5 tips for motivating employees to perform at work

Constructive criticism

Do you have an underperforming employee on your hands? It happens. Sometimes, an otherwise likeable employee doesn’t quite perform up to par. It can become a frustrating situation for both you and your employee. I don’t know many people who don’t want to succeed in their jobs and live up to their potential, do you?

Motivating employees the right way

Ignoring the situation won’t fix the issue, but neither will coming down too hard on your well-meaning employee. So what do you do when faced with this human resources dilemma? When it comes to motivating employees, you might find yourself in some difficult situations. Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate those tricky circumstances and embark on coaching your employees when they fall short.

1. Have a good grasp on HR policies

Motivating Employees HR Policies
Photo: Jinx! via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

Before you approach employees about their performance, it’s important to understand Human Resources (HR) laws and regulations, as well as your own HR policies and procedures.

As with any other interactions with employees, you need to be compliant with federal and state anti-discrimination laws and abide by privacy/confidentiality regulations. Motivating employees to work harder shouldn’t encroach on any of these regulations. Also, make sure you follow the proper processes and procedures your company established for dealing with employee performance issues.

2. Allow for sensitivity

When an employee discovers they’re not living up to expectations, they might feel inadequate and under-appreciated. While you need to address their performance problems, realize that your tone can make a world of difference.

Be sensitive to your employees’ feelings and leave any preconceived judgements at the door.


Motivating employees should serve to empower their work ethic and stir up newfound determination — not make them feel hopeless about the situation. Express your appreciation for the things they’re doing well in addition to drawing attention to the areas that need improvement.

3. Be specific

This is no time to offer vague feedback or talk in generalities. Your employee deserves to know precisely what the problem is and what they need to do to improve the situation. Hedging your advice will only hurt both you and your employee in the long run.

Establishing and maintaining clear expectations is the key to helping employees succeed.


Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed) goals for your employee, so they have an action plan in place to get back on track. Just remember — constructive criticism is the way to go.

4. Collaborate, don’t preach

When it comes to motivating employees, it can be easy to fall into the role of a delegator. And while every business needs its leader, you need to keep your employees’ aspirations in mind.

As you’re creating your goals for your employee, involve her in defining them.


Discuss ideas and approaches that will steadily move things in the right direction without overwhelming them. With input and buy-in from your employee, you’ll set a plan in motion that’s mutually beneficial and jointly understood.

5. Discover what’s missing

Perhaps your employee doesn’t have the tools, training or other support that they need to do their job effectively. If you’re setting them up for failure, how can you expect them to succeed?

Never rule out the possibility that you might be contributing to the problem.


It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s important to admit. For your employees to perform optimally, you need to provide an environment that offers opportunities for skill development — not to mention an open door for addressing questions and uncertainty before they become full-blown performance issues.

In conclusion

As business owners, we rely on our employees to help us build companies that will succeed long term. We need our employees to fulfill their roles, perform to the best of their abilities, and meet our expectations. Let’s recap what you need to consider when motivating your employees:

  1. Stay up-to-date on HR policies.
  2. Be sensitive.
  3. Offer direct constructive criticism.
  4. Come up with goals and development plans together.
  5. Set up your employees for success.

Accomplishing that isn’t impossible, but it does require a careful balance of understanding, honest conversations and clear goals. It’s a team effort, because running a business should never be seen as an environment of “us” versus “them” — there’s only “we.”

Image by: Dwonderwall via VisualHunt / CC BY

Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, business expert, professional speaker, author, and mother of four. She is the founder and CEO of CorpNet.com, a trusted resource and service provider for business incorporation, LLC filings and corporate compliance services in all 50 states. Nellie and her team recently launched a partner program for legal, tax and business professionals to help them streamline the business incorporation and compliance process for their clients.