Ask the Experts: How can I motivate my staff on the cheap?

By Becky Paskin

- Last updated on GMT

Communication is the key to motivation, says Cutler
Communication is the key to motivation, says Cutler
BigHospitality puts one reader's question about how to motivate their staff without monetary reward to Alan Cutler of Hospitality Leadership, in our bi-monthly advice feature Ask the Experts.

BigHospitality puts one reader's question about how to motivate their staff without monetary reward to Alan Cutler of Hospitality Leadership​.

Problem:​ “Things are very tight within our business at the moment and I’m having to ask a lot from my staff as we’ve had to have a recruitment freeze to offset a fall in business travellers at the hotel, which is our mainstay. I’m conscious I can’t offer financial rewards at present so please could you give me some advice on keeping my team motivated?” - anonymous.

Solution:​ The basis of motivation is the belief that one’s actions will lead to greater benefits for oneself, one’s team or one’s organisation.  It is unlikely that anyone would be motivated to make things worse for themselves, or even retain the status quo. Hence, motivation is connected to positive change – towards identified goals. We all know how motivational it is to achieve personal or team goals that we have committed ourselves to. Even progress made towards the ultimate goal can be inspiring and can sustain energy and enthusiasm along the way. 

It is important, therefore, that you are clear in your own mind what your vision for the business is during these difficult times. What targets or objectives, both in terms of income generation and cost controls, do you need to set in order to ensure that the business is sustainable in the short-to-medium term? Once you have determined these – and here is a key action to address the question you have posed – you must share them with your staff, along with the factors that have underpinned your decisions.

Effective communication is one of the most important leadership skills, but is one that, regrettably, is often practised so poorly.

How often have we heard people say "Nobody tells us anything"? Yet people yearn to be informed of issues that affect themselves and their organisation. They yearn for open, honest communication channels where information flows freely upwards, downwards and sideways. Open communication fosters mutual trust, whilst a perception that things are being hidden will only produce fear and uncertainty. The need for shared information is constant, but is especially important during periods of change, such as you are facing at present. Leaders must never forget the power of effective communication, or the destructive potential of its absence.

So be brave: be open with your team about the challenges facing the business and, most importantly, seek their buy-in for the remedial actions you are proposing. You may be surprised how supportive they are once they know how they can contribute to the future success of their business.

Create lasting motivation

I was interested that you mentioned financial rewards as it poses the question of what factors motivate people at work. The theory that, in my view, really has stood the test of time is Frederick Herzberg’s motivational theory.

He found that if leaders want to create a lasting motivational culture they should offer their people:

  • Achievement – a feeling that they are contributing to the success of their team
  • Job Satisfaction – an interesting job that offers variation and challenge
  • Advancement – not only promotion, but an opportunity to grow as an individual
  • Responsibility – most people respond positively to a degree of additional responsibility
  • Recognition – for their efforts and a job well done

I know from my work supporting leaders within the hospitality industry that Hertzberg theory is as relevant now as it was fifty years ago when he formulated it. Hence, I strongly recommend that you find ways to apply it within your team, as well as being open and transparent about the challenges that lie ahead.

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