• John Bowie

Turn 'em Loose #9: Motivation


For decades managers and pundits have debated the most effective methods to motivate employees. Is it money? Recognition? Stock options? Additional time off? Perks? Any acknowledgement of a job well done is appreciated, but the most potent motivator is not a vote of confidence from management, but a thank you from a customer.


Consider the effect on a project team of seeing their product win first place in a product shootout. Imagine the morale boost of receiving a glowing letter from a customer for a product they designed, winning Best in Show at a trade show, or the effect of seeing the five-star customer reviews pile up on social media. There is no greater employee motivator than praise from a customer for a job well done.


Ideally, you’re sending members of your team out to onsite customer visits – at least you were before the pandemic and have plans to do so again when the pandemic lifts. In addition to motivating employees, there is no better way to gather insights into user pain points and big unmet needs. If you can’t arrange on-site visits (especially these days), Zoom meetings work well, too.


Both onsite and virtual research sessions communicate to your customers that you care about them and respect their suggestions, and ultimately it strengthens their loyalty to your brand. Even if the feedback from customers comes in the form of complaints, your designers can still come across as heroes, simply by stating with genuine empathy: “I’m here to listen. Our products are designed by customers for customers. My job is to make your job easier.”


Satisfying customers is the main motivator for more than a third of employees according to the ‘I’ Business Survey by the British Chambers of Commerce. Since employees are a company’s most valuable resource, it makes good business sense to establish a customer-centered culture in which every decision is driven by consideration for the customer.


Working for the customer is such a simple idea, but a powerful one. As employees go about their daily activities, they’re not thinking “will my boss like this” but “will my customer like this.” They will find reassurance in knowing that they are empowered to “just do the right thing” for the customer, and in doing so, they are also doing the right thing for the company.

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