Leadership Barometer 35 Motivation

January 27, 2020

The concept of motivation is one of the most misunderstood terms in leadership education. Reason: Many leaders don’t fully understand the nature of motivation, so they try to achieve it using ineffective tools.

This article focuses on the learning from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and why those concepts can be used to create higher levels of motivation in any organization.

Typical low motivation

I believe the average organization obtains only a tiny fraction of the potential human effort that is available. My guess is that most organizations receive less than 30% of the discretionary effort that resides in its people.

Even if my number is off by quite a bit, it still means that we could double productivity and still have people working at less than their capacity. Wow, that represents some wonderful low hanging fruit. But how do we get that effort to come forth?

Motivate your people?

As a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you reveal a misunderstanding that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation. Seeking to “motivate employees” is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way are putting the cart before the horse.

While the temptation to get going may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy. Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation and catch the wind of trust. So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The horse is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The cart is what people ride in, or how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order and try to motivate people by simply trying to make them feel better? Some reasons may include:

Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace, we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to stay in the cart (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation and actually get to our destination. Why?

Because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. Enlightened leaders realize the only way to improve the culture is to build transparency and trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

Using the wrong approach

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.

When leaders approach motivation as something they “do to” the workers, it has the wrong connotation.

The word “motivate” should not be used as a verb.

I cannot motivate you. The only person who can truly motivate you is you.

Instead, I can create an environment where you choose to become motivated.

The difference between those two concepts sounds like double talk, but it is a crucial leadership concept to grasp.

Focusing on perks

Individuals will gladly take any perk you are willing to give, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, such as trust and empowerment.

Trying to force morale

Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a company cheer before employees are allowed to work.

There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.

The supervisor is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke.

Most people feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks.

It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.

In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors might allow this to happen?

The meeting itself

There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful.

Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles.

By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement.

It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding.

In some situations, managers use the morning meetings for reinforcing good behavior. This technique can help, but it must be sincere or it will actually backfire. Insincere praise is deadly in an organization because it lowers trust.

So, if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.

The centering thoughts

Rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers.

They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.

A pre-existing environment of trust

If the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility.

This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort.

At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are often helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.

Employee ownership

If the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then it has a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event.

This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence.

The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits by feeding a silo mentality.

In an excellent environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.

In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization.

Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Since many organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit.

No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of Adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics


Successful Supervisor Part 9 – Motivation

January 15, 2017

Many supervisors make some fundamental mistakes in the area of motivation, and it costs them dearly. It seems paradoxical that the actions intended to improve motivation actually have the reverse effect in many cases. This article will untangle the complex ball of string known as motivation and look at why it is so elusive for some supervisors.

The conundrum starts with the way many supervisors use the word in day to day conversation (by the way, everything I am saying about motivation here applies to all management ranks, not just supervisors). The word “motivate” is most often used by supervisors as a verb. “ I need to motivate the team to get this done by Thursday.”

This type of phraseology sounds perfectly natural and, in fact, is the most common form of usage, but it is a huge red flag.

The problem is that when supervisors use “motivate” as a verb, they reveal a thinking process that demonstrates they don’t understand the underlying premise of motivation and how it is created.

Motivate is not something you can “do to” someone else. Motivation is an intrinsically generated phenomenon. It is the role of the leader to generate the kind of culture where the employee chooses to become motivated. The drive to want to do more has to come from inside the employee, not be a lay on from the supervisor.

The best advice is to think of motivation as a result that will naturally occur when people are properly led. For example, if the supervisor has built an environment where people feel respected and trust is high, then the supervisor is already in the area code of high motivation.

On the other hand, if the supervisor has a pattern of telling people what to do, then micromanaging them while they do it, no amount of cajoling or fancy techniques is likely to produce much motivation. It just annoys the employees.

Many supervisors believe that motivation is something that can be bought with favors, bonuses, lax enforcement of rules, or other types of perks for the employees. The truth is that all of these techniques move employees toward lower trust in the end. They may increase satisfaction temporarily, but they will not produce the internal reactions required for higher motivation.

Over 60 years ago, behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg did a series of experiments designed to uncover what types of things lead to higher motivation in people. He found that material things, which he called “hygiene factors,” often have an impact on employee satisfaction for a brief period, but do little to change the underlying conditions needed to improve motivation.

The secret sauce for motivation lies in things like autonomy, responsibility, recognition, trust, authority, and other intangible ways to demonstrate respect and self worth of employees.

To achieve true and lasting motivation within the work force, supervisors need to continually work on a great culture. Make sure everyone knows the values and goals of the organization.

Have the employees be part of creating the vision for where the organization is going. Continually work on teamwork and care for each other. Those types of things form a culture in which most employees will choose to motivate themselves.

If there is the slightest hint of hypocrisy within the management ranks, where people hear one set of words but observe something else, it will douse the flame of motivation like a bucket of cold water impacts a lit candle.

For example, a favorite value that many organizations espouse is “Our employees are our most important asset.” Well, that sounds really good, but in order to walk the talk, when a business slowdown occurs, the top managers need to sell inventory and buildings rather than furlough workers.

Not many organizations actually act that way, so it is unwise to have a value that is contrary to what the managers actually do.

Hypocrisy is a cancer that will kill most kinds of motivation quickly.

Another common trap that supervisors make is to treat everyone the same way. It sounds sacrilegious to make that statement, but it is literally true. When you treat all employees the same way, you are ignoring that each person has a different set of needs.

The famous basketball coach, John Wooden once said, “The easiest way I can play favorites among my players is to treat every one of them the same way.”

Certainly it is important to enforce rules with an even hand and not favor one person over others, but beyond that, supervisors need to take individual differences into account as they deal with their employees. That means getting to know and respect each one as a person and find out what makes that individual tick.

An example of that occurred early in my career when I was working for a wise manager. One day he pulled me aside and said, “Do you see that inspector over there? We can hardly get him to do anything around here no matter what we do. He is a total slug here at work. But he is a volunteer in the fire house where I am the chief, and the minute he walks into the fire house, he lights up like a Christmas tree.”

The way to get top performance out of each person is to find out what is truly controlling his or her motivation and provide as much of that element as you can. Forget the bonuses, hat days, or t-shirts, etc. and focus on getting to know your people well. Treat them right, and build an environment of trust and respect.

You will see motivation unfold before your eyes. Avoid using the word motivate as a verb, because it is not something you “do to” people; it is something that naturally happens when people are well led.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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 http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763