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


Does Happiness Beget Morale?

July 22, 2016

Are morale and happiness really the same thing? We say that people at work have high morale when they are happy, but does one always follow the other?

I can imagine that they are linked in some way, but it is possible to have high morale even if you are not particularly happy with your current job.

Since this article will explore subtle differences between these two words, it would be wise to start with an attempt to define each one:

Happiness – is about feeling good. It is a state of well-being, satisfaction, and contentment.

Morale – is about having enthusiasm. It is a state of confidence, loyalty, fulfillment, or common purpose.

Think about some job or activity that you have had in the past that you really did not enjoy very much. You were not cheerful while on the job, but you might have had high morale because it was getting you somewhere.

A good example might be working toward a college degree. I recognize that, for most people, reading textbooks, writing papers, and taking exams are not fun activities.

I remember many times being very unhappy with the stress of being a student, yet while not enjoying the work at all, I still had very high morale because I knew the education would pay off in the end, which it did.

Lack of education does not doom a person entirely, but it severely limits the potential to experience all that life has to offer. This limitation lowers the potential for happiness. In “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon wrote: “…and no, my lack of education has not hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall.”

Let’s find an example of the reverse situation: Happy, but with low morale.

There are numerous ways this can happen. You might be in a situation where you are working for a leader you do not respect and who tries to bribe people into being engaged in the work by letting them get away with things and giving away perks beyond a reasonable level.

This leader has one thing in mind: make people at work happy. Well, he can accomplish this and make me happy about all the goodies he is providing and that he lets me go home early whenever I want.

Although I may be happy, I suspect my morale would be low after a while. Reason: I am not challenged and am given things that I do not deserve.

Another example might be when working on a specific project that I know is important. I am working in a not-for-profit organization. Here I am happy because my labor is going for a good cause. The result of my work is helping many needy families.

I have to tolerate the fact that my boss is a hopeless micromanager who needs to know the details of everything I do and wants me to do everything how he would do it. I can be happy with my contribution to society, but my morale is low because of the working conditions I must endure for the privilege of making that contribution.

The concept of motivation is more closely linked to morale than to happiness or satisfaction. Motivation is a state of desiring to do something, and for the most part, it is generated intrinsically rather than by external factors.

Some valuable insight about motivation and happiness was provided over 60 years ago by behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg, who taught us with his “Two Factor Theory,” that the controlling factors for happiness are different from those that generally cause motivation.

Herzberg called the things that keep people from becoming unhappy “hygiene factors.” These would be things like pay, bonuses, nice offices, clean restrooms, comfortable furniture, and parking close to the building. If the hygiene factors are missing, then people are going to become dissatisfied, but piling on more hygiene factors is not the way to create higher motivation or morale.

The “motivating factors” of responsibility, accountability, autonomy, flexibility, caring, and other less tangible factors have more power to create morale and motivation.

We see that there is a general trend that happy workers have high morale, and I grant that is usually the case. The two concepts are not the same, and neither are they hard-wired together.

To have the most productive workers, not only do they need to be reasonably happy, but they must simultaneously have high morale. Leaders need to test for both conditions.

Key Points

1. Most of the time happiness and morale go hand in hand, but it is not always the case.

2. In trying to improve morale or motivation, it is not a simple matter of making people feel happier. You don’t just add more perks.

Exercises For You

1. Imagine you are at a party and, surprisingly, Frederick Herzberg himself shows up. You want to ask him some questions about his Two Factor Theory. What three questions would you ask? How do you think he would respond?

2. Name a good way to make someone happier. Now name a good way to increase someone’s morale. See the difference?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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


The Strangest Secret

December 7, 2013

RumorIf you are pursuing a worthy goal, you are probably feeling pretty good about yourself, even if you are sometimes exhausted or discouraged along the way.

As Lou Holtz once said “When we feel the best about ourselves is when we went the extra mile, when we lay our head on the pillow late at night worn out and exhausted, but we know we paid the supreme price.” That statement is what effort toward a goal feels like much of the time.

When you reach your goal, after you celebrate, it is important to set a new one fairly soon, so you do not drift.

This rule for living comes from numerous philosophers, including Earl Nightingale, a member of the International Speakers Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. Earl produced several books on personal leadership and wrote over 7,000 radio and television commentaries on how we can lead better lives.

His famous program “Lead The Field” is my all time favorite program for inspiration. It is available through The Nightingale Conant Company.

Here is the secret to a long and prosperous life (in every sense). When we are being “successful” is when we are pursuing a worthy goal. Earl discovered this law several decades ago.

His famous “strangest secret” is only six words long….”We become what we think about.” As we put forth extreme effort in pursuit of our goals, that is what gives meaning to life.

When we reach the goal, it is like a signpost along the road that we have arrived at that point in our life. It is right and smart to take a deep breath and celebrate with our loved ones who have supported us in the challenging times.

