I am not good at this. Advice needed.
Recently I have noticed that motivation in my small ecommerce business is running a little low. (Five employees) It's not factors like pay or working conditions. I pay well above average, working places are up to date technically and ergonomically, free coffee, free beverages. No extra hours. Totally stress free workplace. Everything is running smoothly like a well oiled machine at first sight. However recently I have noticed an increase in sick days, people being unconcentrated, unmotivated.
I guess part of the problem is that I have created a totally stress free environement. No negative stress, but no positive stress either. There are no deadlines to meet, I have calculated the daily work so it can be finished easily even if the number of orders is above average. I fear I have streamlined processes to an extent that no employee can leave the office with the feeling to have acomplished something this day.
For example: Until a few month ago I had a notice board in the warehouse that said "x days without wrong deliveries". I remember how everybody was excited when a new record was due, when certain thresholds were met I would do things like pay for lunch when we had 10 days without a single customer complaint. Once we had a month without a single customer complaint - that means less than one in a thousand orders. I still remember how proud everybody was.
A few month ago I introduced a new system with barcode scanners that makes mistakes close to impossible. Not a single error since then. Customer satisfaction has risen, employee satisfaction has declined. I have turned my packers into scanning machines.
Same goes in other departments. Accounting. I introduced a system that saves a lot of time and work and reduces accounting to pretty much importing and exporting data. Nothing makes your bookkeeper more happy when at the end of the month all balances add up. Now all she has got to do if the balance doesn't add up is export all the data from the accounting software into a small script I have written that compares all entries with the electronic bank account statements and invoice data and throws out an error list for correction.
And so it guess on and on.
Question is what do I do. I can't turn back time. I need all this to remain competitive. I have doubled my turnover in the last few years without the need of hiring additional employees. Downside is that nobody is really happy at work anymore.
I don't know what to do to increase motivation. I am not good at motivating or complimenting people, especially when I have left little to compliment people on. I know that money and extras are only the basic motivation for people, they need the feeling of beeing recognized and to have acomplished something. But I do not know how to do that anymore. What should I compliment people on? "Great you showed up for work today?"
[edited by: jecasc at 9:45 am (utc) on Apr 13, 2011]
...have you spoken with your staff about this? Maybe is something completely unrelated, maybe not...
I can't give you any kind of advice because I was in the same position you're exactly now (seven employees) and my story ended firing them all. Not very much inspirational!
I agree with Viggen, have a chat with them.
It sounds like you have a great deal systems in place that make your company work like a dream. Well done!
Perhaps the employees are no longer feeling challenged, as they used to be, and they don't need to think. Perhaps they are better suited to new challenges within your company, and you can employ people that are not bothered about having to think about the job. I've known members of staff that turn up, do their job, and aren't in the slightest particularly interested in being challenged at their job.
The people that may want the challnge could easily be lost elsewhere. Better to keep them in-house to save the cost of retraining new staff.
Have you considered starting a new division, using all those excellent systems you've developed?
|I know that money and extras are only the basic motivation for people, they need the feeling of beeing recognized and to have acomplished something. But I do not know how to do that anymore. What should I compliment people on? "Great you showed up for work today?" |
|But I do not know how to do that anymore. |
FIRE YOUR SELF.
An old axiom of all business, and particularly small businesses, is that the company always takes on the general atmosphere/attitude of the ownership and/or management.
If you can not find it within yourself to improve moral by finding innovative ways to give the employees something to feel good about, then you should fire your self and hire a clown to run the show instead. Well, maybe not a clown. But it goes to general friendliness and enthusiasm generation. Be available. Be friendly and show a great sense of humor if you can.
Perhaps you may be a bit too much of a "numerologist"? Employees can not stand it when all you talk about are the numbers.. "Oh we've improved this much and it's been this long since that happened" nobody cares..and the bubbles above the heads are reading: "so why has our pay not doubled then, or bonusses gotten bigger".
