4 Key Steps to Motivate Employees to Finish Work Projects

5 min read
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. I remember the days when I used to think that a strong vision and speaking with confidence would be enough to motivate my employees to accomplish anything. I also remember the days that followed, when my team’s work might be delayed or finally turned in at subpar quality. At the end of the day, the responsibility fell on me.

A 2018 study by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that 44 percent of senior executives, managers and junior staff believed poor workplace communication caused project delays and failures.

That’s a serious problem, but it’s one that can be solved. Here are four steps you can take to improve your communication and motivate employees to complete their projects on time.

Related: How to Reward Employees in Uncertain Times

It can be scary to ask for help as an employee. I remember occasions when I would explain the scope of a project to a team member, they would nod in understanding, and I’d leave the meeting confident that the work would be completed to my satisfaction. What I didn’t realize was just how often that nod masked their hesitation to ask for help or clarification.

For example, I once asked an employee to reach out to local restaurants and organizations that might be interested in sponsoring our newsletter in order to give us some additional cash flow and a way to get involved in the community.

A week later, when I asked about his progress, he seemed confused. He hadn’t done anything yet, he told me, since he was waiting to know exactly who to reach out to and what to say. I had presumed that he would figure it out on his own. Since I didn’t expressly tell him that, he misunderstood and nothing was accomplished. I was upset, but I couldn’t blame it all on him.

When you ask something of your employees, it’s critical that they understand what you really expect, from the timeline to the substance of work to the creativity they can exercise. Emphasize that they should ask questions to prevent any confusion upfront. It might feel like you’re stating the obvious, but it’s well worth the extra effort.

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It’s hard to motivate yourself or anyone else to work on something that isn’t personally meaningful or intriguing.

A 2017 Harvard Business Review article written by organizational psychologist Lewis Garrad and business psychology teacher Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic confirms this. They write, “Research tells us that extrinsic rewards (like money) do little to help buffer against demoralizing or dull tasks, and psychologists have shown that while challenging work can be exciting and motivating, demanding or boring work is draining no matter what.”

What’s considered motivating varies from person to person, but knowing what your employees value and asking them about their ideas on a project are steps in the right direction.

When I’ve presented a plan to employees and asked for feedback before moving forward, the results have been magnitudes more successful. Not only do my employees feel valued and listened to, but they’ll often present useful ideas and suggestions I hadn’t previously considered. It increases their buy-in and ownership of the work since it’s also now a reflection of their own ideas.

Related: Ayesha Curry’s 4 Tips for Managing Multiple Projects

You’ve communicated your expectations, and your employees seem motivated. The next step is to check in with them on a regular basis throughout the process. It demonstrates your continued interest and involvement and also gives you a chance to monitor the work as it’s being completed. Avoid micromanaging though.

If someone starts off on the wrong foot, it’s better to catch that after a few days rather than after the project is completed. Moreover, checking in holds employees accountable. Think about all the times in school when you put off working on essays or studying for exams to the last minute. Checking in with employees prevents procrastination and keeps them, and your project, on track.

I have found that any time I present employees with constructive feedback on the work they show me, I’ll see that they’ve made improvements by the next time I check in with them.

As the HBR article above explains, challenging work can be exciting. But challenging work is difficult work, which means there’s probably room for improvement. Supporting employees throughout a project helps them learn and improve. The end result is happier employees who are proud of their growth as well as a higher quality finished product.

It all seems simple, but being deliberate with your communication to employees will go a long way towards success — both yours and theirs.

Related:5 Kinds of Lazy Employees and How to Handle Them


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