How to Motivate Your Employees

John Tschohl Headshot

From the time we can understand the spoken word, we’ve all needed compliments and kind words. They indicate approval, whether said to a baby taking her first steps or to an athlete trying out for an Olympic team. Words of encouragement are great motivators that recognize us and encourage us to do better, to be better.

Recognition is critical to motivation. We all need positive reinforcement for who we are and what we do. Recognition influences self-esteem, and self-esteem influences performance. When we feel good about ourselves, it affects what we do and how we do it.

All too often, however, the only time many employees get attention is when they make mistakes. What they really need is to feel that their contributions are noticed and recognized. Well-deserved praise — whether delivered vocally in person, by email, or by a personal, hand-written note — strengthens employees’ resolve to perform well and increases their loyalty to the company. It also reduces employee turnover, which in turn, reduces hiring and training costs. When you recognize, appreciate, and motivate employees, they will stay with you.

In order to motivate your employees, it’s critical that you recognize them and their achievements. To do that, take these four steps:

  1. Be specific. If you say, “You did a great job last week,” that won’t cut it; it’s meaningless. Tell the employee exactly what they did that impressed you. Was the report turned in on time and without errors? Did the employee go out of their way to give you more than you had asked for?
  2. Be timely. Recognition delayed is recognition denied. In order to have the most impact, it’s critical that you compliment the employee immediately. If you wait even a week to do so, that employee will more than likely spend that time sulking about your lack of praise.
  3. Be genuine. Create a personal connection with the employee. Call employees by name and be enthusiastic about what you are saying. Anything you say to that employee will also have a greater impact if you do it in front of other employees.
  4. Be sincere. You also must be sincere in what you say. Accompany your words with a smile and a handshake. If you come across as insincere, whatever you have said has lost its luster.

Rather than looking for what employees are doing wrong, look for what they are doing right. You might be surprised at how productive and loyal they will become when you recognize and praise them.

Most companies over-value money as a motivator. Money will get people through the doors of your company to work for you, but it won’t keep them there. Even if you want to give an employee a raise, you must first get approval from your superiors. On the other hand, recognition costs you and your company nothing while it motivates employees to stay with you and to do the best job possible.

Suppose you can make the simple act of recognition and praise a part of your everyday routine. In that case, you will create an environment of loyal employees who are ready and willing to go to bat for the team and to work to improve everyone’s level of performance.

For more information on John Tschohl and the Service Quality Institute, visit

John Tschohl is the founder and president of the Service Quality Institute — a global leader in customer service — with operations in more than 40 countries. He is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on all aspects of customer service and has developed 18 customer service training programs that are used by companies throughout the world.

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