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Posted by Tim Bryce on February 4, 2013


– Some ideas on how to motivate your workers. And, No, one size does not fit all.

To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Lately I have been receiving a rash of e-mails promoting seminars designed to motivate employees (most end up in my spam folder where they rightfully belong). From what I read in them though, most do nothing more than teach managers how to give pep talks to inspire their workers. It all looks rather frivolous to me. Motivating employees is certainly not new. Businesses have been studying this problem for many years now. Here are some techniques I’ve learned over the years:

First, there is no single technique to motivate workers. As humans we have different “hot buttons” which motivate us. What works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for another. It all depends on the worker’s values, interests, intelligence, ambition and their perspectives, not to mention the urgency of the job at hand. This means a manager must be able to shift gears at any given moment to invoke the reaction he desires from his workers.

Whip and Chair Approach – Some use heavy handed dictatorial tactics to force their workers to jump through hoops. This may come in the form of severe threats and open criticisms from the boss (which we used to call a good “dressing down” or “ass chewing”), but most today come in the form of what we commonly refer to as “micromanagement” whereby the boss closely supervises the activities of the workers. Nothing happens without the boss’ personal stamp of approval. This is a “Theory X” type of scenario whereby the boss believes the workers are lazy and possess limited intelligence and judgement to perform the work. Consequently, the manager feels it is necessary to make all of the critical decisions. Sometimes this type of motivation is warranted, but under most situations it is not. In fact, such an on-going approach tends to promote a “prisoner” or “slave” mentality among the workers, which is certainly not conducive for promoting corporate loyalty, and morale naturally suffers. Such an approach may be needed for rare occasions where extreme measures are needed, but it tends to be detrimental to the workers as a regular diet.

As opposed to the “Whip and Chair,” some managers have the knack to nudge workers along with some friendly bullying. The intention here is not to threaten the worker, but motivate him by questioning his ability to perform a given task, e.g., “What’s the matter, is this too much for you to handle?” Unfortunately, some managers take this too far by suggesting the worker will not advance unless he kisses the manager’s ring (or some other posterior).

Salesmanship – in most situations, the manager must play the role of salesman whereby he enumerates to the workers why it is necessary to conquer a given assignment. Here, the manager is appealing to the worker’s intellect, reasoning, and perspective. For this to be successful, the workers have to have a good basic relationship with the manager and be conscientious workers. Regrettably, not everybody is; some can be just plain “thick” which is why techniques such as the “Whip and Chair” are still needed. Nonetheless, the manager is ultimately playing the role of mentor to the workers, where he encourages them and, by doing so, develops trust with the staff who feel less threatened.

Incentives – money, prizes and perks can influence worker production, be they substantial or trivial, such as a bonus, time off, gift coupons, or a keg party. Pep rallies fall into this category. It’s interesting how people react to “freebies.” I guess it’s a little like winning the lottery. However, it’s not so much for what they won, but the fact they won at all. “Employee of the month” offers worker recognition which some people thrive on, but I have also seen such programs backfire and cause morale problems due to jealousy. Sometimes simple recognition, such as a public “thank you” or “congratulations” can go a long way to motivating employees.

Lead by Example – One of the most effective motivational techniques is actually the simplest to perform, hence “Lead by Example” where the boss creates a model for others to aspire to. If the boss is careless and uncaring, the workers will likely follow suit. Conversely, if the manager appears to be on top of his game, the staff will have an idea of what the boss expects and try to emulate him.

Policy and Procedures Manuals – Quite often the worker simply doesn’t know what is expected of him in terms of duties, responsibilities, and systems. Consequently, there is a tendency to wander inside or outside of their scope of work, either doing too much or too little. Policy and Procedures Manuals (aka, “Employee Handbooks”) become a useful reference point for the worker and helps promote quality in workmanship. However, beware of creating a bureaucracy of paperwork which thwarts productivity. Although such manuals are useful for “do’s and don’ts”, try not to threaten the workers that they will be terminated if the slightest rule is violated. Such a threat tends to create a paralysis among the workers, and productivity diminishes.

Special Attention – Ever since the famed “Hawthorne Effect” was discovered in the 1920’s, industrial psychologists have understood the need to make workers feel special in order to produce superior results. This ultimately suggests changing the physical surroundings of the workers thereby demonstrating you are investing in them. By introducing such things as a new office environment or new tools and equipment, workers tend to believe they are being pampered by management in order to produce something special. It also contributes to creating an “esprit de corps” among the workers. For example, the Navy SEALS as opposed to a regular seaman, or the Army’s Green Beret as opposed to a regular soldier. In other words, the manager is ultimately saying, “You’re special, now act like it,” and this can be a powerful stimulus. Doing nothing more than simply assigning a worker to a “special project” can do wonders for the person’s ego. It conveys a message that the boss recognizes the worker’s abilities.

Managing from the Bottom-Up – This is based on the belief that workers must live a meaningful and productive life which is derived from the principles of Theory Y. Unlike Theory X “micromanagement” where the worker is assumed to be lazy, “Managing from the Bottom-Up” assumes the worker is intelligent and should be empowered to make more decisions about their assignments. Management still provides direction in terms of assignments and objectives, but the individual worker assumes responsibility for planning, estimating and scheduling the work effort, and seeing it through to successful completion. Managers are not abdicating control, quite the contrary. Instead, the worker assumes responsibility for supervising themselves and reports to management on progress. This means the manager spends less time supervising, and more time managing. The only hindrance here is that some workers shutter at being held accountable for their actions and prefer others telling them what to do, thereby enabling an excuse when something goes awry. However, we have found true “professional” workers prefer the “Managing from the Bottom-Up” approach as opposed to “micromanagement.”

