All Articles Leadership Inspiration 12 ways to keep your employees motivated, engaged and unified

12 ways to keep your employees motivated, engaged and unified

8 min read


This guest post is by Arte Nathan, a veteran HR professional with more than 30 years of practicing human resources, most of it as chief human resources officer for Golden Nugget and its successor companies, Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts. He now lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., where he consults, writes and teaches. Follow him on Twitter at @arte88.

There is a holy grail in the workplace, but like the one in the popular book and movie “The Di Vinci Code,” it’s not exactly what you’d expect. In any company, the products and the location are important. So, too, are the branding strategies, packaging and pricing — but in the end, it’s the employees who make the difference. That’s why it’s so important that you motivate them to move mountains.

There are lots of examples of great companies and their highly motivated employees: Apple, Disney, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Coca Cola, Zappos and Wynn Resorts are a few that come to mind. Companies on the “Most Admired Company” list have one thing in common: motivated employees. These employees readily tell anyone that they love what they do and where they work; it’s evident on their faces and in their words. If it’s there, they puff up like a proud peacock; if not, their shoulders slump. If it’s the former, they won’t stop talking and raving about the job and company; if not, they’ll complain to everyone they meet.

Motivated employees will do everything to make what they’re doing great; they’ll be role models for other employees, and they’ll be the best advertising for a company’s brand and products. The key is getting employees to love where they work.

Here’s a 12-step program I’ve used to get employees to love where they work and motivate them to move mountains.

Clearly define your vision. Your vision is a roadmap for employees, and it should be very clear. While it’s probably clear to you, how well do you think your colleagues and subordinates know it? Try asking them — and don’t be surprised if they’re unclear or confused. Take time to write it down, show it to others and when it’s clear and concise, post it in the places where employees can see important stuff like this.

Give employees what they want and need. Put yourself in their shoes. Have you seen that new reality show where the boss goes undercover and works with some of his or her employees? It’s amazing how shocked some of these bosses are at how hard the work really is, and how little their employees are provided to get that work done efficiently and effectively. Tools, training, support and a sensitive understanding from supervisors — these are the things that employees expect. Don’t presume they have any of these — go check personally. If and when you find they don’t, correct that immediately.

Communicate often and well: What channels do you use to communicate your message? Written and distributed memos and letters, FAQs, newsletters, training classes, the Internet (do you have a portal, and how often do your employees access it), regular meetings — all of these should be used to convey the vision of the organization. Spend time personally asking your employees what they know and think. If the responses show that they are unaware or confused, stop and redesign the messages and the ways you convey them.

Get everyone engaged. Don’t expect much from employees who don’t feel connected. Everybody talks about empowerment, but that’s so yesterday. Successful companies you read about today all have lots of ways to get employees at all levels engaged in planning and decision making — that way, they own the things they do. And owners are always looking to improve what they do.

Stay the course. Don’t keep changing things all the time. Sure, you have to adjust to and update for changing times, but most organizations change stuff because they’re uncertain about what they’re doing. That scares employees — they want to have confidence in the people they work for, and change just for change’s sake is confusing and unsettling. Come up with sensitive policies. Then keep the ones that work well and constantly amend and update those that don’t.

Practice random acts of kindness. Remember to say thank you in all kinds of ways. These don’t have to be overly formal — sometimes a simple pat on the back goes a long way. Don’t have complicated programs to give formal awards or recognition; just make whatever you do personal and from the heart. Catching people doing things right is a powerful philosophy and motivator.

Coach for success. Everyone wants to do well, and most want and need guidance to do that. Paying attention to the work that others do, giving them clear feedback and showing them how to be better when needed is very motivating. Don’t wait for those annual reviews to do this — daily, in real time, is always better.

Act fairly. We’ve all gotten hung up on being politically correct and unthinkingly consistent, and in the process we’ve forgotten that, in most things, one size does not fit all. If two sets of circumstances are exactly the same, then your decisions should be exactly the same. But when they’re not, you should use your wisdom, experience and good sense to do what’s right. Take time to examine the circumstances, to understand the context in which they happen, to take into account the real things that happen to real people in the real world — and then do what’s right (that’s often the same as what you’d want to happen to you, if the roles were reversed). You and your employees will be glad you did.

Inspect what you expect. Employees don’t care what you ask them to do as long as they know you care. And what better way to show that you care than paying attention to them, discussing what you see, and letting them know what you think? Unlike that old “If a tree fall in a forest…” mantra, everything that happens at work, by every employee, has a ripple effect on everyone and everything else. Good bosses pay attention to everything and manage effectively.

Give respect and create trust. This seems like such a simple thing, and yet most employees in most organizations will tell you that they don’t feel like their bosses respect them (and their needs and wishes). And when that’s the case, it’s awfully hard to trust the people you’re working for. So respect and trust your team, and see whether they’ll trust you in return.

Don’t be a jerk. It goes without saying, right? Not! Everyone has examples of bosses doing stupid things. Try to remember all the dumb things that some boss did to you in the past, and then work on never repeating any of those things. But if (not if, but when) you slip and do something stupid or weird, just stop and apologize. You’ll be surprised how much employees appreciate the fact that you recognize your own mistakes, and then take the time to tell them you’re sorry.

Make work fun. We all have to go to work each day, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be enjoyable. When’s the last time you laughed at work, or encouraged your team to enjoy themselves, or did something playful, or any one of a thousand other things that could improve what is usually a pretty drab and colorless environment? C’mon — lighten up, and you’ll be surprised how much more people can do when they’re enjoying themselves. Employees who are enjoying themselves, and what they do, can and will be motivated to move mountains.

Together, all this stuff works to create and to support your culture. And your culture is what people see and judge you by — because it becomes the foundation of who you are, what you stand for, how people (employees and customers) feel, and ultimately how you’re referred to. If you follow these 12 steps, you’ll have a chance to make it onto one of those “Most Admired Company” lists. Even better, you could have employees who are motivated to move mountains. It’s all up to you.

Image credit: Yuri_Arcurs via