by Jane F. Miller
Just yesterday a small business owner called my office, his voice rather hopeful when he asked, "Jane, do you have some sort of video I can show to my employees to get them motivated?" A string of thoughts and questions immediately shot to my brain and I could hardly contain myself. I began with, "What do you want to motivate them to do?" "Well," he continued, "I would just like to see them push a little harder, dig in a little deeper, you know?" After probing to determine if there were any glaring or apparent problems (there were none), I began to discuss with him what you’ll read here:
A couple of key things about motivation are one, you really can’t motivate anybody to do anything and two, you can create the right conditions for motivation to occur intrinsically (within one’s self). The saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ‘em drink" is true for each and everyone of us. You can, though make that horse thirsty!
True motivation (not force or control) has to come from within. So, you can feed that horse, let him run in the pasture or frolic in the fields. He goes about his responsibilities, whether pulling carts or hauling riders, and through all of that he finally, through his own desire, drinks.
You, as a manager (or parent or coach for that matter), must create ideal conditions in an environment that sets the stage for motivation, if indeed you want a workforce that digs a little deeper, pushes a bit harder, is creative and innovative. And you do, don’t you?
What Doesn’t Motivate
The following paragraphs list and explain some of the standard strategies that have been used and are perceived to work in motivating others. These strategies don’t really encourage the kind of lasting, motivation from-within that you desire from your employees. I have included the reasons why they don’t.
Money. We all need it to live. It is definitely an incentive, but how should money be utilized? Compensation, which includes pay, benefits and other incentives should be provided within a pre-established contract. Compensation doesn’t motivate - it is, though, normally enough to get employees to do the minimum requirements of their job description as specified in that contract.
Competition. Whether in the form of contests, piecework incentives, or close supervision, competitive methods may seem to increase motivation and productivity. The perception is that they can and do, for a little while anyway. It has been widely researched and found that these types of efforts work in the short term only. Furthermore, when these particular incentives (positive or negative) stop, so does the motivation and increase in production! The down side is that even with this perceived increase in motivation and productivity, the desire of the individual to engage in the activity for its own sake is depleted. You see, with intrinsic motivation, the reward is the activity itself!
Recognition. Praise and rewards are excellent ways to say, "Job well done." They are necessary in a consistent way for employees to gauge their performance, but should not be used to try to control motivation. Such contingent use of rewards and praise makes employees wonder what your motives may be. In other words the employee says, "Now what does she want from me?" So, do consider your intentions and style in which you give this positive feedback. Be careful not to undermine the employee’s own desire to do well.
Disciplinary Action. Negative feedback can be disastrous if employees are made to feel incompetent and controlled. While we cannot ignore poor performance, we can be autonomy-supportive in our manner of approach. This simply means that we try to see things from the employee’s perception and we offer an opportunity for self-direction. Here’s how. We ask the person what his thoughts are - ask him to give his perspective on the situation. Most people offered this chance will share everything you would have brought up about the situation and their behavior, and more. And, they’ll be in more of a position to own their actions. From there, you offer support to assist them in finding ways to correct an error or to do things more effectively next time.
What Does Motivate
So if money, incentives, competition or threats don’t motivate, what does? What is a boss to do? Since intrinsic motivation seems to be the key to an employee’s performance and fulfillment on the job, create an environment where intrinsic motivation can flourish! Here’s how.
1. Make sure employees have the expertise and tools they need to be, and feel, competent to do the job that’s been entrusted to them. This may be in the form of physical tools, office equipment, skills training, or communication strategies. It could be an improvement to their physical working conditions, or in an employee’s ability to deal with co-workers effectively.
2. Seek to understand their point of view by trying to see things from the employee perspective. Don’t know what it is? Ask them. Have an informal chat session where you only listen. Keep your door open. Conduct an anonymous survey if need be. Talk to your customers, too.
3. Offer the opportunity for employees to make their own choices. Let them choose the ways and methods to get the results you’re looking for. Let them have a say in how things get done and what the outcome is expected to be.
Note: Employees still need limits and structures so that they know the implications of their actions and so they may choose possibilities without becoming anxious. For example, office supplies in the amount up to $50 per month may be ordered without the manager’s okay. Or, decisions concerning refunds to customers may be made without additional approval if the purchase was made in the last thirty days. Etc.
