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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Motivation? I Pay Them, Don't I?

It's curious how subjects for this blog seem to pop up out of the blue each week, mostly from mentoring sessions.   Motivation of the troops is a perennial theme, especially on the basis of "I don't seem to be able to motivate them - I pay them enough!"

The problem is, of course, that motivation is a frail flower and depends absolutely on the individual.  In essence, it isn't feasible to offer a "one size fits all" solution.

Alright, it does work in, for example, investment banking where vast profits generate vast bonuses which apparently motivate a very small number of people to work long hours to make large mounts of money.   However, the proportion of those people in comparison to the rest of the working population is minute, and really shouldn't be used as a tool for motivating others.

The fact is that we make surprising assumptions about motivation mostly concerning rewards for performance.   Noted US speaker, Dan Pink, has an excellent short (11 minutes) video on YouTube at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc which debunks the whole concept of payment by results for cerebral work while noting that it seems to work for more physical activities.

To reiterate, the problem is that different things motivate different people which is much more of as problem in large organisations which invariably fall back on the pay/reward solution.

The American psychologist Herzberg postulated the concept of the positive and negative motivational factors and, perhaps surprisingly, salary is not a positive factor.   In essence, if the salary paid is broadly acceptable to the recipient, the result is neutral while if it is lower than perceived as acceptable by the individual, then it de-motivates.

On the other hand, reward is seen as being positive in all senses, but it must be pointed out that reward can be defined in a multiplicity of ways, and not necessarily in monetary terms.

For example, a bunch of flowers to the right person at the right time, a simple "thank you for a job well done" email, cream cakes all round on a Friday and so on, can and are just as effective in showing the team that their work is appreciated.

In the end, however, the only real solution is to discover the trigger that says for each individual that this is the company for which I want to work, where I am appreciated, and where I can see a way to progress.

While I am not an enthusiast for annual appraisals and 360 degree assessments, they can be of value in uncovering the aspirations of the individual.  Far better, however, is the regular (and I mean, regular) at least one hour one-to-one conversation, on the diary once a month and inviolate, and at the agenda of the individual.  These should start off by "what do you want to discuss today" so that the individual can discuss and explain his/her issues without fear or favour.

This demand, and I mean demands, an absolutely no-blame culture which engenders an environment of trust and an elimination of anxiety.   Kenneth and Will Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, say that: "Upward communication is an essential part of the effective functioning of an organisation" and that can only be based on trust.

The one-to-one then can uncover the motivational trigger which must not then be exploited but can be used judiciously to help the individual grow and progress in the organisation to the advantage of both.

There are other ways, of course.  The great coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi used to say: "I want you guys to be fired with enthusiasm.  Because if you aren't, then you will be fired - with enthusiasm!".  Now that's motivation.

And me?  I'm motivated to go get a cup of coffee.  Have a great week.

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David Caton Roberts said...


I've been thinking about similar issues this week and I had a look through the lenses of three philosophers (Freud, Nietzsche, and Frankl) to understand the motivation of individuals to 'get involved.' I thought that what I found offered some insight. My findings also confirmed our old adage 'It depends.'

A very brief synopsis of my readings so far is as follows:

Freud - Argues the the primary motivation for a human being is the search for pleasure.

Nietzsche - Argues that the primary motivator is man's 'Will to Power' an individuals drive for glory and greatness. Becoming a hero, he argues, is far more important that survival.

Frankl - Argues that the primary motivator is man's search for meaning. It is the strive for meaning in ones life that provides an individual with his motivation.

Enough theory!

My experience in practice is that motivation of the people who work within our organisations is about understanding what is important for each individual and then creating a context for that individual so that they can see the connection between their work and their personal objectives.

It is about allowing the individual to 'own' their work.

To achieve this requires that the organisation has managers who care about their employees. Sometimes you may get burned but these burns will be fewer and less severe than the burns suffered by organisations who employ managers who do not care about their employees.

Ivan J Goldberg said...

Great stuff David! If anything I like the Frankl concept and certainly your point about managers who care about their employees.

Paul Bridle said...

I think it is arrogant for anyone to think that they motivate another person. Motivation comes from within and people have control over their own motivation and should be responsible for it.

A leaders job is to hire motivated people and give them a place where they can excel at what they do.