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Paul Baard's Motivation Matters: Motivated employees earn, keep customers

January 21. 2018 11:01PM

Recently I stopped into my local bank. I was greeted by name and an eagerness to help with a transaction, which reminded me why I chose this particular bank when I did.

The employees at this office seemed to genuinely value my business; I would later learn that the same was true at a nearby branch location. As an organizational psychologist, I was happy to note the positive culture this company had put in place. (These things don’t happen accidentally.) That contrasted clearly with another local/regional bank I also checked out. This latter group seemed to find my questions and requests a bother.

As I reflect on the service providers I ended up choosing — and have remained with — over the years, a pattern emerged. Whether it was a bank or a dry cleaning operation or a convenience store or other service provider, two things were in common: my needs for making a competent decision (i.e., they provided a good product) and feeling like they were glad to have my business (i.e., they were just nice people to deal with) were met. They tapped into the internal motivation to get something accomplished in a pleasant, efficient manner. The first impression I had was one of enthusiasm to meet my needs. They seemed to genuinely appreciate my trust in them.

My point is that when an effort is made to meet the motivational needs of workers, research and experience suggest it is reasonable to expect that they, in turn, will be inspired to meet the needs of customers and prospects. Certain psychological needs have been identified by a host of empirical studies. The first need is that for autonomy — to have a voice in what we are doing and how the work gets done. Pressure frustrates the satisfaction of this need. Of course, in any business there is a level of tension to meet delivery dates, to keep costs under control, and to maintain quality standards. But a good manager helps to shield employees from excessive outside stressors. Taking this to the marketplace, motivated individuals seek to encourage customers to try new products, while refraining from pressuring them to do so.

The second need is for competence — to succeed at challenging assignments, to experience growth in one’s knowledge and skills. Getting timely and encouraging feedback helps meet this need. Taking it to the client level, the well-trained employee endeavors to keep his or her clients up-to-date on the company’s array of different products through routine servicing meetings. Questions are answered with timely, thorough responses.

Finally, there is the need for relatedness — to be a part of a real team. This can occur when employees sense that colleagues can be counted on to back them up, providing assistance when the crunch is on. People have the opportunity to flourish in this kind of environment and will often pass along the same sort of considerate attitude when dealing directly with customers. I imagine we all have witnessed such a partnering response when a line starts to form at a teller’s window or in a supermarket or a retail store and someone, often a manager, will pop up and offer “May I help the next customer in line?”

Earning and keeping customers is not something that is necessarily measured in many organizations. Do managers and owners really know that a potential customer walked away — and never came back? And why?

Growing a motivational culture pays dividends beyond employee retention. Taking care of employees produces representatives who take care of customers in a competitive environment.

Motivation has a trickling down effect. For good, as well as bad.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at


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