Rising to the Challenge – Develop Employees through Responsibility and Motivation


As a sophomore in college, I was in the position of lead oboist for every major performing ensemble at my university.  My performance quickly progressed from that of a mediocre background player to a capable and confident solo musician who still perform to this day.

In both of these situations, the influencing factor was pressure.  I was placed into a position in which other people were relying on me, not only as part of a team, but as a leader as well.  I was able to rise to these challenges through dedicated effort, concentrated focus, and intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is the idea that we chose our behaviors based on internal rather than external rewards – rewards such as feelings of accomplishment.  In the above examples, I felt a strong sense of responsibility for my contribution to the team and was able to channel this feeling into superior commitment yielding significant positive results.

This is a concept that we may utilize when seeking to develop our employees.  Employee development should be an ongoing consideration for leaders at all levels of an organization.  We may use pressure as a tool to move employees out of their comfort zones and into a position where rapid growth is possible.  Provide employees with opportunities to perform work or functions outside their typical scope of practice.  These opportunities should be tailored to the individual and may range from individual projects to cross-training for additional skills.  No one assignment will be right for every employee.

“Accept the Challenges so That You Can Feel the Exhilaration of Victory”

George S. Patton

The key factor to consider when increasing employee responsibility is personality.  For those employees that exhibit a strong drive to constantly improve themselves, little extra effort may be required on your part beyond assigning additional tasks and providing guidance and access to resources.  These employees are likely intrinsically motivated and require minimal incentive to increase their contribution to the team.  It is your responsibility as a leader to provide these employees with challenges and guidance to meet these challenges.

For those employees who lack this motivation, it is something that can be developed.  The trick is to provide external motivation that encourages the feelings associated with intrinsic motivation.  These employees will require smaller tasks – most likely assigned in stages.  While each person is different, here are some general guidelines to develop these employees and help them rise to meet new challenges:

1. Praise Early and Often

These employees will likely require more recognition than their intrinsically motivated peers.  Be sure to recognize them for small progress toward the eventually goal.  Do not wait until the end of the task.  When reasonable, make this praise public as this will create a cascading effect that is far more powerful than recognition from a single source.

2. Provide High-Profile Tasks

Give these employees assignments with wide organizational effects whenever possible.  The additional visibility will have the dual benefit of creating positive peer pressure and increasing the potential possibilities for recognition.  Just make sure the tasks are assigned in small increments so as not to be overwhelming.

3. Be Hands-On

These are not the employees to assign a task and then check back in a week.  You must monitor progress on a frequent basis – preferably in the guise of offering assistance.  If it seems the task is potentially overwhelming – they break it into even smaller pieces with predetermined progress milestones.

For both types of employees, the goal is to provide flexibility in the tasks that allow for independent decision-making.  These should not be data-entry, cut-and-paste style activities.  The opportunity for creativity and autonomy on some level is necessary for optimal development.

Employee development is crucial to creating a satisfied and engaged workforce.  Leaders who embrace this responsibility will find that the effort pays rich rewards.

What are your tips for developing employees through their current positions?  Leave a comment below!

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About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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