How to motivate your employees without paying them more money

Share this content

Business owner and trainer Chris Atkinson examines how entrepreneurs can motivate their people without having to increase their salary.

A recent Harvard Business article looked at research which studied more than 30,000 leaders to discover what are the top 10 characteristics of bad bosses. The number one listed 'fatal flaw' of leaders was "failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm". They went on to describe bad bosses as being unenthusiastic and passive in the eyes of their people.
We are living through a time of unprecedented challenge for SMEs looking to survive and most businesses are asking more of their people without being able to offer financial recognition for their efforts. So without getting extra cash, why should people apply greater discretionary efforts in their work? The answer is that we have to tap into a greater motivator than simply money, we have to find a way of connecting emotionally with people and this is where inspiration is the key.
It seems surprising with no shortage of 'inspirational' material available on the internet that so many small business leaders get this wrong. The internet is filled with inspirational stories, imagery and quotations but crucially, where does it actually say how to inspire others. Simply put, it doesn't! 
The reality (in UK culture at least) is that leaders who opt for the motivational quote or putting posters up are more often than not laughed at by teams or not taken seriously in any way. The old fashioned motivational team talk doesn’t carry much weight either against longer hours and a tougher working environment.
It is therefore quite shocking that there are no programmes and very few books explaining the 'how to' of motivation. Mostly it's been assumed you either 'got it or you ain't'. This simply isn't true. Inspiration is a function of personal authenticity, in other words how genuine we are when we speak and how much comes from the heart. For that reason it is absolutely a skill that can be learnt but it requires courage and creativity. There are three key ways we can inspire others which can make the difference between a bland boss and characteristic leader.
Technique one: Empathy
Empathy is our ability to relate to others at an emotional level. In performance terms, when people connect with their leader at an emotional level they work harder for that person and give greater commitment. The best route to gaining an empathic response from others is by sharing experiences that disclose more of who you are than you would normally show. During our working lives we wear a well-crafted mask that shows the world what we want others to see. When you start to drop that mask and reveal your thoughts, hopes, fears and history, people connect at an empathic level.
Key idea: Share stories that show i) What made you the person you are today, ii) What challenges you have faced and how you acted, iii) Things that taught you a lesson in life. Relate these stories to the situation you and your business are in now. You have to take a risk and let the real emotions come out, people have to see what the story means to you.
Technique two: Desire
Desire is a fundamental human instinct, which, in amongst the routines of everyday life, is easily lost. People simply lose track of what they really want and why they are working at all.  Most leaders simply assume people work for money and leave it at that. As a leader if we can uncover their hopes and dreams then remind them why they do the things they do (i.e. the greater purpose) you will see a transformation in the energy levels of your people. Your challenge is to keep reminding people how their work, their income, their activities support them to achieve bigger and better things.
Key idea: Sit quietly with each member of your business and explore their longer term ambitions and dreams.  Don't be threatened if they exist outside of their current role or your business; this is your opportunity to show support and encourage them to get what they want in life for the long term. In return, every time you prove your commitment and openness to them they will up their efforts and drive to work hard for you. Keep reminding them of what they want.
Technique three: Fear
We cannot avoid the fact that fear is often one of the forces that 'inspires' people to change their ways. A health scare, a wake-up call, a near miss accident; these moments of fear have often proven to be a turning point in people’s lives. We can therefore use this emotional force in an ethical and positive way to drive people forward to better things and positive changes.
Key idea: You don't do the scaring! Fear is essentially a concern about potential consequences. Many people go through their working lives playing down the impact of certain behaviours and choices, never really confronting the long term implications their decisions might have. What we can do in leadership is present 'right now' as being like a fork in the road one path leads to a set of consequences which are not desirable but down the other lies a brighter future. By asking (not telling) people what will be the effect and impact of their behaviour/choices over weeks, months, years we can quickly create start hearing a reality that is a long way from their desired future! Getting this clarity about consequences can be all the inspiration many people need to change their behaviour.
Chris Atkinson is director at Elysian Training

About Dan Martin

About Dan Martin

Dan Martin has 10 years experience as a journalist writing about entrepreneurs and the issues that affect them.

After three years working as a researcher for Sky News, he joined as a reporter. This was followed by two years working as news editor for during which time Dan also contributed to Growing Business magazine. In 2006, he joined Sift Media as business editor before being promoted to editor of He also has responsibility for UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online forums for small business entrepreneurs. In addition, Dan founded The Pitch,'s nationwide competition for small business owners. He host the grand finals in 2009 and 2010 in front of an audience of 300. 

As well as interviewing many entrepreneurs, Dan has written content for leading business organisations such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, British Chambers of Commerce, Forum of Private Business, Investors in People and Business Link for London. Among the publications that have quoted Dan are The Times, Mail On Sunday, Financial Times, Personnel Today and Bristol Evening Post. His articles have also been published by publications including eGov Monitor, Virgin Express in-flight magazine and Personal Success.

Dan regularly speaks at events about small business and social media issues. Among the events he has presented at are the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies' annual conference, Learning Technologies, Publishing Expo and World of Learning. He has also chaired high profile debates featuring senior representatives from Business Link and the Federation of Small Businesses and Dragons' Den judge James Caan.

Dan was named the 10th most influential political blogger on Twitter by the Independent and won the public award for best B2B tweeter at the Golden Twits 2010. He also organised the Bristol Twestival, part of a global Twitter driven charity initiative, in February 2009 and March 2010. Volunteers from 175 cities around the world organised events using the social network. In total, $350,000 was raised for charity: water in 2009 and $500,000 for Concern in 2010. In Bristol, £1,500 and £5,600 was raised.


Please login or register to join the discussion.

By David Evans
17th Sep 2012 09:48

Building relationships with your employees allows you to reach out to them easily and motivate them more effectively. Money can sometimes be a good motivator but often employees who are inventivised by money will focus more on attaining the reward rather than upholding the values of the company and providing high quality service. 


-- Dave Evans Commercial Director at accessplanit, specialist in learning management system and training management software.

Thanks (0)