Dear Dave: I have been a manager for less than a year. I have always wanted to manage, and I tried to learn as much as I could about good management practices My fellow managers tend to lean on their employees quite a bit, and some even think it is good management to scare their employees to death by threatening them all of the time. They think this threatening style is the best way to motivate their teams, but I have heard their employees are miserable. Please write about good motivation methods that managers should use. – B

Dear B: Simply, positive motivation methods build positive morale. As a manager, your effect on employee motivation is immeasurable and, trust me, your team does not want to work under a manager that intimidates and frightens them. Scary managers produce scared workers that will make more mistakes and want nothing more than to get the heck out of the team or company.

I often think that managers fail to realize how much damage they are doing when they try to motivate their teams with fear tactics. There is a good chance these same managers have served under frightening bosses, but they have forgotten how that disturbing management style has made them feel and act. Effective managers have the ability to motivate those they lead, and they need to remember that scare tactics just do not work.

The goal of management is to hit specific targets and inspire staff to behave in specific, goal-directed ways. So, instead of alarming employees and threatening their teams, strong managers believe in energizing, directing, rewarding, and sustaining employee efforts. Essentially, a motivated team is invigorated and excited about performing tasks and is not bullied all day long.

If an employee feels valued and trusted by their manager, I believe she or he will be motivated and possess positive morale. Feeling valued ranks right up there for most people with liking their work, good wages, opportunities for training and advancement, and feeling in on the latest news. Being respected as contributing, reliable workers increases the likelihood they will feel good about producing good work and they will have knowledge of the best ways to lead, should they become managers. It is “the gift that keeps on giving.”

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Building employee morale is both challenging and yet somewhat simple. It requires that managers pay attention every day to meaningful aspects of employee well-being and stay aware of their needs, fears and desires. Without smothering and mothering employees to death, paying attention to employee growth needs and desires will produce employees who want to grow and even become company leaders some day. It’s as simple as that.

Management Motivation Momentum

Here is an important truth: how the manager appears and acts when they first arrive at work sets the tone for the day … for everyone. I applaud managers who walk around the workplace and greet people. The opposite is the manager who arrives on the scene and suspiciously “eyes” employees like a Robin ready to pounce on a June bug.

Managers should also use “plain talk” – simple, yet powerful words that motivate employees such as “please,” “thank you,” and “you're doing a good job” (if they are). It is amazing how these words can elevate employee attitudes and behaviors. People want to know how they are doing, so tell them.

It is crucial for managers to let employees know what they expect. Not setting clear expectations can be a new manager's first failure. Often, managers assume they have clearly stated work objectives, report deadlines, and the requirements expected, but the employee is not clear about what to do first. In other words, employees must know what is expected of them each and every day.

The one certainty in business is the need for change. Managers must recognize when change is required, devise a change strategy, and prepare employees for all changes. Too often. the reason (the why) for the change is rarely discussed. Managers must explain why things must change and then involve employees in figuring out how the change will happen. Involvement brings ownership of the change plan.

When I talk to managers, the motivation and morale builder they identify with most is knowing how they are doing at work. The fact is, employees need this same feedback. They want to know – as soon as possible – when they have done something well or when improvement is needed. And this means that managers must involve employees in improvement plans, rather than just belittle them for making mistakes. I’m reminded of the saying, “Employees may not remember exactly what the manager told them; however, they will remember how the manager made them feel.”

Finally, managers must spend some private time with each employee. If possible, managers should aim for 20 to 30 minutes a week with each of their staff. There should be a purpose for each of these private meetings, and the purpose should not be only to scare and intimidate every employee. Employees don’t only care about how much a manager knows; they want to know how much the manager cares.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.