Motivating Your Retail Employees

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One of the questions I get asked often is how do you motivate employees? It's a fair question. As a store manager you want to get the most out of your retail employees and for most managers they would say motivation is the key. 

But here is the truth about motivation - you cannot motivate people! It's a myth. It makes a great bumper sticker and poster on the backroom wall, but the truth is motivation comes from within and not from outside. True, outside influences can stimulate me as your employee and do, but defines motivation as 'the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.' 

One of my favorite books is by Ferdinand Fournies. It is called Why Employees Don't Do What They are Supposed To - a great title indeed. This is the question we are all asking ourselves as retail managers and owners isn't it? We tell the employee what to do, we even show them what to do and we hold them accountable when they do not do it. But the truth is, even with all that, there is still something missing. There must be or people would not ask me how to motivate an employee. 

Motivation comes from within. The employee must motivate themselves. But in order for that to happen - you have to stimulate those thoughts and foster an environment that encourages employees to motivate themselves. Here is what we know - money does not motivate like it used too. In fact, it really never has. Read any survey done on why people leave their jobs or switch companies and money is never on the top of that list. There are usually several other "motivating" factors before money comes up. In fact, I am amazed at the number of people who turn down a promotion because they love their life as it is and do not want to see that change. 

So if you cannot motivate employees, what can you do? First, foster a culture that rewards employee behavior. And by reward, again we are not talking about money. Catch people doing something right. And when you do, reward them for the behavior in a way that "motivates" them. In other words, if having extra time off is important to me, then that should be the reward. For someone else, it might be getting to make the schedule for the week. 

The point is, each reward needs to be customized to the individual. Because then you are adding stimulus you know will have the result you are looking for - an employee who motivates himself. Second, remove negative stimulus in the workplace. I am amazed at how many times I am asked to come in and "fix" a store and I fix it by talking to the employees. It is not my 30 years of sales and marketing experience that I rely on, its the people at the front line. I first determine if they are the right people (sometimes we make bad hires) and if they are, then I listen to them. I try to understand what things (stimulus) in the workplace is causing them to behave in the way they do. Then we work to fix it. 

One note on stimulus. Never talk to an employee about his attitude; always talk about his behavior. Attitude is subjective. Managers tell me all the time "that guy has a bad attitude." Well, first its his behavior I am concerned about, but second, the culture cycle tells me that the behavior is a result of stimulus in the workplace. In other words, behavior is the result of a chain reaction that began with the values and beliefs of the culture (set by the owner.)