Keeping Employees Motivated When There’s No Room For Promotion
How do you keep employees motivated when there is no room for immediate promotion? This is a question facing many companies now that their stock and employees' morale resemble a roller coaster.
The highly talented employee who cannot be promoted because there are no positions in which to move is said to be gridlocked. Although the term "gridlock" carries a negative connotation, the act itself is not a problem. However, the accompanying plateau, rut and boredom are cause for concern.
Individuals will not move up the corporate ladder today with the speed or numbers that typified the group that came before them, which leaves all forward-thinking organizations with this question: How can this problem be managed? The following strategies are designed to help management address employee perceptions that not being promoted equals stagnation and feelings of not being a valuable contributor on the job:
- Do not ignore or underestimate the power of praise. Basically, positive reinforcement consists of praise and recognition. And before you groan, "I've heard this before," consider the following: A survey conducted by Motivational Systems found that only 11 percent of managers consistently recognized or praised their employees' work. Of the more than 1,000 employees surveyed, 50 percent said they received due recognition "most of the time"; 28 percent answered "rarely"; and 10 percent said "not at all." Given the same benefits and salary, 27 percent of the employees questioned said they would move to another company that had a reputation for recognition and praise. It's not easy getting people to do their best when they would just as soon be working for some other company.
- Make reinforcement contingent upon performance. This means there should be a clear connection between an individual's actions and the recognition they get. Being generally nice, giving constant praise to people regardless of their behavior, is not motivational reinforcement. That is why office birthday parties, while creating a friendly atmosphere, do not stimulate increased productivity. You are simply rewarding someone for living another year, not for performing an action that benefits the organization.
- Change the corporate culture to de-emphasize promotions. Avoid promising new hires a long, brilliant career. Instead, show the realities of promotional tracks up-front to create accurate expectations. Show that the company values achievements other than the number of people one manages. Widen the criteria of success. Explain the inevitability of plateauing and offer opportunities for self-renewal.
- Institute personnel policies that focus on employee contributions. Make it clear what a job entails. It may look glamorous and desirable from the outside, but knowing the true demands of a job helps separate fantasy from reality when one looks to move up. Emphasize early retirement and transitional retirement (where the employee retains full-time benefits but works as a consultant or part-timer).
Offer re-education tuition. Permit honorable demotion of people who want to slow down after attaining their desired level within the company. Give accurate performance appraisals. Inflated ratings lead to expectations of promotion.
- Make liberal use of lateral transfers. Develop generalists, not specialists. It is better for teamwork and enriches the employee's resume. Promote the idea that a lateral move is good and back it with pay incentives.
- Redefine promotion. Use pay-for-performance systems whereby promotion is based on upgrading skills, furthering education and diversifying, rather than obtaining a new title or having more people under you. Set up dual career tracks, one for those with management interest and one for those with no management interest.
- Support intrapreuneurship. Under this innovation, the organization gives an employee seed money to develop a business within the business (for example, a company gives an employee financial assistance to institute a refuse removal system within the company itself). The employee still earns a salary because, unlike a business owner, the employee is not taking all the risks. However, the potential for increased income may be tied to the success of the intrapreneurial venture.
- Encourage mid-career breaks. Academic or other sabbaticals that renew and refresh the employee at a plateau are helpful. These breaks may be funded by the company and then paid back by the employee over a period of time.
- Train managers to work with employees who are in an employment slump. When managers are trained to recognize the symptoms of an employee who has reached a plateau, they can work to shift the employee's attitude and make the plateau a steppingstone. Further, managers can offer job enrichment opportunities, as well as a host of other possibilities:
- Leading or participating in a task force
- Planning an off-site meeting or conference
- Performing off-site troubleshooting on customer problems
- Launching a new product or program
- Participating in community service projects
- Involve academia in the process. The academic world needs to educate business graduates and candidates for M.B.A.s to the realities of today's business world. The fast track is no longer the norm. Today's business school graduates can expect to find themselves on an "uncertain track" and should be prepared to meet that challenge. This uncertain track may not hold the immediate rewards that those on a fast track enjoy, but in many ways, it has the potential to create better professionals and expand the opportunity for people to feel like winners, even when promotion is not part of the picture.
Finally, the most important thing that any organization can do for its employees is to build a relationship that allows them to feel comfortable in expressing their concerns of promotability or the lack of it. . So, if you are a manager reading this, get moving!