Motivating frontline employees is important to business strategy, because your customer-facing roles are often those that drive revenue, as well as customer satisfaction and repeat metrics.
Motivating these employees can also be challenging, but pressure is not the answer. A recent article in Harvard Business Review observes that economic or emotional pressure, such as commission-based compensation or criticism, tend to drive performance down. As commissions are often decided upon as a motivating agent, managers may need to change their idea of what actually motivates employees.
What does motivate them? According to the HBR, people are motivated by why they work. They work for purpose, potential, and play. Activities that engage these categories are successful in increasing motivation.
Emotional pressure and economic pressure not only don’t motivate well, they can also drive motivation and performance down—so can what the authors describe as “inertia,” which are methods having no particular impact.
So how can business leadership put purpose, potential, and play into action to spur motivation and performance upward in frontline employees? There are three ways.
Experimentation for solutions to company challenges can be very motivating.
- Focus on learning
Learning new ways of doing business is a motivator because it engages purpose, potential, and play. Equally importantly, it eliminates economic and emotional pressure.
A cultural of apprenticeship means that everyone is constantly learning—and constantly mentoring and ascertaining best practices.
- Encourage experimentation
Part of a culture of apprenticeship is focusing on experimentation as a potential solution to organizational challenges.
Specifically, the HBR suggests encouraging employees to experiment with better ways of achieving goals. One company set up an Idea Board, which listed all the company’s challenges. It also set up a Solutions Board, which was intended as a list of solutions to the challenges, to be entered anonymously by employees.
Solutions were chosen to be implemented periodically at set intervals. It was understood that the implementation was temporary and that the results of the experiment would be discussed as a team after the period of experimentation had passed.
Experiments which had good results were eligible to become part of standard operating procedure. In addition, the team discussions were valuable lessons in what had worked with the client base and why.
The authors stressed that one valuable way a corporation can make experiments work is to encourage generation of ideas that will have no bottom line impact. A new method, for example, can be developed without any impact on the existing budget. That frees experimentation from any fear of economic pressure.
- Create a sense of purpose
Frontline employees were encouraged to connect their ideas and solutions to specific customer benefit. The purpose was to make the customer most satisfied, happier, and more engaged.
The benefit was part of the experimentation and the team discussions.
One customer benefit was made an explicit part of the frontline employee’s sense of purpose, it ensured alignment between their solutions and customer satisfaction. That, in turn, had the potential to drive all the metrics that frontline employees are called upon to meet in terms of revenues and customer satisfaction measures.