Many managers often ask us the question “how can I motivate my employees” or “why do some staff rarely show initiative and leave it to management to come up with new ideas”.
De-motivated employees are a costly drain on the organization’s bottom-line and a negative influence on the culture.
Despite the severe implications of poor motivation, there’s a large gap between what science knows and what business actually does.
Research by scientists, economists and sociologists has shown us that motivation is actually much more complex than we thought. Here is an excellent example:
“In the mid-1990′s Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They employed all the right incentives. They paid professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time. A few years later another encyclopedia started — A different model — Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent or a euro or a yen. Do it because you like to do it.
Now 10 years ago if you had talked to an economist … anywhere … and said “Hey, I’ve got these different models for creating an encyclopedia — If they went head to head who would win? 10 years ago you could not have found a single, sober economist anywhere on planet earth who would have predicted the Wikipedia model”. Daniel Pink, 2009
This shows that motivation can also be created by factors such as intellectual challenge, emotional rewards and a sense of purpose.
The traditional approach to motivation has largely remained the same since the industrial revolution. This is the basic premise:
> If you reward something, you get more of that behaviour
> If you punish something, you get less of the behaviour
Research has shown that as long as the task only requires mechanical skills then the traditional carrot and stick approach works; i.e. higher pay equals higher performance. Think of the traditional widget maker on the production line.
However, when you look at jobs that require even the most basic cognitive skills, then higher incentives actually lead to lower performance. This research has puzzled economists, sociologists and psychologists as it actually goes against the pay structure of most companies. Look at the banking sector and you will see that the bonus culture is alive and well . When you reward people solely through performance this can often encourage unethical behavior and short-term thinking.
The research suggests that when tasks are more complicated, for example, something that requires innovation and lateral thinking then monetary rewards are not a guarantee of success.
So what does this mean for business?
At the most basic level, if you don’t pay enough, then people will be demotivated. So firstly, you need to pay your employees enough so that money isn’t an issue (See Hertzberg’s theory on Hygiene factors).
Once salary has been removed as a potential barrier to performance, then according to scientists there are 3 factors which need to be in place in order to achieve improved performance and employee satisfaction. These are:
> Autonomy – employees want to be self-directed in their work
> Mastery – allow them to develop and be good at something that matters
> Purpose – employees want to be part a greater cause that truly makes a difference
Leaders need to remember that they are managing people and can’t just throw money at the problem. Extrinsic rewards are fine up to a point but we need to ensure that work has meaning in order to really motivate employees.
If you want to incorporate Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose into your daily work; here are some questions to consider:
> How well is your job meeting your needs for the basic rewards – salary, benefits etc.?
> How much of your work is routine and non-routine work?
> How much autonomy do you have in your job? i.e. what you do? When you do it? How do you it? With whom do you do it?
> How often do you experience ‘flow’ in carrying out your job? How can you adapt your job so that you have more regular optimal experiences?
> Does your organisation have a ‘purpose’? How much does this inform your daily tasks?
To learn more about motivation read Dan Pink’s ground breaking book, “Drive”.
You can also contact Outstand to understand how you can apply the theory of motivation into your workplace.