Yeah, I did catch where you mentioned how well off the employees are pay-wise and working condition wise, from your p.o.v. anyhow. Keep in mind they may have other issues bugging them, hard for us to say but could be things like other benefits & etcetera. Or it could just be you, or issues between the workers themselves. Or maybe it is just them and there's not much to do about it, maybe they really do have health issues for a stretch here and there. But, check the ownership/management first.
astupidname makes a very good point. Could it be you dragging them down? I would consult with a professional consulant maybe you have to many employees and they get done early and FB tweet, or just act busy. Nothing is more frustrating than nothing to do Old saying "an idle mind brings decay" idleness brings lack of activity it gives birth to a vicious circle and must be discouraged.
You need to be congratulated as well making the company more efficent. It maybe time to look at reducing the number of employees to increase production.
If this isn't an option then I would begin a new campaign to increase traffic and sales with the employees you have being a part of the equation. There are all kinds of things you can do. Put a chart up of the average sales per day offer the employees a % of the increase in either traffic, sales, or both. Get them involved in building the company they can be a part of, and from that make some mo money. It seems your a creative guy smart, savy, and caring so what ya gonna do?
|FIRE YOUR SELF. (...)But, check the ownership/management first. |
Actually I am pretty sure you are right and it is a management problem. I am aware of that. Although before firing the manager I want to give him one last chance to improve his performance. ;)
The problem is: I have never worked as an employee apart from student jobs. I started my business when I was still at university. I never needed motivation from others I always motivated myself, set up my own goals. Actually if someone complimented me on my work I usually would feel insulted, because it made me feel they thought what they had seen was all I could achive when I knew I had not even really started.
I have talked to my employees and I know that motivation is a problem. I don't know how to deliver that. I have tried things not directly related to the work. Like sponsored lunch, free coffee and free soft drinks. Introduced a yearly bonus. Helped for a short time, but no long term effect. They say they feel their work is not appreciated, I only point out when there are mistakes but don't compliment on achivements. I have to admit I don't know how to do that. What's an achivement that's worth complimenting on and when is a compliment an insult? Or perhaps I am the only one who feels insulted by compliments.
As to pointing out mistakes - it is not about blame. I don't blame anybody for mistakes. If I find out a mistake I search for an underlying cause and then try to eliminate it. But I find them. That's how I set up everything. Find the mistakes and then learn from them and improve.
We have great customer feedback though, perhaps instead of looking for ways to compliment people I should try to let them participate in customer feedback more. Set up a screen showing the latest customer feedback or something. How do you let employees feel their work is appreciated? I am not big with feelings. What do you do for everyday workforce motivation?
Perhaps the employees are no longer feeling challenged, as they used to be, and they don't need to think. Perhaps they are better suited to new challenges within your company, and you can employ people that are not bothered about having to think about the job. I've known members of staff that turn up, do their job, and aren't in the slightest particularly interested in being challenged at their job.The people that may want the challnge could easily be lost elsewhere. Better to keep them in-house to save the cost of retraining new staff.
That maybe true, but I can't help that. I want to stay small business. The company size is pretty much what I feel comfortable with. Actually the whole obsession with more efficency is the result of trying to prevent the need of hiring more staff. I couldn't run a company with dozens of employees and I don't want too. I have seen it many times, people starting out like I did but then growing and growing, investing more and more and then either succeed but ruining their health or biting off more than they could chew and loosing all. So there probably won't be any new more challanging positions to be filled.
Hey here is a thought jecasc. Why don't you once a week bring all the employees together for a chat. Have lunch brought in play some music and take the time to thank them. Let them mingle eat enjoy and then set a blank sheet of paper in front of them, or better becuase they might be afraid handwriting can be assoicated with them ask them type it out. Set a tell me what's going on box on the table and let them drop it in when they feel free to do so. Let them know it's not an option and you expect 8 (yea u to) to be in the box. Then the next week discuss this with them after a 45 minute lunch get together. Tell them to be frank see whats going on under the hood and don't take it personal. Keep this up as I really enjoy when our company does this. I hardly really ever get to assoicate with other employees here because we are all "suppose to be busy" and it is nice to just kick back and talk to those I work with.
|They say they feel their work is not appreciated, I only point out when there are mistakes but don't compliment on achivements. |
Yeah, this can be a difficult thing. To you, perhaps you feel there are not many achievements on their part because you have done the things to streamline their work to the point that you feel they barely need to even think or do. Keep in mind for some people, when you are working for someone else, it can be an achievement to just continue to show up and do the mundane and now brainless tasks.