4. Be responsive to employees. Show employees that you see them as human beings with a set of personal values and principles that they bring to the job. Give them a gift - their own golden nuggets. Let them discover their own authenticity which in turn leads them to act out of self-direction (autonomy). Assist them in their search to discover their destinies, both on the job and off, and you will have employees realizing personal fulfillment. Then, explore the ways that employees’ values, principles and destiny line up (align) with those of the company’s, and wow! Synergy results!
Employees list the number one reason for leaving a job as lack of personal fulfillment. Next is lack of opportunity and then, somewhere around third, is not enough pay. So here is your opportunity to turn negatives into positives. When employees can align personally with the values and mission (destiny) of the company, personal fulfillment is enhanced. If you do not have a stated or written company mission, I strongly urge you to do some exploration and establish one. We can assist you in creating a fabulous mission statement that states your own authentic reason for being that also aligns with your employees’ destinies as well.
Putting Your Plan Into Action?
How can you do all this, and on a limited budget? Investing in the human side of your employees in this manner will provide high returns in ways you will see, hear, and feel. You will see many work-related benefits like increased productivity and innovation, creative problem solving, reduced turnover and lower absenteeism- all which save you money as well. The added value is that when employees become more personally aligned and fulfilled, their own connectedness to the company and the community is strengthened. First, the attraction of new, superior employees is always enhanced by hearing the good words of existing ones. Your company also begins to feel an enhanced image built by mere association with this active community associate with whom you have aligned missions. See? Okay, now how to do it.
Sit down with your employees to introduce the notion that the company (you) has a deep interest in them, not only as producers but as integral people who make the company what it is! Explain that in order to create an environment that is pro-active and one that employees will thrive in, management (you) has decided to give employees a gift - some golden nuggets to explore. Explain that the company itself will be going though a self-discovery process and these golden nuggets you have to give them are mined from that mission. These golden nuggets are precious segments of time for employees to explore and discover their own authenticity.
This is not, you reassure them, about redesigning policies and procedures, but time to look at their own destiny and mission. The aim, you tell them, is to help them achieve their own sense of personal fulfillment and to see how they might also align with the mission and values of the company. And, the two will be in alignment, as long as you (manager) commit to the process and its results yourself. We see it in our workshops all the time. It is pure synergy! Employees finally see their own essential contribution as a gift of their authenticity to the company - and the company appreciates and values that contribution.
Let your employees know that there is no "catch." Let them know that studies have shown that employees who work from a base of authenticity (true self) and act from autonomy (self-direction) are intrinsically motivated. From that motivation, they produce more, are absent less, have improved problem solving skills, are innovative, and report higher job satisfaction. Companies save money on re-hiring and re-training costs, are seen as community conscious, and enjoy higher productivity. It’s a win-win situation. When employees feel like a part of the overall operation, when they sense that the company cares, they begin to commit themselves and their talents, and motivation and excellence flows.
In whatever manner you choose to create--focus groups, workshops, seminars, brown bag sessions--offer employees the opportunity to begin such work. Your stars will sign up first. Others will follow to claim their own golden nuggets which are truly discovered and mined from within. We provide a variety of strategies to help companies and employees to find their authenticity and to align with each other.
A Model of Excellence
In virtually every workshop I conduct that involves the workforce, one person will inevitably point a finger up and say, "When they do it, I’ll do it!" And, I have to agree that they will. In The Study of Business Performance, Wilson Learning Corporation found that 39% of the variability in workforce performance is attributable to the personal satisfaction of the staff and leaders. Noted in addition was that the modeling of such satisfaction from its leaders is also key.
You, as boss, need to be a model of authenticity and autonomy. It will radiate from you. It will radiate down through to the front line and up through levels to the board of directors. It will radiate to your community, customers, and suppliers. You can do this by finding your own contentment through your authenticity, and through making great choices. In his excellent book, Finding Contentment , Neil Warren Clark says, "People need leadership from someone who has already achieved authenticity and is willing to show the way."
You still certainly want those extrinsic possessions like money, fame, and image- you’re only human after all! However you can be most effective by balancing those with intrinsic essentials like satisfying personal relationships, contribution to the common good, and personal growth. The trouble comes when the balance of extrinsic and intrinsic are out of synch.
Intrinsically motivated performance is superior to externally controlled performance in many ways. Companies can support and encourage their employee’s intrinsic motivation by relating to their perspective, helping them to discover their authenticity, offering them the chance to be self-directed, and to provide the tools they need to be effective (competent) at their work. When the company and its employees can see an alignment of their values and destinies, wow! Synergy! And, no more need for motivational quick-fixes.