Take some time to rest and to feel the great peace that comes from achieving your goal. Share the credit, because you did not do it alone.

Now comes the crucial part. Do not let too many days go by before you set your next goal in life. It may be completely different from the one just achieved.

For example, someone who has studied for years to get an advanced degree may set a goal to climb a mountain, or to become an excellent speaker, or an artist.

The point is to not rest on the past achievement of a worthy goal too long. It is the next goal that must be envisioned, because that is how we get the most value from life. Without a worthy goal we quickly lose the real zest of life.

Think of it this way…”The road is better than the inn,” or “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Thornton T. Munger wrote,” There is no road to success but through a clear, strong purpose. Nothing can take its place. A purpose underlies character, culture, position, attainment of every sort.”

Once you have set your goal, it is time to lay out your strategy for achieving it. This strategy is so valuable because it will help you regulate your effort to focus energy on the necessary tasks to attain it and not become distracted with other activities that cause overload.

You know when you are stretched too thin if performance starts to lag. It is really a fascinating area of life. We can always add another activity, but at some point we would be better off taking something off the plate.

If we create a solid strategy for our life, then we will know what things to add and what things to prune. It is a really important concept in living well, and it is one that many people just arrive at by default. The most accomplished people do not leave it to chance, rather they own their destiny.

What you achieve in life is a function of how you run your life. Make sure you have a worthy goal at all times. Celebrate the achieving of one goal by setting a new one.

Combine the goal with a focusing strategy, and you will be amazed at the level of achievement and satisfaction you can pack into your precious years on this planet.


Is Happiness the Same as Morale?

March 23, 2013

Laughing out loud croppedAre morale and happiness really the same thing? We say that people at work have high morale when they are happy, but does one always follow the other? I can imagine that they are linked in some way, usually, but I suspect it is possible to have high morale even if you do not particularly like your job.

Think about some job or activity that you have had in the past that you really did not enjoy very much. You were not cheerful while on the job, but you might have had high morale because it was getting you somewhere.

A good example might be working toward a college degree. I recognize that, for most people, reading books, writing papers, and taking exams are not fun activities. I remember being very unhappy as a student many times, as the stress would get to me. Yet, while not enjoying the work at all, I still had very high morale because I knew the education would pay off in the end, which it did.

Let’s find an example of the reverse situation: Happy but with low morale. There are numerous ways this can happen. You might be in a situation where you are working for a leader you do not respect and who tries to bribe people into being engaged in the work by letting them get away with things and giving away perks beyond a reasonable level. This leader has one thing in mind, make people at work happy. Well, he can accomplish this and make me happy about all the goodies he is providing and that he lets me go home early whenever I want. It is not hard to imagine my morale being rather low after a while. Reason: I am not challenged and am given things that I do not deserve.

Another example might be when working on a specific project that I know is important. I am working in a not-for-profit organization. Here I am happy because my labor is going for a good cause. The result of my work is helping many needy families. I have to tolerate the fact that my boss is a hopeless micromanager who needs to know the details of everything I do and wants me to do everything how he would do it. I can be happy with the contribution I am making to society, but my morale is low because of the working conditions I must endure for the privilege of making that contribution.

Most of the time we see a linking of happiness and morale. Workers who are satisfied usually also exhibit high motivation, but it does not always have to be so. In fact, Frederick Herzberg taught us over 60 years ago, with his Two Factor Theory, that the controlling factors for satisfaction are different from those that generally cause motivation. He called the things that keep people from becoming unhappy “hygiene factors.” These would be things like pay, bonuses, nice offices, clean restrooms, comfortable furniture, and parking close to the building. If the hygiene factors are missing, then people are going to become dissatisfied, but piling on more hygiene factors is not the way to create higher motivation or morale. The “motivating factors” of responsibility, accountability, autonomy, flexibility, caring, and other less tangible factors have more power to create morale and motivation.

We see that there is a general trend that happy workers have high morale, and I grant that is usually the case. The two concepts are not the same, and neither are they hard-wired together. To have the most productive workers, not only do they need to be reasonably happy, but they must simultaneously have high morale. Leaders need to test for both conditions.


Few Employee Surveys Work

January 30, 2011

We have all been exposed to an employee satisfaction survey at some point in our working lives. For some of us, the idea of filling out yet another QWL (Quality of Work Life) survey is not nearly as appealing as having a root canal. I have witnessed a significant hit to morale in many groups as a result of these attempts by management to gather information. Let’s examine why employee surveys cause problems and suggest some antidotes that can make a big difference.

1. Questionable anonymity – Nearly all QWL surveys are advertised by managers as being anonymous. This is to encourage people to share information without fear of repercussion. Unfortunately, nearly all surveys these days are conducted electronically. Most people are aware that anything online can be traced, if a smart IT technician is assigned to the case. People simply do not believe the promise of anonymity, which lowers the validity of the data. One way to give slightly more confidence in the integrity of the process is to include a statement such as this at the end of the form, “You do not have to type your name on this survey because it is anonymous. We will pay no attention to who you are if you do not sign the document. However, some people do wish to be contacted personally to give further input that might not be adequately covered on the survey. For that reason, there is a line to give your name if you wish. Someone will get back to you.”

