SOURCE: Davis & Company

December 18, 2008 06:00 ET

Want to Motivate Your Employees? Expert Says Talk Less, Listen More

5 Tips to Keep Employees Focused in Tough Times

GLEN ROCK, NJ--(Marketwire - December 18, 2008) - Whether you supervise one person or lead an organization with hundreds of workers, you're probably worried about employee productivity. After all, nearly every day brings more bad news, which causes employees to speculate rather than focusing on getting their jobs done. The good news is that despite the gloom, you can motivate your team members to do their best work, says Alison Davis, co-author of the book, "Your Attention, Please" (Adams Business, 2006), and a weekly web log, "Insights," at

The secret is to talk less and listen more, according to Davis, who runs Davis & Company, a firm that helps companies like Georgia Pacific, MasterCard, and PepsiCo engage their employees. "What employees need most is ongoing dialogue with their managers -- even when there is no news."

Why dialogue? As Davis explains, two-way communication accomplishes two things. First, engagement creates focus, so people know what needs to be done. And second, when managers listen, workers feel that their concerns are heard. As a result, employees know you care about them.

Here's what you can do:

--  Start each meeting with a question. Ask, "What are customers telling
    you?" Or: "What obstacles are we facing in meeting our targets?" Or simply:
    "What's on your mind?"
--  Set priorities, then ask for ideas. When the pressure's on, it's easy
    to get distracted. So don't be afraid to establish priorities, then repeat
    them. And use priorities as a way to ask employees for their suggestions on
    how to accomplish those goals.
--  Let them vent. Many managers view complaining as a waste of time. But
    whining can actually be productive, by letting off pressure that would
    otherwise build up. Set aside five minutes for "gripe sessions," then move
--  Express yourself. You may think your team needs you to be stoic --
    like Clint Eastwood -- but in fact the opposite is true. Your employees
    want to feel that you're all in this together. So don't be afraid to say,
    "I'm worried, too."
--  Recognize achievements. You may not feel like celebrating, but the
    fact is that, now more than ever, employees need to feel like their hard
    work matters. So take the time to say "Nice job" and "Well done." And, even
    if you can't afford champagne, you can pop a bag of popcorn to celebrate
    your team's accomplishments.