Motivating people to do their job to the best of their ability is one of a manager’s most challenging tasks. Simply getting employees to do the work is not that difficult; as long as they’re reasonably paid and not treated too badly, they’ll do just enough to hang on to their jobs.
Where measuring output is simple, as with some repetitive tasks, financial incentives can increase output. But this is getting people to perform; it’s not truly motivating them.
US psychologist Frederick Herzberg famously clarified this distinction by telling the story about his dog.
When it was a puppy, he would nudge it in the rear with his foot, and it moved. When it was older, he would hold a biscuit in front of it, and once again it moved, this time towards the biscuit. But was the dog ever ‘motivated’?
Of course not. It was Herzberg who was motivated, not the dog. And this led him to ask: why does the motivational generator run so readily in some people and not in others? And what can be done to get these generators started and running in everyone? Every manager needs to ask this question, then strive to put systems in place to make it happen.
The psychology of motivation is complex. People have different energy and motivational levels, and attempts to motivate will work better with some than with others. However, there are a few ground rules that apply to everyone.
In any work environment, working conditions have to be reasonable and fair.
If, for example, there are petty and inequitable company policies, supervisors who favour some employees over others, backstabbing, or a low salary, employees will inevitably feel dissatisfied. In this situation, motivating the workforce will be well-nigh impossible.
These are what Herzberg called the ‘hygiene factors’; unless they are fixed, there is little chance of getting the motivational generator started in anyone.
The true motivators
Motivation flows from what Herzberg called the ‘true motivators’, and these arise from one source only: the job itself. They include the following:
- Having a challenging job with difficult but achievable targets;
- Being trusted and given the freedom to do the job in the employee’s own way;
- Being given more responsibility and a broader scope of work;
- Achieving success in a project that was expected to fail;
- Receiving a note of congratulations from the boss on a job well done;
- Receiving a promotion;
- Being sent on a course to learn a new technique.
Building motivation is always a work in progress. As a manager, you will never complete the tasks of cleaning up the hygiene factors and putting the true motivators in place. Good luck!