Small Business Motivation Problem

Quite often I see the same issue repeating itself over and over again. There’s a small business which operates almost on a shoestring budget. Then there’s a business owner who, out of all things, afraid to move in either direction because it is quite clear to him – one wrong move and he’s out of the money and out of the business. Then employees come into picture and start pressuring business owner for raise, more perks or simply new equipment.

If he concedes – he’s back to the same issue of money shortage. If he refuses – employees become less and less motivated, until it gets to the point where no work is done. Then the business owner has to go through a whole round of cycling the workforce which is as expensive as it is exhausting.

Every small business, once in a while, hits this rock. Almost every business addresses the issue – one way or another. Some survive. Some – not so much. However, the question remains the same – how to keep employees motivated to work on a lower wage than they could have gotten if they looked hard and long enough? How to deter the motivation degradation, that eventually becomes sand in the gears, fifth wheel in the cart and whatever else you can think of that doesn’t help business moving forward.

First thing any business owner should understand is that no matter what is said and done in the company, unless the employee is a managing partner – he would never care about the business as much as the owner. Even more so, any small business that treats its workers with little respect is doomed to have a low motivation problem. Whatever can be stolen – will be stolen. Whatever can be neglected (even at the risk of having an argument with the boss) will be neglected. Employees will constantly be late, leave early, or, if that’s somehow restricted, will slack off during the day.

As an example I will tell the story about one IT department I used to work for some years ago. The company had pretty much any internet activity restricted and forbidden. There were no Facebook back then, but there were chat rooms, dating sites, discussion forums and other perfect methods of spending a day at work without doing any actual work. As any strong medicine this had its side effects. People were unable to find the information they needed. There were no blogs, but there was some technical documentation, newsgroups and forums, where actual meaningful discussion ensued. Ah, those were the good old days. It turned out, IT people spent enormous amounts of time carving multiple workarounds to access the sites they needed. Sites they needed to do their work, mind you, but once you’re breathing the freedom – you want to fully explore it. Having those boundaries not be in place – any worker could have the information he or she needs in minutes and would go back to work. But creating walls around people to make them work harder achieves only one thing – making sure these people will try to traverse these walls as hard as possible – work or no work.

So what does this has to do with motivation? Everything! Given the right motivation people would be willing to sacrifice other things. As an example – the organization above had one of the fastest internet connections at that time, so for any IT geek it was obviously a better place to work. I know, sounds funny, but that was the case.

Many small business owners are too afraid to look deep into their employees. Everybody’s got their reasons, of course, but generally they’re afraid to be met with ignorance. However the case may be, business owners should still try and understand – what drives this person? Why did they choose to work for me? What’s in it for them? Maybe it sounds like a too much of a job – to look into that $10/hour kid, but it may bring back a lot more value. Maybe your business could become a major stepping stone in this kid’s career, so he will be willing to go an extra mile or two for a good reference and valuable experience.

An extra mile or two from every employee in a company totals for a good deal of distance these people are willing to carry your business for free. It isn’t something a business owner should easily overlook – especially one with strained budget.