How many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Those words and the actions they generate seldom lead to a sustained improvement in motivation. The above phrase is one of the most common phrases leaders or managers use every day. So what’s wrong with it?
Lack of Understanding
The phrase shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders make a mistake when they use perks to increase motivation by making people happier, like handing out free candy. They put a manipulative spin on the subject of motivation that backfires for several reasons:
1. Historical Research
The notion that improving things in the workplace will somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” (read that more candy) is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.
Why? – because things like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier, but they do little to impact the reason they are motivated to do their best work. That impetus comes from a different source.
2. Less is More
It is imagined that heaping nice things on top of people it will improve their attitude leading to higher motivation. The only lasting way to improve attitude is to build a better culture.
3. Bribery is not Motivation
It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.
4. Motivation is a Personal Choice
Individuals will gladly accept any kind of freebie the boss is willing to grant, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the goodie bag.
5. Focus on a Better Culture
Smart leaders focus on the culture first. They seek to build an environment of TRUST and improve the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility. With these precursors, motivation within people will grow. It will be enhanced if some nice perks are added, but the perks alone do not create motivation.
Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.
6. Don’t use the Word Motivate as a Verb
How can you tell when a leader has the wrong attitude about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.” It is as if “motivate” is something a leader can “do to” the workers.
If you seek to change other people’s attitude about their relationship to work with goodies, you are going to be disappointed frequently. Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more responsibility to make its own decisions.”
What an Environment of TRUST Feels Like
The way to create the best environment for personal motivation to grow is to create a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization. Doing this helps people become motivated because:
• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.
• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work.
• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.
• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals because they know that when the organization does better, they do better personally.
• They truly enjoy the social interactions with people they work with. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except the physical work is different. They are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.
• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.
• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.
• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake – not the cake itself.
An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in an environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. How do you achieve that kind of culture?
Tips to Achieve higher Trust
Building a culture of high trust requires that leaders stop trying to manipulate people and build a real environment. Excellent leaders create a solid framework of values, vision, mission, behaviors, and strategy.
The key to building trust is to allow people to point out seemingly incongruent behavior on the part of the leader without fear of reprisal. This requires leaders to suppress their ego needs to be right all the time and acknowledge their fallibility.
When people are reinforced for voicing their truth, even if it is uncomfortable for the boss, trust will grow. The quote I use to emphasize this is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”
With this approach you have a powerful correcting force when people believe things aren’t right. If something is out of line, they will tell you, enabling modification before much damage is done. Now you have an environment where honest feelings are shared and there are no large trust issues. People in your organization will instinctively choose to become more motivated because they are working in the right kind of atmosphere.
Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons when you have special meetings, or by holding employee picnics. Consistently build higher trust by reinforcing people when they express themselves and you will experience higher and sustained motivation.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763