Of course, no statement by management is going to convince the die-hard skeptics, but this explanation will assist most people. Another action that can help is to have a shop floor person (perhaps a known skeptic) participate in the data analysis phase, so he or she can verify personally that the managers do not know who said what.

If you claim anonymity but are quietly keeping track on the side out of curiosity, then there is no hope for you, and you should get out of the leadership occupation immediately.

2. Poorly worded questions – many managers believe that putting together a survey is a simple matter of writing a few questions about how people feel. Actually, survey design is a rather complex and exacting science. There are numerous ways to present questions that will yield meaningless (or at least ambiguous) information. There are also some methods that will generally produce usable data. The cure for this problem is to have someone who is trained on survey questions actually construct the instrument. If you have not had at least one course in experimental research design, then it is best to leave the matter to someone who has.

3. Long and tedious survey – It is not uncommon for QWL surveys to contain over 100 detailed questions. It is amazing that the designers of these surveys do not realize the obvious fatigue factor involved in completing one of these burdensome questionnaires. A much more accurate reading can be obtained by keeping the number of questions to 20 or less. This can be accomplished by paying attention and only asking important questions. Leaving out the fluff can cut the time to take a survey by more than half.

4. Management interprets the information as they please – It is frustrating to witness how managers wave away complaints or gripes on surveys as simple whining. Or they might shrug their shoulders and say, “there is absolutely nothing we can do about this issue,” so they consider the input as moot. The antidote here is to not ignore input regardless of how painful it is or how frivolous it seems. All input needs to be considered valid and not assumed away with some convenient rationalization.

5. “Nothing ever changes” – This is a common theme on the shop floor. “We take these stupid surveys, but nothing ever changes.” The antidote to this habitual problem is to actually take concrete actions based on the survey, then (and this is the part most managers forget) advertise that the changes are being made as a result of the QWL survey. Rather than saying, “We are going to add a second brief afternoon break,” say “As a result of your input in the recent survey, we are changing the break rules to allow a short second break in the afternoon. As always, we appreciate your candid feedback.” If managers do not make a conscious effort to communicate that changes are the result of input, people will usually not make the connection. Once a change is made and it becomes habit, people forget that there was a change, so the perception of “nothing ever changes” is common.

6. Managers try to react but do the wrong thing – It is far better to let the shop floor people be involved in decisions of how to improve conditions based on survey results. It may take a little more time, but the quality of process changes will be far better if those impacted the most have a say in their invention. They will make the changes work rather than wonder and push back at the clueless inventions of upper management. It is better to have workers inside the tent piddling out, than outside the tent piddling in.

7. Managers reacting to the vocal minority rather than the silent majority – This problem is common when surveys give the opportunity for open-ended comments. People on the fringe can give strong input, and managers might mistakenly interpret this to be the will of the majority. The simple antidote to this problem is to verify that a strong message really does come from several individuals rather than one highly disgruntled outlier.

8. Survey not tested for validity – For a survey to be useful, it needs to measure the phenomena it purports to measure. There are statistical techniques for determining if an instrument has validity. You may not have the time or money to invest in a professional survey designer to test the validity of an instrument, but at least you should ask the question of whether you are actually getting valid information.

9. No thought to reliability – The reliability of a survey is different from validity. For a survey to be reliable, it should produce a similar result if repeated and there have been no changes in processes since the last survey was taken. If survey results are all over the map when nothing in the environment in changing, it is a sign that the instrument is not reliable (repeatable).

10. Poorly communicated – When surveys are sent out, the cover letter explaining the purpose and process is a critical document. Many managers have an administration person whip out a paragraph of “management speak” like this. “It is vital that we know what people in our operation think in order to continually improve working conditions. Please take the time to fill out this anonymous survey that will give us the information. Thank you.” Here is a different note where the manager took the time to set up the survey for success.

“We are going to re-do our strategic plan, and it is important to include your input before making changes. The attached survey will begin the process. Before you take this survey, please reflect on the following points:
• The survey really is anonymous – we will have shop floor people help with the analysis to verify no names are attached to the data.
• We will summarize the data for you as soon as it is received.
• We will use the information as the basis for a series of meetings (you are invited to participate) on how this business can be improved.
• We will be making changes based on the results of this survey.
• We are all part of making this organization a success.”

With an introduction like that, employees will know this survey will likely have some impact and their viewpoints matter. It is critical to not waste credibility, time, and energy on a poorly designed and administered QWL survey. If the above 10 points are considered when designing an employee survey, it will produce results that can be the basis of solid organizational progress.