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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Does the average employee come to work because they want to or because they have to? Take a few moments and think about what you believe motivates your employees.

As a leader, you may think otherwise, but a significant percentage of employees in many organizations come to work only because they need a paycheque. This is not the most desirable mental state for employees in order for them to feel motivated and enthusiastic about coming to work each day.

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Why? Because if your employees don't value what they're doing, why would anyone else? This group of employees sees work as a simple trade of time for money. This mindset often prevents these employees from fully engaging in the culture, learning and career exploration at their workplace.

Some managers mistakenly believe that a paycheque is a motivator. But research suggests there is less than a 2 per cent overlap between job satisfaction and pay.

The micro skill of motivating relates to the structured conversations leaders have with their employees to help remind and reinforce the importance and value of each employee's contribution.

When done consistently, motivating can spark employees' intrinsic desire to do a good job and ensure they know why coming to work has value – beyond just a paycheque.

Here is how you can approach motivation as a leader.


Before motivating, it's necessary to remove assumptions. Never assume you know what your employees are thinking or what drives them. In a one-on-one meeting, ask this question: "What value do you think your core functions have to the organization's overall success?"

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How an employee answers this question will provide insight on her understanding of her function's value, which can be insight on how she also values her role. As the leader, your job is not to judge, debate, nor to give a pep talk; it's simply to listen and learn. The goal is to become clear on where you're starting at with this employee. Through motivating, you will be able to not just tell, but also show the employer her value.


As a leader, you need to help employees discover how and why their assigned function matters to the big picture. Many employees don't see how what they do matters. Motivating requires leaders to have effective communication skills and to be comfortable interacting with their employees.

Take action.

Look for opportunities to educate employees on their value. Every day there are opportunities to show employees that what they do is operationally important to making the company succesful.

Once a motivating opportunity is observed, follow these three steps:

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1. Ask questions. Use an open-ended question to discover the employee's perception on how what they do matters and is of value to the company.

Example: What is your focus for today? Is everything clear to you?

2. Discovery the employee's perception. Listen and pay close attention to the employee's words, energy and non-verbal cues as they answer your questions. As you listen, observe the world through the employee's eyes to determine the degree of pride they have in what they're doing. There's no response in this step; simply listen and learn where the employee is coming from.

3. Anchor the motivation. Motivating is not about convincing or debating. It's about listening and learning to the degree the employee is clear on how their role is linked to the big picture. Anchoring shines a light on why their doing a good job matters to the organization's overall success.

Example: I wanted you to know your good work has helped the division hit sales targets 100 days in a row. Together, we are helping this division exceed our customers' needs and our corporate targets.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

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This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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