Do you ‘move’ or ‘motivate’ your employees?

People who simply ‘move’ in their jobs never flourish. ‘Motivated’ employees achieve success, and it’s your job to get them motivated.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

Do you have ‘motivated’ employees or are they simply ‘moving’?

Can you tell the difference? Frederick Herzberg, the renowned US psychologist and one of the world’s most influential names in business management, tells a story about his dog to clarify the distinction.

He had a Schnauzer. When it was a pup, he gently nudged it in the rear with his foot to move it out of the way. Later, when the dog was better trained, he held a biscuit in front of it, and once again it moved, this time forward, towards the biscuit.

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Who was ‘motivated’? Was it the dog, which didn’t like the sensation of getting kicked and moved away from Herzberg’s foot, then later moved towards the biscuit?

No, says Herzberg. In both instances the dog moved, but it wasn’t motivated. It was Herzberg himself who was motivated. He wanted the dog to move. The dog was quite happy to stay where it was.

People who simply ‘move’ in their jobs might survive, but they never flourish. By contrast, motivated people get results. They don’t have to be kicked or lured by the equivalent of a dog biscuit to do their jobs well. They are the ones you want working in your business.

While Herzberg appreciated that the psychology of motivation is highly complex, he couldn’t help but ask: why was the ‘motivational generator’ running in some people and not in others? And what could managers do to get these generators started and running in everyone?

Seeking employees’ opinions
To find the answers, Herzberg and his colleagues conducted a series of investigations, eventually involving thousands of employees all over the world. They asked these people a few simple questions:

  • Has there been a time when you felt really bad and dissatisfied about your job? If so, what happened to make you feel this way?
  • Has there been a time in your life when you have felt especially satisfied and good about your job? If so, what happened to make you feel this way?

Time and again, the same pattern of answers emerged. Factors causing dissatisfaction were company policy issues; relationship problems with supervisors, peers and subordinates; salary levels; status; and the employee’s personal life. All were extrinsic and had nothing to do with the job.

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Factors resulting in feel-good periods were things such as achieving success in a project which everyone thought would be a failure; receiving a note of congratulations from the boss on a job well done; being given additional responsibility; receiving a promotion; and being sent on a course to learn a new technique. All were intrinsic to the job itself.

Herzberg realised that simply modifying the extrinsic factors – what he called the ‘hygiene’ factors – would not get the motivational generator started. All it would do was reduce the level of dissatisfaction, a different matter altogether.

In order to get real motivation up and running, there has to be a change in the intrinsic factors of the work itself, what Herzberg called the ‘true motivators’.

They could include, for example, giving people more freedom to do the job their
own way; increasing the challenge by introducing new and more difficult tasks; allocating more responsibility; and broadening the scope of work.

Don’t wait until you have unhappy staff
And as with any motor, the motivational generator needs to be topped up with fuel, and undergo some maintenance from time to times.

Creating the most productive true motivator–hygiene factor balance in the work environment is always a work in progress.

Even if motivation levels in your team are high, you cannot afford to relax. Keep searching for ways and means of cleaning up the hygiene factors and putting the true motivators in place.