I like the idea of getting them involved in the customer feedback more. They may not all make it a point to look at it on their own. So it could be way cool to have it actually displayed on a small tv screen near the bulletin board or somewhere, and set it up as an automatic slideshow of all the comments (good and bad) from customers on various different aspects (products, service, etc.). Every fourth or fifth slide could be an employee or workplace related photo or something. 15 minutes a week walk around and take some photos to use.
People love pictures, and seeing themselves in them. So that alone will make them feel more involved and an important part of the company.
|That maybe true, but I can't help that. I want to stay small business. The company size is pretty much what I feel comfortable with. Actually the whole obsession with more efficency is the result of trying to prevent the need of hiring more staff. I couldn't run a company with dozens of employees and I don't want too. I have seen it many times, people starting out like I did but then growing and growing, investing more and more and then either succeed but ruining their health or biting off more than they could chew and loosing all. So there probably won't be any new more challanging positions to be filled. |
There are some interesting points you just made here.
I've been through all this at least three times in some form or another. Each situation was slightly different, so there is no 'one' answer.
Firstly, it indicates to me that you have no kind of exit strategy. ie, to grow the business then sell it on, or to retire (I know, you're not old enough to retire). But, you could if you had a successful business to sell on. Perhaps you plan to continue working there until you retire. Perhaps the members of staff see no future for themsleves. No opportunity to progress. I found that in one job I did a long time back. My boss was going to be there until retirement, and I wasn't going to become a Director of the company, so I left the business.
You said you couldn't run a company with dozens of employees. How about employing a manager to run that side of it? Or bring in a co-director that can? you can remain senior partner and enjoy the benefits of a growing business and growing profits. Focus on the tech side, and let others run the human resources. In my experience, the human resources side is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business.
I hope you see all these suggestions as positive ideas for you, as they are meant with all sincerity to help you succeed.
engine, many people don't want the hassle of getting bigger. It's that simple.
Maybe you need to bring in a business consultant to take an objective look at the overall picture. Also, the employees may feel more comfortable telling a 3rd party things that they wouldn't feel comfortable telling you directly.
A lot of companies send their management and key employees to retreats periodically. Yes, it's a great perk (and tax write-off) to send the execs to a resort where they can play golf for several days. But they also have brainstorming and review sessions- there's a practical component to being far away from the business and helping the creating juices flow in a more relaxed environment. If you can't afford to do a weekend retreat with everyone in Hawaii, what about a Sunday brunch (or some other date/time that doesn't interfere with anyone's schedules) at a nice local restaurant (preferably with a private banquette room where you won't be disturbed by the other customers)? Don't make it all about sitting around brainstorming- have some fun too.
|You said you couldn't run a company with dozens of employees. How about employing a manager to run that side of it? Or bring in a co-director that can? you can remain senior partner and enjoy the benefits of a growing business and growing profits. |
I have long thought about this. The problem is I am at a threshold. Until now I was able to finance growth out of the current income. No loans, no debts at all. Now I am at a point where growing would mean a larger investment. New warehouse, new storage racks, more employees - crossing a threshold that means stonger lay-off protection in my country. Right now I am happy - debt free. If I grow further I am no longer free. I will be a slave of banks or shareholders. I don't want to go that road even if it would mean a higher long term income. I hate debt, I know would hate to have to answer to banks or shareholders. I owed the bank 5000 EUR once and they made me feel like a beggar (or at least that's how I felt - for banks this is probably business as usual), greatest moment was a few years later when they called me to offer a loan and I could tell them to #*$! off. (Politely of course).
Great input so far however, I appreciate it very much. Keep it coming. (See how I am already trying to improve myself by giving feedback to your suggestions. If you knew what hard work this is for me. ;) )
Sounds to me like it's time to sell this business and become a consultant for smaller businesses that are trying to build an ecommerce biz and need your technical expertise as well as your experience running such a biz.
The only way I know to motivate people performing such menial tasks would be to give them new assignments over and above simple product scanning, shelving and so forth. Something to challenge them and break up the boredom. Cross training on each other's jobs so that in the event of illness the company runs smoothly, some might find they want to swap jobs now and then to break up monotony.
