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When It Comes to Employee Motivation, Creativity Counts

While some companies can afford to offer high salaries and great benefits packages, many others have to be more creative about how they motivate their workers. Some firms roll out everything from Ping-Pong tables to train sets, in order to create a great workplace vibe. Others demonstrate a commitment to philanthropic efforts, which helps everyone to feel they are working for the greater good. And others stress training, development, and advancement, emphasizing that each employee will have ample opportunity to develop his or her talents to the fullest.
Recently a trio of entrepreneurs from the Lexington, Kentucky, area described some of the steps they take to make every employee feel valued and rewarded—albeit not always monetarily—during a "Power to the Small" panel discussion, hosted by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions.

Help Them See the Bigger Picture

Toa Green, who owns and operates Crank and Boom Ice Cream Lounge in Lexington, doesn’t have the luxury of offering generous pay and benefits—the nature of her business simply doesn’t result in the bottom-line margins needed to achieve that. Instead, she positions the jobs she has on offer—which are often part-time - as being useful stepping stones to what an applicant ultimately hopes to do.
That approach begins even before an employee is hired: on the job application she asks applicants to name their dream job. She then tries to illustrate how a job at her business can help them achieve that goal. “We have some college kids who want to be doctors, so I say to them, ‘You know, you’re standing on your feet for 10-12 hours, this is like being a surgeon,’” she says. “’We can be helpful in your journey.”

Forget Your Ego

Carey Smith, on the other hand, put salary front and center—even though it meant he'd make considerably less than he otherwise might. The CEO of Big Ass Solutions started his company in 1999 with just six workers; he now employs 1,000 people. From the start, he considered his employees an asset rather than an expense, and he implemented policies that embody that attitude: generous year-end bonuses; pay that is 20 percent higher than the national average; benefits that include an on-site nurse; and even a no-layoff policy.
"When I started, I paid the people who worked for me more than I paid for myself," he says. "Part of that was because I had to, otherwise no one would work for me! But it's also a case of taking the ego out of the business. Too many small-business owners focus on their status and how much money they make." He believes the foundation of a successful business is treating employees with empathy.
As he built the company he found unique ways to compensate employees and build team spirit. In the early days, he had a Christmas lottery where employees could win TVs, iPads, and gift cards. The longer employees had worked for the company, the more chances they had to win. Last year, he tried a raffle where employees could win cash prizes totaling thousands of dollars.
"I was a little nervous, because if 10 people won the raffle that meant 990 lost," he says. "But everyone in the room was cheering for the winners because everyone had such camaraderie, and they knew that the money meant good things for the people who won it."

Celebrate Team Spirit

Michael Tetterton, CEO of Creative Lodging Solutions, encourages his staff to have inter-departmental Nerf-gun battles. He also believes in both spontaneous and planned rewards. He recalls an employee who had "the world's most mundane job" -- calling hotels to collect paperwork. Not fun, yet one day when this employee (who had been on the job just a couple of weeks) finished his regular work by 3 p.m., he sent out an email saying he was available if anyone needed a hand with anything else. Tetterton immediately presented him with a $100 bill—and used a megaphone to thank him for his initiative.
At the same time, Tetterton believes in giving entry-level workers the opportunity to immediately begin improving their salary/pay. He implemented a program whereby customer-support staff can earn a 10 percent raise by improving the quality of the information they provide (thus reducing the need for customers to call more than once) and the number of calls they take.
"I thought it would be a worthwhile program if we got a marginal improvement, but after a short period the accuracy jumped from 91 to 94 percent," Tetterton says. "We have happier, more engaged employees, and more satisfied clients. And that's because we turned the 50 people who take those calls from employees to business partners."
Which, as any entrepreneur can tell you, is precisely the kind of workforce you want.
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