Again, there is no one motivational technique that can be used universally, primarily because the manager must consider such things as the worker’s intelligence, sense of pride, greed, fear, self-respect, family, security, and work ethic. In all likelihood, the intuitive manager will try to motivate his workers using a compendium of techniques, not just one. If you are comfortable giving pep talks, great, but realize it will not motivate everybody. Different strokes for different folks.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  THE DEATH OF BIPARTISANSHIP – It’s actually been gone for a long time, at least since 2009.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 12:30-3:00pm ET), and KGAB-AM 650 “The Morning Zone” with host Dave Chaffin (weekdays. 6:00-10:00am MST).

Also look for Tim’s postings in the Palm Harbor Patch, The Gentlemen’s Association, and throughout the Internet.


  1. Kevin Schachter said

    Read Superfreakonomics. Startling (to some) information on how ALL human behavior is motivated by incentives, and how the right incentives can be used to motivate employees.


  2. Bob Mason said

    Nice article about management techniques. Unfortunately, the article did not cover true motivation. The techniques you present are certainly ways to accomplish behavior modification, but that isn’t motivation.

    In fact, a leader cannot motivate a worker. Motivation is an internal force that exists in each of us, but is driven by many different needs and desires. Therefore, the best a leader can do, and what a good leader should do, is learn what a worker’s motivation is and then provide the atmosphere and conditions to help them realize that motivation. Yes it’s much harder than just throwing money at people, but infinitely more effective.


  3. Tim Bryce said

    An M.B. in Wilmington, North Carolina wrote…

    “Great article. Some of Tim’s comments remind me of the foolish attempts to take the dedication of the people at the Pike Place Fish Market and trivialize it into people dancing around and throwing toy fish at each other missing the hard off hours work and strong team work that went into making the market a success. The book Catch A Fishmonger’s Guide to Greatness, when read carefully and applied can help build a winning group of employees along with a successful enterprise.”


  4. Tim Bryce said

    A D.B. of Alpharetta, Georgia wrote…

    “There is an old coaching technique I have used:
    Set expectations
    Agree on need to improve
    Agree on time table for improvements
    Follow up (something not done by today’s managers any more)

    If you remember the Hawthorne Effect

    A study was done to see if workers improved productivity when the lighting in the plant was increased
    When they added light productivity went up
    they added more light and productivity went up
    being good testers they then dimmed the lights – and productivity went up again

    what they found is that productivity went up when someone was paying attention to the workers.

    For management the lesson is: be involved with your employees on a regular basis – don’t rely on monthly reports or charts and graphs – real time contact lets them know you value their contribution and that they are counted on to contribute. “


  5. Tim Bryce said

    A U.V. of Largo, Florida wrote…

    “Excellence again! I love reading your articles”


  6. Tim Bryce said

    A B.W. of Macon, Georgia wrote…,

    “The motivation that worked for me was first understanding the job that each employee had to do, both from mental and physical standpoints

    Everyone is not capable of doing all the jobs, so you have to find the folks that can adapt to it. There are many aspects to this. All the things you mentioned and a couple more. Being right or left handed. the length of their reach, and the physical strength needed to do the job. The key is to make the job as easy for the employees as possible while not compromising time or quality.

    Once you have set this plan in motion and all the folks are able to do the job, then you start looking for the incentives that drive them,

    I have found that time off (with pay) is one of the most valuable incentives. When I first took over a project, I did my best to learn how long it took and what it took to do the job. from the employee level. Most places are overstaffed in some way. So what I tried to do was to find folks that like to spend off time together and tell them, “Sam, you get through before Bill, but Bill could also teach you the ropes on how to help him. That way if both of you have completed you work and the next workload is not do out for a few days. Take a day or two off and go do something together(with pay of course)

    It did not take long for this to catch on, I had many learning each other jobs in order to make it go faster,and with better quality. Of a crew of 300 I probably only had about 70 on the floor at one time. It keep the place uncluttered and the folks enjoyed the time off. But I do realize that some places can not operate that way. It did work well for me.

    Side note. We finished 100 days ahead of schedule (the only crew out of 20 that did the same job) I got a bonus of 1 percent of the contract. That would have made me wealthy, but I chose to split it 301 ways with each man getting and equal share. For in truth it was they who earned it.”


  7. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “One size does not fit all, for sure. For many employees, receiving a paycheck is sufficient reward. For others, it takes more effort to get them to bring their A game.

    With poor performing employees, it may be necessary to be sure that they have all the necessary resources and training to do their jobs. I’ve been butting heads with a large mail order pharmacy for a month, trying to get our prescriptions delivered. I’ve spoken with eleven people, none of whom has the knowledge, skill or authority to address the problems. Attitudes range from apathetic to rude and argumentative. Excuses are plentiful, but they cannot get the job done. I finally decided to discontinue the service and use a retail pharmacy.
    I would like to suggest to their upper management that they take action before losing more customers, but those people are well protected. Their names and titles are on the website, but no contact information. “


  8. Tim Bryce said

    A C.V. of Lansing, Michigan wrote…

    “I wanted to tell you my Army husband led by example – when he reached the higher ranks and could have had the tent with the heaters and cots etc., he chose to sleep in his sleeping bag out in the rain – waking up in a puddle that nearly drowned him one night. His soldiers would have walked into a burning volcano for him – because he always led by example.”


  9. Tim Bryce said

    A J.T. of Michigan wrote…

    “After taking my morning pills, I set down to check out the damage done from the day before. After listening to your thoughts on the Death of Bipartisanship I feel sick. Now I don’t know if its from the pills or the fact that there is someone out there that finally recognizes what I have seen for year. The term “we must reach across the aisle” makes me question the person saying it. Why is it Tim, we only hear this from the “Right”? The only chip the “Right” has to bargain with is my “Freedom”.


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