Just a few ideas.
|Now I am at a point where growing would mean a larger investment. New warehouse, new storage racks, more employees |
All of this doesn't mean outside investment, maybe grow slower and continue to self fund.
For instance, relocation to a new warehouse where you can expand into additional space and pay as you go. Did this at one company a few years back and it wasn't hard to find a willing landlord who had been sitting on empty rental space for quite some time, turned out we got the space much cheaper than we previously paid just because he was willing to deal, desperate for cash.
Deals like that don't find themselves, get crack'n!
Right, again . . . ask them. It sounds like they are comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, they take it for granted, and just keep the status quo. This caught my attention . . .
|money and extras are only the basic motivation for people |
This is true on the surface but look deeper: what does money and extras get you?
A feeling of empowerment. Like you said, "the feeling of being recognized and to have accomplished something."
You've been around a bit, sounds like you're successful, what's your take on company share? Make it their company too, or ask them, what they'd like to see happen? This would empower them to think of it as more than just a cushy job. It would require a little letting go, but out of the box thinking is the only way to approach these kinds of tasks.
|Cross training on each other's jobs so that in the event of illness the company runs smoothly, some might find they want to swap jobs now and then to break up monotony. |
I have done that to the extent that anybody can do the tasks that are needed to keep the orders going out. If all goes wrong two could keep the business running for some time. Problem is you can do "down training" - train the accountant to fulfil orders - but hardly the other way round.
|All of this doesn't mean outside investment, maybe grow slower and continue to self fund. For instance, relocation to a new warehouse where you can expand into additional space and pay as you go. |
Perhaps you are right and I need to think a little bit more outside the box.
|Perhaps you are right and I need to think a little bit more outside the box. |
...get your staff involved,
i worked for several years as head of a sales department and i can tell you i was many times surprised how (if you let them) they solved problems on their own and how often they came up with ideas on tackling things.
Maybe you are a bit of a conrol freak? (no offense meant hehe), you know sometimes let go (total control) is a rewarding feeling, you dont have to solve everyones problem every time, all the time...
|Problem is you can do "down training" - train the accountant to fulfil orders - but hardly the other way round. |
If that were truly the case, where do we get new accountants? :)
It's not that hard to train people to do the daily stuff, bank drops and payroll. Considering you're ecommerce, the bank drops are probably all automatic anyway.
|Considering you're ecommerce, the bank drops are probably all automatic anyway. |
Nearly everything is automatic - which pretty much is were the problems begins. ;)
When I started to upgrade the warehousing system in fact I got so carried away with the possibilities I had visions of trained monkeys that would scan a packing slip, banana symbols would pop up on the shelves and they would pick the orders.
Imagine you would work for an automation freak that constantly thinks about new ways for taking the last fun parts of your work away. No surprise motivation is low.
But that's the only way to stay competetive as a small business.
If you've designed a system for monkeys then you need to have monkeys doing the work. ;)
No matter how much free pop you give away, smart, motivated people aren't going to stay somewhere where their abilities go completely to waste.
So... either grow, or wait for your employees to leave and hire monkeys to replace them.
|But that's the only way to stay competetive as a small business. |
There's lots of ways to stay competitive. You've selected this one.
|more employees - crossing a threshold that means stonger lay-off protection in my country |
Hi, just a heads up that your statement above is not entirely correct. You said that you have 5 employees, but the threshold is actually at 10 employees now. Check "KSchG § 23 absatz 1" which is the law that talks about this.
So, you can actually continue to expand a bit, without having to worry about that part for now!
What motivates you?
It appears that your business has arrived at the destination you've designed for it. So, you can either hire someone with a larger vision than your own to take it to the next level, develop that vision yourself, or sit still.
|So, you can either hire someone with a larger vision than your own to take it to the next level, develop that vision yourself, or sit still. |
Or even sell to someone with a bigger vision and move on to the next project to build up. Not sure if it's something you'd be interested in, but what about taking your automation ideas and applying them to other businesses? Become a business consultant to help other business owners take their businesses to the next level through automation.
I'm not clear why your 'problem' is a problem, sorry if I missed it.
