This article first appeared in the September, 2003 edition of the Jacksonville Business Journal
Everyone wants a motivated work force. But what is it that really creates motivation? The answer that immediately comes to mind is money. We believe that if we pay people more they will be more motivated. If we add an incentive or bonus people will work harder to get it.
There is some truth to these statements. Money and other tangible incentives do drive short term behavior. The problem is that it's like food. No matter how much you eat, in a few hours you're going to be hungry again. Using money as a motivator creates the same effect. It does drive short term behavior but it does not create sustained internal commitment.
If you want to see real motivation look at volunteerism. Why do people volunteer to help others? To work in shelters? To help with food pantries? To build churches? To mentor children? To coach a Little League team? To build Habijax homes? What is it that drives these behaviors?
When people talk about their volunteer work you can hear the excitement. You can feel the passion. You can experience the personal reward they get from these activities. This is real motivation and it's not about money.
Here are the six factors that create the motivation, excitement and inspiration that leads to extraordinary performance and achievement.
People need to know that what they do really matters. This is important for the organization and for every individual. Leaders build meaningfulness by creating a clear, compelling vision and collective commitment to that vision. Then they make sure that all employees know how their job contributes to that vision and why it matters.
There is a story about three men in the Middle Ages who were working in a stone quarry in a small town. They were all doing the same work: shaping rocks into square building blocks that were going to be used in constructing a church for the town. But their approach to work was very different. The first man was unhappy, disgruntled and didn't do much. He described his work as chipping rocks into blocks in a hot and dusty quarry. The second man seemed contented. He described his work as making perfect building blocks that would be used to make a beautiful and strong building. The third man approached his job with enthusiasm and zeal. He described his work as the privilege of helping to build a monument to God. Meaningfulness is defined by the person doing the work.
We all need to know that we are succeeding in accomplishing our goals. Leaders set clear goals that are challenging yet achievable, and acknowledge accomplishments. The highest performing sales organizations set quotas so that 80% of their sales force will achieve them. They know their winners are inspired to stretch even further.
The Work Itself
People want to do a whole job so they can see the result of their work, not just a piece that has no meaning. Combining different tasks and skills at different levels adds stimulation and variety. Effective leaders design jobs so people can do a whole piece of work, and see the result of their efforts. Volvo had a significant breakthrough in both productivity and quality in their Bus Division when they abandoned the traditional assembly line and replaced it with teams of people who collectively had the responsibility for the assembly of a whole bus - and engraved their names on the finished product!
Once people know what is expected of them they want the freedom and flexibility to perform using their own methods and their own style. Leaders give employees as much autonomy as their competence will permit. They know that over-controlling - or micro-managing - negatively impacts performance and destroys initiative. Nobody likes to work with someone standing over their shoulder.
People need to be recognized for good work. Formal recognition programs acknowledge outstanding performance. But informal recognition has an even greater impact. Catch people doing something right and recognize them for it. I worked with a General Manager who never provided recognition. He said: "I don't need to recognize people. I just tell them when they make a mistake. In our company no news is good news." The only problem was that it didn't work. Performance was mediocre and the employees didn't care. Their attitude was "Why bother if the only feedback you ever get is a kick in the head?"
People need the necessary support to do their work. Some support is tangible such as time and resources. Some support is intangible such as the willingness to listen and provide coaching. Employees need both and leaders need to provide them. It's not fair to give people challenging assignments without the ability to be successful.
If you design a work environment built on this foundation your employees will be more motivated...leading to better results and an excited workforce. And that creates sustainable competitive advantage!