Recently a veterinarian was telling me about his challenges in dealing with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. He soon began discussing his frustrations with managing employees at production facilities. The remainder of our conversation centered on effective performance appraisals and methods to motivate employees.

This is not the first conversation I’ve had that shifted from how to handle a disease to the real issue — how to get good performance from employees.

Performance appraisal systems can be very effective in getting employees to modify their behaviors and improve results. A proper performance appraisal is regularly done in a timely manner, is objective in nature, is concretely measurable, and requires the manager and employee to gather information before the actual evaluation.

The appraisal must start with a job analysis. Employees get a mixed message when there’s a mismatch between the job description and the performance appraisal system. If the job analysis is designed to reward anything other than the actual job, whatever is rewarded is what will get done. In other words, if you reward an area that is not truly part of the job that you want the employee to accomplish, that is where the employee will direct his or her efforts. The reverse also is true — aspects of the job that don’t get evaluated and rewarded will not get completed.

Performance appraisals should never be a surprise to the employee. A time-consuming annual review should not be necessary. Evaluation and feedback should occur on a continuous basis, with the supervisor routinely having discussions with employees. Providing regular feedback gives employees an opportunity to change their behavior based on the feedback they receive. If you expect employee improvement, then you must provide regular feedback to direct that improvement. No one can adjust behavior without regular input.

In addition to providing regular performance appraisals, an effective manager must understand the principles of motivation.  You must determine what excites an individual and then use that information to manage or direct the person’s behavior. The key to this is alignment. People work hard when they see work as a vehicle to achieve their own interests.

The total compensation a person gets from work can be divided into extrinsic and intrinsic items. Extrinsic is what the organization gives you that is important to you as an individual. The most direct extrinsic item you get from working is your wages. Medical insurance and other benefits would be indirect extrinsic benefits.  What you derive intrinsically from a position is not what others give you, but what you personally get from doing the job.

In determining the proper methods to motivate workers or fellow employees, it is good to remember that regardless of where a person fits within the organizational chart, everyone is looking for friendly co-workers, a chance to use his/her mind, interesting work and the opportunity to participate in decisions. Interestingly, many people don’t like to actually have to make decisions. Nor do they like to be held responsible for the outcomes of those decisions. But everyone wants to feel that he/she is part of the decision-making process. 

Motivation really is dependent on aligning an individual’s interests with the business’ interests and needs in order to get the desired behaviors and results. In the end, whatever motivational techniques you implement, they need to satisfy the individual and the business, and make both more effective in the end.

So, you must determine what motivates employees and what they value. Effectively motivating employees also requires that they believe that what is expected is achievable, that it will benefit them, and that they will actually receive the rewards when they deliver the desired results.

Lawrence Firkins, DVM, is the assistant dean for public engagement, Univerisity of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.