Clearly you're over-staffed, and maybe your staff is now also over-qualified. Solve those 'problems' before worrying about one which may not exist. You have five people, but say things could run for a while with two people--so let two or three people go.
Once your remaining 2-3 people are fully occupied, see how their motivation is. Then maybe their cross-training will come into play and they won't be over-qualified either.
Sorry guys... I'm from the John Wayne school of motivation: "You're going to give me a good day's work for the salary? If so, you're hired. If not, mount the mule and plod off, Pilgrim."
The concern is Work. The Appreciation for Word is Salary and Continued Employment. Given the population in the world these days it's all too EASY to find those who want to work and fire those who don't deliver. Of course one should exercise commonsense in their managerial style, but one (who is fronting all the costs and exposure) does not have to namby pamby the delicate or sensitive, inefficient, or lazy. It is after all Business and, as they say, it's cut-throat... or at least it is "fish or cut-bait".
Maybe some contests to win a nice prize for least sick days... Least mistakes... Most work done... Whatever. Create a little competition. People like that. It turns it into a game.
That said... I just think a lot of people are going to need to move on at some point. People get bored, they want something new. It happens. Unfortunately, most of them don't have the guts to do it themselves, so they just force you to make their mind up for them.
This thread inspired me to join the Forum!
Jecasc, I really wish I had your problem and you had mine! Our team is very motivated but we need the eCommerce administrative skills you seem to have honed to a very sharp edge.
Tell you what, will do the motivational work with your People and you do the fine tuning with us...
That said, the best thing about any business is People and the worse thing about any business is People and that, Sir, is a fact of life. You sound bored and a little self indulgent and if you don't feel like helping others, help yourself by expanding, you already know how and groom someone to take over from you so that you don't have to deal with "humdrum" HR issues.
If your employees wanted to socialize with you or with each other on their own time, they would be doing so voluntarily. Maybe they are doing so, just not with you. When all is said and sifted, you're their boss. Or maybe they all see enough of each other already. The last thing they want is even more. And when the (mandatory and unpaid) social event is over, you're back to being the boss and they're back to being the employees. Well, except for the one who had too much to drink and said something he wished he hadn't said ("Y'know, you come across* as an insufferably pompous bore") and is no longer an employee.
What motivates you? How much longer do you expect the company to go on in its present form? What will happen when you retire? If you don't have an offspring who can be dragooned into taking over, it will be one of those employees. Which one will it be?
Take a vacation. Take progressively longer vacations. While you're gone, the employees are running the show and getting the share of profits that you would normally be taking. Never mind about them being able to do each other's jobs. Can they do your job?
* I AM MAKING THIS UP.
At 1:16 pm on Apr 13, 2011 jecasc wrote:
|I have talked to my employees and I know that motivation is a problem. I don't know how to deliver that. I have tried things not directly related to the work. Like sponsored lunch, free coffee and free soft drinks. Introduced a yearly bonus. Helped for a short time, but no long term effect. They say they feel their work is not appreciated, I only point out when there are mistakes but don't compliment on achivements. I have to admit I don't know how to do that. What's an achivement that's worth complimenting on and when is a compliment an insult? Or perhaps I am the only one who feels insulted by compliments. |
You sound like a candidate for a case study by the Harvard Business Review. :)
Talking of the HBR, if you aren't familiar with it already, you might find the classic article* by Herzberg on Motivator-Hygiene theory [en.wikipedia.org] worth a read as it introduces humorously the valid (and applicable to the case you describe) concept of hygiene factors vs motivating factors.
"sponsored lunch, free coffee and free soft drinks. Introduced a yearly bonus." - these are hygiene factors; their presence won't motivate employees, but if you take them away it might demotivate them, i.e. like hygiene, the presence of it will not make you healthier (more motivated), but absence can cause health deterioration (demotivation).
What you need to read up on are motivating factors, which arise from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, and personal growth.
In support of Mike_Feury who says above:
"Clearly you're over-staffed, and maybe your staff is now also over-qualified."
"If a job cannot be designed to use an employee's full abilities, then the firm should consider automating the task or replacing the employee with one who has a lower level of skill. If a person cannot be fully utilized, then there will be a motivation problem."
*One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? By Frederick Irving Herzberg: [hbr.org...]