicated as promoting better work performance, including having their thoughts considered, giving employees options to perform work they’re best suited for and having workplace support for future career progression. In light of this survey, what can be done to better motivate employees in the sign industry? 

Putting a focus on the design process from project inception to finish is how Matt Robinson, vice-president and director of operations of Reading, Pennsylvania-based L&H Sign Company Inc., lets his employees put their knowledge and individual contribution to work. Once a project starts, after the sales process, it moves through the design department to the engineering department for a complete drawing. The process details how the sign will be fabricated, down to the material sheets and assembling hardware.

“[They] all have their hands and their own sets of drawings that they’re building from. That’s where the motivation comes in,” Robinson says. “All of our fabricators are building one-off creations, and the pride that they take in the work is the motivation that gives them the opportunity to do a very good job.”

Empowering Employees Gives Them Greater Intrinsic Satisfaction

“Say we have a fabricator working, and he’s building a certain project. If he sees something that might work better, might be a better solution to how it’s drawn, he will go to his department foreman, who in-turn will go to the head of engineering. (Then the department supervisor and head of engineering) will have a little sit-down-will this be better or will it be worse?”

Robinson explains that the design drawings are given to the appropriate employees, not only to ensure the project is executed properly at every step of the job, but also because they might have a novel approach. When a novel approach might be more efficient, it can be evaluated by the department’s supervisor, who in-turn will evaluate it with the head of engineering to see if their suggestion is a better way of performing the job.  

“It was brought up in the shop and one fabricator had said they thought of changing the way this acrylic piece had matched. [Focusing] on changing the lighting and the method of how the lighting is portrayed throughout the acrylic piece,” Robinson says. “That led to another meeting in the shop. We took a look at it, we drew a few things out and we made a change. That person that brought it up is motivated by the fact that their voice counts.”

Employees Who Are Not Team Players

Employee motivation and satisfaction can be brought down when a “toxic employee,” as Murray Johns, owner of Franklin, Tennessee-based 12-Point SignWorks, LLC, says is not identified and addressed.

Examples of toxic behavior includes complaining about their role or management, especially when the behavior is allowed to continue without appropriate discipline. Johns highlighted another reason that can lead to dissatisfaction: when job roles aren’t completely explained and understood, especially when employees don’t feel empowered in their roles. 

“When there is a lack of clarification as to roles and responsibilities. For example, knowing who’s the lead person in that particular function and then who is the backup person,” Johns says. “When there’s not clear direction given, not clarifying in a job description what that individual is primarily responsible for, that potentially leads to both confusion as well as dissatisfaction when there’s not a clear chain of command on something.”

Example and Impact When Roles are Not Clearly Defined

By management clearly communicating to employees what their roles are, especially in the case of a supervising employee who may not be confident in instructing employees who have more work experience, it can empower them to be more confident in supervising their subordinates. This confidence helps them better supervise and teach their subordinates, which in-turn maintains work and product quality. This concept is illustrated when Johns explains how detailing roles to all employees, and how workflow and production questions can work.

“I had not adequately clarified for the staff that this lead graphics installer not only had the responsibility for making sure that the quality was good, but also that I gave him authority to be able to talk to other employees and work through the quality issues with them,” Johns says. “The one who was in charge was younger than the others who were causing the quality issues, and because of their attitudes, he felt like he didn’t have the authority to be able to address the quality issues with them.”

Incentivizing Work Intrinsically & Financially

Tim Long, president and CEO of West Chester, Pennsylvania-based Elmark Sign & Graphics, Inc. explains how financial incentives can be used to motivate people, albeit with discretion in mind. “The other thing we do here is, a carry-over from before, is reward people with bonuses based on overall performance of the business itself.”

Long said that he might build on the pre-existing owner’s plan of giving everyone a bonus if the sales goal figures were met with a variable performance-based system based on individual performance, not merely meeting a sales goal. Another way Long recommends to motivate employees to meet their sales goal is to have the goal, including changes, visualized. In his case, it’s displayed in the company’s kitchen to keep everyone informed on where they are each month. For company-wide sales goals, it can help employees weather uneven sales months through teamwork while still reminding them of their individual performance accountability.   

“While they can’t personally modify what happens by bringing in that next deal quite as much as they would for their own personal goal, it hopefully builds a teamwork environment where maybe I’m a little short this month and but somebody else is picking this up,” Long says. “Rather than just having it be a little bit more of a roller coaster, and it can be that way when you’re working off your individual commissions. At this point, we have everybody working for the common good, and it levels that playing field out a little bit.”

Keeping employees satisfied and motivated is no easy task, but through effective communication, providing employees an opportunity for input and financial incentives, the uphill battle for motivated employees might be a little easier for your sign shop.  

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Thomas John Hill

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