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A well-motivated and satisfied workforce is not just a pipe dream

ONE of the key challenges facing companies in recent times is the ability to motivate their staff.

Much has been written and many research studies have been undertaken seeking to identify the most effective ways in which managers can stimulate employees toward achieving the goals of the organisation.

Indeed, an article in the magazine 'Entrepreneur' showed that 42pc of the global workforce is disengaged in work. Nearly all – 90pc – of leaders say that employee engagement is critical to their business, but yet 75pc of firms do not have an employee engagement strategy.

Many businesses take a very traditional approach to motivating employees by adopting a simple performance-reward scheme. However, a firm in America has taken a very different approach toward building employee engagement and company culture.

The Founder of the Appletree Answering Services, John Ratliff, believes that exceptional quality drives success and that to achieve such a goal he had to make his employees a priority.

Therefore he has taken a concept from the world of charity and mirrored it within their organisation.

Appletree Answering Services offers 24-hour professional telephone answering services and operates in the kind of industry that frequently tends to have high staff turnover rates.

To help develop a team culture within the company, Ratliff took the Make-A-Wish Charity concept and introduced it into his organisation. It is called the 'Dream On' programme and every employee has the opportunity to submit one dream to the Dream On committee.

There are no limitations or restrictions to what a person can submit and it is the company's Dream On committee that makes the final decision.

Sometimes the dreams are for the employee themselves, but they can also be for family members or indeed for complete strangers.

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To date, 25 dreams have been granted which included two employees who were living in their cars with their families being supported in finding apartments, and a potentially terminally ill spouse meeting an NFL football team.

Because of this programme, the company has built a company culture where employees support each other in their work and see themselves as having careers with the firm rather than jobs.

Over time, the company has developed seven core values: employees are critical; think like a customer; integrity matters; small details are huge; be quick, but don't hurry; take care of each other; and spirited fun.

Indeed, if you want to see the real impact of what granting employee dreams has achieved, then I suggest that you go to YouTube and enter Appletree Dream On in the search term.

These values and initiatives have served the company very well as it has won numerous awards for excellence and workplace practices.

As importantly, the firm has also been consistently listed by the American magazine 'Inc' as being one of the country's fastest-growing privately owned companies.

The commitment of the company to its employees and to the pursuit of excellence has also brought it bottom-line success, which is an important achievement for any business.

When considering how to motivate employees, a report by 'McKinsey Quarterly' provided some interesting findings. According to the report, the top three motivating factors are:

1) Praise and commendation from a manager.

2) Attention from company leadership, and

3) Opportunity to lead projects. Employees do not want money, but they do want greater autonomy, the prospect to get better at their job and a sense of purpose.

Indeed it is amazing how many owner-managers complain about their employees not working toward the goals of the company, yet these goals have never been communicated clearly to the employees.

Like everyone else in life, employees want to feel appreciated and needed. They want to know that they are making a difference to the success of their organisation and simple words of affirmation from their manager can often help.

The Dream On programme is an innovative approach to building employee commitment and it is an initiative that could be replicated in most organisations across the country.

It just needs the commitment of managers to build an employee engagement strategy – but maybe that is where the real barrier to employee motivation exists.

Prof Thomas M Cooney lectures in the College of Business, Dublin Institute of Technology and is president of the International Council for Small Business.

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