Clients are always asking us how they can motivate their teams. Should they give big bonuses? More vacation time? Raises? Promotions? Big often isn’t the answer.

It’s easy to get caught trying to make a big splash, trying to solve a problem in one fell swoop, trying to land the big one, trying to make everything right, or betting on any other attempt to go from failure to winner in one shot.

In sailboat racing we call this “hitting” the corners. A racer will leave the fleet and sail way out to one corner of the course hoping that a shift in the wind direction will allow him to make a big gain and get to the next mark without having to make a series of small tacks. The danger in this maneuver is similar to making a big play to solve a business problem-all your competitors are sailing on one side of the course and betting on small gains and their better skill at maneuvering to take advantage of another’s misstep. While they’re making small bits of progress, you’re hoping for a miracle.

The big maneuver-big risk, big reward-is tempting for lots of psychological reasons. This is especially true if you’re facing a loss. And the kind of loss we’re talking about may be the loss of a valued employee or the loss of respect of your team or a valued client.

A client of ours is continually trying to find a way to motivate his team. His ideas center on bonuses. What we know from our experience and from the research is that small experiences-short sincere interactions, shared laughs and successes, supportive team meetings and focused positive feedback-have more impact and a longer shelf life.

Find a few times today to listen to a client or team member beyond your standard quick check in. Sit with a team member while you eat. Ask a check-in question to open your staff meeting-“Please share something that has gone well for you in the last few days.” Offer a focused, specific piece of positive feedback-avoid any generalizations or flowery praise; be real and concrete.

We can show you ways to make small improvements in the quality of your team interactions and client meetings. Chances are those

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small steps will start interesting and important growth opportunities. Call or email us.