Skip to main content
Start of menu
Close Menu
American Express® for Small Business - Built for Business Owners
5 Secrets for Motivating Your Staff
If your staff has hit a rut and lacks enthusiasm, it's time to step in and turn things. These 5 motivational tricks can help.
motivating your employees for small business owners

Writer and Public Speaker, Freelance

This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum, an online community providing small business owners with information and advice to help them do more business.”

Running a small business means relying on others to make your dreams come true, and the quality of your team's work will match the quality of how you motivate them. The following five secrets for motivating staff are the same ones used by pros throughout the business world. Don't use them like a checklist, though. Consider them springboards for personalized motivation that will best fit the personalities of your workforce.


1. Set clear goals and follow up. "Lack of clear direction" is among the most common complaints in a dissatisfied workforce. They don't understand the context or value of their assignments, so they can't get excited about them. For each project in your business, set a clearly defined goal, then show exactly how each team member's contribution makes that goal happen. 

But don't stop there. It's equally important to follow up periodically and see how each team member is making progress toward her part of the goal. If she's on or ahead of schedule, it's an opportunity to praise good work and solid motivation. If she's behind, you have a chance to give the kind of one-on-one mentorship that fosters inspiration and loyalty. 

2. Define the mission, then set staff free. Setting up clear parameters for success, expectations of behavior and a schedule of production is important when delegating tasks to your staff. The clearer and more specific you are about these points, the closer the final result will be to what you want.

But once you've defined the mission, give individual team members as much latitude as possible when it comes to how they complete their tasks. For example, this gives Dan, the father of four, freedom to come in early and leave after lunch on days he needs to watch a soccer game. It lets Jenny wear casual clothes on days she isn't meeting with clients. The result is a team that works the way they work best, instead of all conforming to an arbitrary norm. 

3. Give all the perks you can, especially the free ones. Benefits and perks are part of every strong compensation package, and you should offer as broad a range as your company can afford. If you don't, employees will ultimately leave for a competitor who can.

But that's not the most important aspect of motivation. It turns out employees count on health insurance, but love small, inexpensive perks like bring-your-dog-to-work days, discount programs and company-bought lunches. Even something as simple as casual Fridays results in a happier, better motivated team. 

4. Focus on communication—even when that's not the problem.

Half of program failures in a company boil down to a collapse in communication. Your team might not be motivated because you've failed to communicate how much you value them. They might be highly motivated to produce the wrong results because of a poorly communicated mission statement. The more accurate and clear your communication, the better things will go.

But focusing on communication can be even more important when communication isn't the problem. If a valued employee makes an honest mistake, discussing the problem in terms of communication makes it nobody's fault. Your team member will appreciate your leniency, and you'll still be addressing the fact that a problem happened. 

5. Define the company values ... and live them. Employees work best for companies that share their values, just as they get along best with people with congruent priorities. If you define your company values as clearly as your specific missions, you will attract and keep a team that's already highly motivated to turn your visions into reality. 

But it's not enough to simply list the values like a new kind of mission statement. You, as the leader, must embody those values with your every decision and action. You can't drive to work in a gas-guzzling truck if you say you value green commerce, nor can you go home early on days you've instructed your team to stay late. 

What are ways you can apply these concepts, or tweak them to meet the needs of your team? Tell us about them in the comments section and join the conversation!

About the author: Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. 

Photos from top: iStockphoto, Thinkstock


The opinions expressed in this article are those of its individual writer, and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of American Express Canada or Amex Bank of Canada. Third party web sites may have privacy and security policies different from Amex Bank of Canada. Links to other web sites does not imply the endorsement or approval of such web sites.

Talk to a Small Business
Sales Consultant
Fill out the form below and small business sales consultant will contact you within two business days.

This email address will be used only to respond in providing you with further card product information.

Language Preference

The information you provided will be used to contact you and provide you with information on our products and services.
Yes, you may use my email address to keep me informed of the occasional offer and promotion from American Express. You should only provide an email address that you are the owner of or have consent from the owner to use for this purpose.