When I was around 17, my parents went away for the week and left me at home. Before she left, my mother reminded me that our electric heater was in the cupboard under the stairs. She told me I might need it, because it would be far too difficult for me to keep the central heating going all week because it was powered by an old stove which not only required constant feeding with coal and logs, but which also had to be kept free of ashes while the airflow was checked regularly to make sure the fire neither died out nor burned too fiercely. If the fire did go out, and according to my mother it most assuredly would, it was notoriously difficult to light again, and therefore I would need the electric heater.
If you want to motivate a teenager, tell them you don’t believe they can do something! For the next eight days, I devoted myself to the stove, shovelling coal, taking out the ashes, making hourly boiler checks, and nursing the fire through the night. When my parents returned, I nonchalantly mentioned that I hadn’t required the electric heater at all, and the central heating was still running smoothly.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that keeping the stove going possibly wasn’t quite the impossible task I’d been led to believe, and also that my mother was probably much more cunning than I’d given her credit for. But I was definitely motivated, so motivation technique No. 1 is to tell your staff you don’t think they can meet their targets.
At school we had an English teacher who refused to give grade A. He said grade A was for perfect work, which ours wasn’t, and probably never would be. I think he might have been plotting covertly with my mother. By setting the bar impossibly high – he said that to achieve an A, my writing would not only have to be flawless, but also thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, and well-researched – he inspired me to work harder than I ever had before. So motivation technique No. 2 is to set very high targets that are almost out of reach.
You may have heard that it’s a good idea to praise your staff frequently. My English teacher hadn’t. Throughout the year he returned my essays with comments to the effect of “no mistakes, but not good enough for an A.” He didn’t make the mistake of telling me my work was good, when it evidently wasn’t good enough. And he certainly didn’t make the mistake of telling me my work was good when I knew it wasn’t. If he had, I would never have taken him seriously again. When I did eventually achieve an A, I knew it was genuine, and therefore it meant something. Motivation technique No. 3 is never to use praise unless it is earned.
Presumably you’re thinking about how to motivate your staff because they either don’t seem to care about their jobs very much, or they keep leaving. You can’t push them to work harder because they might simply resign, and you can’t persuade them to stay when better opportunities come along. Of course you can improve working conditions and perhaps provide learning opportunities for staff to build careers, but one vital addition to these ideas is to make it much harder to work for you. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you keep trying to increase the rewards to average staff, effectively begging them to stay, you won’t get very far. By all means make their jobs better, but invite them to re-apply. Make it hard to get in. Make working for you something to be proud of. Give more, but demand much, much more. Motivation techniques No. 4 and No.5 are to insist on high standards, and to make your hotel a place where people feel that getting a job is a real accomplishment, rather than a desperate place that will employ anyone.
The final idea to consider is one which is evolved from another suggestion about recruitment. It was pointed out that many hotel jobs in, such as housekeeping, can be rather monotonous and boring. Instead of trying to dress up the job as some kind of career opportunity, the initial idea was to use a personality test when screening applicants in order to get the right kind of person for the job. Of course, this presupposes that there are people out there who love tedium. However, it is certainly true that the personality types of the people on your staff will have a strong influence on the motivation of others. If you want to create a positive atmosphere you cannot do it with people who want to complain or want to leave. Motivation technique No. 6 is therefore to look carefully to see who is influencing the general mood, and try to get them on side with your aims. Other staff members will then be guided in the right direction by the more dominant characters.