By Stephen Archer, Director, Spring Partnerships

For any SME, the motivation and retention of key talent is vital which means employees need to remain engaged and involved at all times.

To achieve this, businesses need to first set down goals for employee engagement, and examine the challenges they face, but a word of caution, realism is essential.

SME leaders need to understand how motivated employees are and how this changes during the course of the year. . Of course, not everyone can be motivated all the time.

Does everyone buy-into the company purpose and its culture and employer brand?
How loyal are employees? If the answer is low, then the employee engagement processes need some attention.

Below is a five-step action plan for how businesses can motivate employees.

5- Step action plan

1. Canvas employees
Businesses should view see their staff not just as a sounding board but rather the lifeblood and true character reference of an organization. Leaders need to find out what makes the team tick. They could use (preferably anonymous) surveys to establish what really motivates and de-motivates them; and what employee benefits matter most to them.

2. Separate morale from motivation
Good leaders are quick to separate the concept of ‘morale’, which is how employees are feeling, from ‘motivation’, which is the ability to turn talent into productivity. Even employees who have low morale can remain highly productive and engaged. This is an important principle.

3. Explore Solutions
The first step for business leaders is to recognise that they can't always motivate people - but they can create an environment in which they feel inspired and confident that they can be of their best. Therefore they need to focus on what is working well in the organisation, managers need to give regular positive feedback to employees, put success stories as the first agenda item in all meetings and shift from discussing problems to exploring solutions and creating initiatives.

4. Team building events – be clear about the goals
A dedicated conference or event can work wonders in terms of motivating employees, solving specific business issues and boosting morale. However, these events can be expensive, so businesses need to be clear about their objectives and make sure the format of the event will deliver their goals. Above all, ensure that any event truly involves everyone. Lip service to this will be counterproductive.

5. Set up a reward and recognition programme
Another way of motivating staff throughout the year is to implement a well-planned rewards programme. This can be very positive and profitable. However, research is essential and companies should make sure the correct rewards are being offered – financial remuneration is not always the answer. Indeed, in most cases it is recognition that people respond to rather than reward.