Friday, July 30, 2010

Seven Tips for More Productive and Loyal Employees

I used to work for a startup marketing optimization agency here in Nashville, TN named [meta]marketer as an Optimization Specialist (prior to January 2011). My primary role was to manage a team of freelancers who did most of the link building I directed for our search engine optimization (SEO) clients. We paid the freelancers just above minimum wage, and the amount of work fluctuated based on our SEO strategy and client load. Most of the people we hired were just out of college or had jobs in areas not related to our area of work. As a result, and due to the lower level of compensation and repetitive work, I found it challenging to keep freelancers motivated. Most of the workers were millennials--a.k.a. Generation Y. Opinions as to the exact birth dates for this group of individuals varies, but they generally range between the mid-1970s and mid-2000s (quite broad) (source:Wikipedia).

I attended a presentation on this day by Travis Robertson, a small business strategist. His discussion was on Millennials in the Workplace. I found it helpful to hear another person's opinion on how to manage and motivate people in that age range. Often we hear that this generation is lazy, disloyal, and distracted (i.e. A.D.D.). But as Travis points out, they are also considered the most creative and technologically advanced generation. How do you maximize the length and productivity of a millennial?

First, you won't be able to keep them as a long employee. Get that in your head, then turn around to focus on how to make the most of their time with you. Businesses generally love the idea of a long employee. They provide a level of experience that anyone replacing them typically won't have. They are usually more satisfied employees and don't have the same level of maintenance as new, younger employees do. But that world is fast fading. And that's okay. As employers, we have the opportunity to modify our management and expectations. There is a lot of benefit to come from playing to the strengths of this new age group.

I sit right at the cusp between Generation X and Y, but stayed at one of my employers (Thomas Nelson Publishers) for over 9 years. In my point of view, I am quite atypical. Granted, I would have left the company years ago if they had not promoted me regularly, invested in my education (I have an MBA in ebusiness from the University of Pheonix), or not regularly promised me growth in the near future. I eventually left the company (I still passionately believe in the company) due mostly to my desire to broaden my knowledge in another kind of business. Thus, I still came to the same spot many Generation Ys do--needing growth and purpose in a way a company can't provide. I also have many people around me within 10 years of my age, and have watched the millenials' experiences. Their career movement and level of satisfaction typically responds to the balance between how valuable they are and their level of responsibility. Bonuses or compensation rarely had a large effect. Those things were often used as excuses, but it really came down to how much they perceived their own appreciation for their work.

Travis' presentation focused on several suggestions for us managers to help motivate and encourage the younger generation so that they can become effective and valuable to the company. His top three points are:
  1. Lead, Don't Manage
  2. Motivation Instead of Compensation
  3. Overhauling Company Culture
Check out his blog posts, Millennials in the Workplace, for details.

In line with his prodding from this day, the following things I plan to do to motivate my workers and help encourage them to stay as long as they can with us.
  1. Give small gifts four times a year (birthday, Christmas, and two random)
  2. Provide small compensation growth in connection measured goals (where possible)
  3. Reward with growth in responsibilities (i.e. thereby communicating their value to the business)
  4. Express "thank you" regularly and encouragement
  5. Communicate clear assignment structure and performance grace/forgiveness
  6. Provide insight into their career growth and perception, and structure responsibilities that add to their experience
  7. Offer interest and a listening ear to their own passions
There are many leadership materials on these subjects. I expect most of us have had them come across our desks or in our education. I could expound more on these by referring to times when I utilized these simple tactics with employees and agencies. It's amazing to me how little money it takes to keep an employee happy and appreciative. Of course, we need to offer raises, but most often these seven actions produce more loyalty than a large raise ever would. Across my career utilizing these actions, I have gained loyal workers, agencies, and employees with very little expense. If you start to incorporate the seven tips, you will find your work environment healthier, employees engaging in better collaboration, and everyone having more patience with one another as we grow and learn. And we all know we need that!

1 comment:

Travis Robertson said...

Great post, Dax! I really like your suggestions for motivating your employees.

I had a conversation with a couple of people about gifts and part of what they really enjoyed about gifts was when they were personal to the person (i.e. not an iTunes gift card that says, "You probably like music, so I'll get you this safe gift."). They like when their leaders learn about them and then go out of their way to reward them with something personal.

A great way to figure this out is to find out what they do with their weekends. Are they hikers? Maybe "shoes of your choice" on would be a good choice. Does the person bike to work? Maybe some new tires for their bike or a new shoulder bag to make the ride better.

Personal is the key. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the shout out!