HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Benjamin Yang

How to motivate your employees?


In Singapore, if we flip through any newspapers or attend any business seminar, it is almost certain that we have come across this statement; “Our people are our greatest resource.”
In many ways, this is very true. If we think about it, strategies can be replicated, technology can be reverse-engineered and processes copied.

How then can a company differentiate itself from the competition? The answer to that lies in the talent that resides in the organization. However, just as often as we make such bold claims, the sad truth is that many organizations do not sufficiently leverage on the knowledge and energy of its people.

While engaging various SMEs in Singapore, what I have observed is that many organizations are not putting in sufficient effort to motivate their employees. The relationship between the employer and employee appears to be transactional. The employer pays the salary and the worker puts in the hours.

Intuitively, you would probably come to the same conclusion as I have. What if we were able to increase the motivation of our staff? If companies could do that, performance levels would increase and the organization would directly benefit from it.

With Singapore’s emphasis on productivity, it is funny that productivity seems to equate to just using technology to automate business processes. Could we not allocate more attention to the human aspects of the organization to increase motivation?

In order to increase the motivation and performance level of employees, I would like to share one of the most well-documented and proven motivational techniques that HR and Industrial Psychology has uncovered in the past 30 years.

I am referring Goal Setting. Research on goal setting has found that individuals with a specific and difficult goal would outperform individuals with an average goal, a ‘do your best’ goal or having no goals at all. The brilliance of goal setting lies in its simplicity.

Backed by more than 1000 studies in which more than 90% recorded a significant increase in performance, we know that it works. In fact, in some of these studies have found performance to increase from anywhere from 10% to 30%.

Is it not a shame that companies have not been adequately utilizing goal setting? If we put it in perspective, I have come across many organizations that are willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars to increase productivity by 10%.

While not wrong, more ground could be gained by implementing proper goal setting mechanisms within the enterprise. However, before you jump into implementing goal setting in your organization, these are a few things you should take note of.

Tip 1: Set goals that are difficult
Research in goal setting has shown that performance peaks when the goals are difficult. Refrain from setting goals that you know your staff can attain without putting in too much. The purpose is to set it at a level that is challenging (but not impossible) and once your staff reaches that goal, it acts as a booster to their level of self-efficacy.

Tip 2: Set goals that are specific
Be specific in your goal setting. Do not set targets like ‘increase sales’. Be specific, set a number. That way, it allows your staff to evaluate their progress and avoids many of the problems associated with miscommunication of expectations.

Tips 3: Provide constant feedback
This happens to be one of the most overlooked aspects in goal setting. Research has shown that when goal setting is coupled with feedback, this results in a huge jump in performance. This is because feedback allows people to calibrate their actions and to understand their weaknesses.

Thus, employees are able to exert more effort to improve those areas to better help them attain their goal. The effects of feedback with goal setting are so powerful that certain studies have recorded a 50% increase in performance as opposed to solely goal setting.

All companies aim to increase productivity and to have a motivated workforce. The next step would be to engage our people in meaningful goal setting and constant provision of feedback. Once we are able to do this, I am confident that Talent will be the differential advantage for the company. 

Benjamin Yang, Managing Director, Balanced Consultancy

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Benjamin Yang

Benjamin Yang

Benjamin is a business strategist and organisational psychologist. He is also the Managing Director of Balanced Consultancy.

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