44 Ways to Inspire Top Performance from Employees, Including Millennials

February 9, 2018 | Roger and Susie Engelau
  • Do you feel like you work harder than your employees?
  • Are you getting 100% performance from 100% of your employees? 95%?
  • Have you found yourself trying to figure out how to motivate people to do better?

With good help hard to find and training costs high, getting great performance from every single employee is a smart way to increase your company’s performance. And, thankfully, it’s actually a realistic goal.

Here I’m sharing the first 21 of 44 practical ways that business leaders can inspire top performance from employees. And while all these ideas work no matter what age employee, I found it surprising to learn that millennials will make up 75% of your workforce by 2020 (i.e. in 2 years). So it’s worth examining that oft-maligned group.

The 4 influences that have shaped millennials and what business leaders can do to help

A lot’s been written about millennials—that they’re tough to manage, entitled, self-interested, and even lazy. Simon Sinek provides some good understanding in this 15-min interview. I’ve summarized it here adding more practical ways you can inspire top performance from employees.

Sinek cites 4 influences that have shaped millennials.

First, parenting—After a lifetime of participation trophies, being told that they’re special and could have anything they want in life, millennials can struggle in a business world which tells them they’re not special, you don’t get anything for coming in last, and you can’t have it because you want it. This discovery would do damage to almost anyone’s self-image. So it falls to us in the business world to help build a realistic yet confident self-esteem. Here are the first of 44 ways to inspire top performance from employees, especially millennials:

  1. Respectfully provide a positive but realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses by giving regular honest, caring feedback in the moment… and be sure to catch them doing something right at least as often as you catch something to improve.
  2. Every month or two, coach using this simple format:

“What did you do well lately (on that project, at that meeting, etc.)?”

“Here’s what I think you did well.”

“What could you have done better?”

“Here’s what I think you could’ve done better.”  Sometimes this last step isn’t needed if they’ve come up with a good improvement idea or two themselves.

  1. Insure rewards are meaningful by distinguishing between great and average performance.

Next, Sinek cites the unfettered use of technology throughout millennials’ lives as having led to both an addiction to devices and a substitute for in-person interaction. Social media has contributed to an inability to form deep relationships. Instead of relying on friends to get through difficult times, they rely on the false world of Facebook. In reality, they’re coping quite alone. Here are some ways to teach social skills and coping mechanisms:

  1. Provide opportunities to interact in person. That small talk while waiting for a meeting to start or while grabbing a snack in the breakroom about how your Dad’s surgery went or last night’s game can deepen relationships. Over time this deepens trust which is gold if you want to inspire top performance from employees.
  2. Ask that cell phones be left outside of some meetings and events.
  3. When someone talks with you, put the phone in your pocket, on a shelf, or anywhere but in your hand and ask that others do the same.
  4. Schedule events like bowling or meals that create face-to-face time for interacting.
  5. Hold short training workshops on communication and constructive feedback skills
  6. Create teams and task them with projects that encourage people to work together so that they must rely on one another for success.
  7. Conduct a 2-4 hour teambuilding session using the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator as the foundation. When people know each other at this level, they trust one another more.

The third influence is impatience. Instant gratification like next-day deliveries from Amazon, watching a movie anytime without waiting for the network schedule, and finding immediate answers online all reinforce that they can have things as soon as they want them. To foster the skills of patience and persistence:

  1. Provide opportunities to focus on one task, especially an important one, i.e. help people avoid having to multi-task constantly.
  2. Reward persistence by checking in early and often and finding something to complement.
  3. Encourage people to stick to projects and point out the small wins along the way.
  4. Reward small wins instead of waiting for the whole project or goal to be accomplished.
  5. Hold daily huddles—a 5 minute meeting first thing in the morning to make sure everyone knows what the issues and focus of the day are and to see what questions people have.
  6. Foster a failing-forward culture where mistakes are not ridiculed but viewed as learning opportunities.

The fourth influence, Sinek says, is the work environment. Take a generation that has lower self-esteem, lacks good social skills and coping mechanisms, and is impatient with messy problems or lengthy projects and put them in a work environment that focuses on numbers and short term gains, often over people, it’s a recipe for poor performance both at the individual and company level.

It benefits us all to put practices in place that help our people perform at their natural best…  to help them build their confidence and to overcome the need for instant gratification, to teach social skills, patience, coping mechanisms, and cooperation. What can business leaders do?

  1. Genuinely care for your employees.
  2. Live out your care for your employees by getting to know them as individuals.
  3. MBWA (Manage by Walking Around) Stop and chat on your way in or out, or better yet, come out of your office and walk around asking questions and listening. You’re teaching and modeling good social skills too.
  4. Just ask… and really listen. Actively listen – smile, maintain eye contact, nod your head, and paraphrase.
  5. Finally, watch Sinek’s video together and brainstorm other practical ways to achieve these things.

Stay tuned next week for 23 more ways to inspire top performance from your employees.


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