5 ways to keep employees excited

Updated: Nov 29, 2012 10:54 AM UTC

1. Give them a voice

Joie de Vivre Hotels was on the verge of failing when founder Chip Conley held a series of retreats to ask employees, from managers to bellhops, how they would turn things around for the California chain. Feeling more invested afterward, workers went into overdrive to attract business. "The more you give people a voice, the more they step up," he says. The company survived -- and Conley grew it to $250 million in sales.

2. Clear the roadblocks

As Jim Collins has pointed out, if you're asking, "How do I motivate employees?" you're going down the wrong path. The right question to ask is, "How do I stop demotivating them?" Ask staffers today what stupid processes and obstacles are slowing their work -- whether it's long meetings, endless paperwork, or incompetent colleagues -- and then free them from those hassles. My prediction: Their productivity will double.

3. Grow better bosses

People don't quit companies; they escape lousy managers. One recent survey showed that 65% of workers would prefer a new boss over a raise. If your team is underperforming, take a close look at how your lieutenants manage their direct reports. Do they know how to coach your employees so that they can excel -- or make the people around them feel alienated and stupid? If it's the latter, get them into management training ASAP.

4. Take a break from austerity

Inspira Marketing Group invests in taking its 27 employees on an annual three-day trip to an island like Jamaica or St. Croix if the company hits its sales goals. Result: The four-year-old firm, based in Norwalk, Conn., expects $3.5 million in sales for 2012 -- and an outside survey found that 89% of its team is excited to come to work each day. The trip, says VP Kim Lawton, "is a huge part of our culture."

5. Make their dreams real

In late 2008, John Ratliff faced 110% annual turnover among hourly workers at his Wilmington, Del., call-center firm, Appletree Answers. Then he started a wildly popular initiative called Dream On, where the company fulfills one wish for each employee. To his surprise workers tend to request modest items, like the deposit for an apartment, so the program has cost only about $250,000 so far. Meanwhile, voluntary turnover has fallen to 25%.

--Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.