Motivating Staff Members
Using Everyday Symbols
By Dianne Durante
for a unique, inexpensive way to make your staff meetings
lighthearted and productive? Consider using simple everyday symbols
to motivate and inspire your employees. Research demonstrates that
when you make even small changes in the workplace environment – the
Hawthorne Effect – big changes may appear as well. Why not try these
motivational techniques; you will be pleased with the insights
gained for organizational success.
meeting is ready to begin, hand everyone three common objects found
in every work setting: a penny, an elastic band, and a pencil with
an eraser. Let them know they’ll be having fun with these items by
brainstorming their significance in day-to-to-day life, particularly
relative to their job. Once you’ve begun this brainstorming process,
you will be amazed at the possibilities these everyday symbols
generate and how they will help to uncover and resolve the issues
your organization most needs to address. Applaud employees as they
share ideas and insights. Then build upon their ideas by reinforcing
effective positive approaches to workplace success.
Penny: Ask your staff, “What do you think of when you see a
penny?” One of the most common answers to this question is, “A penny
for your thoughts.” Effective communication is the foundation for
any successful endeavor. Challenge your employees to say one
positive comment a day to at least five different coworkers. Remind
them that communication has two parts: it’s not just about saying
nice things to others. We also need to listen. We have two ears and
one mouth. We need to use them in that ratio. When we rearrange the
letters in the word listen we get the word silent. So
be silent, LISTEN. Repeat what the other person said, affirming
their ideas in a caring and courteous manner. This will indicate our
willingness to learn from others.
employee might also respond, “A penny has two sides.” In any
conflict or problem-solving situation, we can best brainstorm with
colleagues by looking at all sides of the issue. Minds are like
parachutes; they only function when opened. Be open-minded. If we
come to an impasse with a colleague, agree to disagree. This makes
for a cooperative, win-win work environment.
might also hear, “A penny is a useless commodity. I never even
bother to pick one up.” Yes, it seems like pennies are worthless,
easily discarded, and outdated. Yet they still have value when we
patiently collect them and put many together — a good metaphor for
teamwork in the workplace. Sometimes we feel worn out, tired,
worthless. But when we work together as a team, our energy and value
increase. We encourage each other. In an effective work environment,
small, seemingly insignificant things can make a big difference.
Notice the little things.
member might mention, “See a penny, and pick it up, all the day
you’ll have good luck.” But in business it’s more than luck; it’s
positive mental attitude. Try this positive-attitude rule for the
organization’s suggestion box. Every time staff members make a
suggestion, they also need to applaud one great thing about their
job. As managers, we need to do the same thing — acknowledge the
positive before we address what needs to be changed.
Elastic Band: Now, hold up the elastic band and ask, “What can
the elastic band signify for workplace success?” An elastic band
stretches just like we do everyday in our jobs. Even when something
is unfamiliar to us, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when we
take a risk and try something new.
when we stretch an elastic band, it bounces back. This reminds us of
our resiliency and our ability to bounce back from difficulties and
challenges on the job. So maybe we had a bad day; tomorrow is
another day. Encourage each other’s resilient nature.
elastic band also reminds us that we can stretch ourselves only so
far, that we all have breaking points. It’s important to realize how
far we can stretch and what our breaking point is. A good,
supportive environment will insure that every member of the team is
stretching to his or her maximum without snapping.
Pencil: A pencil was one of the first basic tools in the
workplace. Although low-tech, it still is a highly effective tool.
Suggest that when your staff is stuck while working on the computer,
they stop, pick up a pencil, and write. This often will
unblock us because the act of writing with a pencil in hand creates
a more emotional connection with the brain than does typing on a
computer. Also, when we’re feeling extreme frustration, we can use
the pencil to release anger by grabbing it with two hands and
breaking it in half. Our emotions will no longer block us, and we
can still use that pencil once it is resharpened!
organizations are masters at “To Do” lists. Encourage employees to
also create “I Did” lists. Let the pencil be a reminder of daily
accomplishments rather than focusing on all that still needs to be
handy eraser on the end of the pencil reminds us that we all make
mistakes. Acknowledge the mistake and make adjustments. Remember
that Thomas Edison never viewed his mistakes as failures but rather
saw them as stepping stones on the road to success.
end of the staff meeting, encourage employees to take the penny,
elastic band, and pencil back to their desks as simple reminders of
the importance of: talking as well as listening, looking at both
sides of an issue, being good team players, stretching themselves,
being resilient, writing to unblock themselves, creating an “I Did”
list, and remembering that everyone makes mistakes.
Applaud yourself for being such a good role model, taking a risk,
and trying something new to motivate employees. May you find many
other ways to use these and other everyday items as you inspire
employees to be aware of the small, seemingly insignificant things
that continue to make big differences in our personal and
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Dianne Durante, Ed.S.
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