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What's my motivation?

Published on 03/10/03 at 11:15am

I was chatting recently to a friend in the industry, and he was telling me about his recent national sales conference, which was held at a coastal venue. When asked how it went, he glibly replied: Not bad. Only one person died. Well actually thats a bit misleading. One of the senior managers managed to smuggle his wife into the hotel. A Buddhist, you know. She was knocked down and run over by a donkey cart. Must have been fate to be reborn as a result of wheels going round in the wrong place.

Actually the big deal of the week was a team building exercise, to help us work better together. Bit of a nightmare. The national sales manager won, by cheating, and the medical director got himself excused by producing a medical certificate, saying something like hypoethanolaemia. Lots of guys said they enjoyed it, but Im not sure what it did to make us do the work better or get more business.

Lets get motivated

This got my mind working around the problem of what can make us work better. It is what the books and management gurus call motivation. My pocket Oxford dictionary suggests that to motivate is to cause a person to act in a particular way, but in the case of workplace motivation we are explicitly meaning ways of helping workers perform their jobs. It is easy to lose sight of what it really means.

It is common for HR to word adverts so that the company puts self-motivation into the candidate profile, when what they mean is they want someone who will get on with the job when the bosss back is turned. This is a million miles away from creating constructs to continuously improve work for the employee and employee effectiveness for the company. What I want to explore here are the things that make individuals, and groups of individuals, work better.

Some of the early work into the nature of motivation in the workplace was done by Mayo at the Hawthorne electrical assembly plant between 1924 and 1927, and experiments were done which varied the working conditions of assembly workers to ascertain what changes produced improved output. Mayo concluded that it was not so much the physical conditions of the workplace, but attention to personal issues which could most effectively increase work output. The issues identified were the need for recognition, security and sense of belonging in a work environment. Informal groups within a workplace can exercise strong social controls over work habits and the attitudes of individual workers. Noteworthy is the observation that group collaboration does not occur by accident, and needs planning and development. Whilst observing the effect on the group, it was also noted that singling out individuals for training and development increased their own self-esteem and consequently productivity.

Much of the relevant work on human motivation is quite old, and a frequently cited source is the paper by Abraham Maslow, published in 1943 (also known as theory z). You can view the original at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.html, but take it from me that it is not easy going. Put simply, he identifies five basic needs or goals (motivations) in a hierarchy of needs. The most fundamental are physiological, such as food and water, then safety, which includes self-protection. Above these are social needs  such as belonging and friendship  then self-esteem needs and then the least basic needs, called self-actualisation needs, meaning the need for personal development, creativity and accomplishment.

Maslow argues that the needs which are lowest in the hierarchy are sought first. You can see that in a developed society where the first three layers may be well catered for, more intellectual motivations may pervade. In a workplace, once salary can satisfy the most basic needs, human needs will ascend the hierarchy and seek inner satisfaction. You might argue that money is a great motivator, and we should all be motivated to seek the greatest remuneration, but money can only motivate to a certain extent  assuming that basic needs are met.

Arguably, if one applied a Marxist philosophy to salaries, we should, as equal human beings all be paid the same satisfactory salary. This would mean that our motivations would be at the highest level, but in a competitive labour market, when employers want to get the best employees they can afford (in terms of established capabilities) this will never happen. Reversing the issue shows that money is more of a demotivator than motivator. There can be little more distressing than earning less than you expect and feeling cheapened. Sales representatives within the industry are typically paid a bonus depending on their performance, and whilst it is admirable for an individual to be directly rewarded for outstanding efforts, in the pharmaceutical arena we have the ethical dilemma that inappropriate sales are frowned upon, and there is always a temptation to overstep the bounds of good practice to make that extra sale.

The above theories were consolidated and confirmed by Herzberg who propounded a two-factor hygiene and motivation theory. Like the physiological aspects of Maslow, it was proposed that basic working conditions had to be fulfilled. These included working conditions, company policies and salary. If these factors were not fulfilled, they would become demotivational. Not surprisingly the true motivational factors are achievement, recognition in the workplace, personal growth and advancement and job interest.

Enough of the theory

Anyone with a will can unearth volumes of literature on motivation, and similarly there are organisations that will consume your profits with promises of motivating your staff so they walk to the moon and back before lunchtime. My thinking is What is it that I can do, and what is achievable? Conversely, what is it around me that is being done incorrectly and could be changed? The answer is buckets. It never ceases to amaze me, given that so much information and help is there in the public domain, that organisations are still getting it wrong. There is still apparent belief that by and large nothing needs to be done in some organisations. We employ self-starters, they are self motivated! or They had bloody well produce the results, or they will be out of a job!

Tucked away in my souvenirs of previous jobs is a training manual from the first management training course (and probably the best one) I ever went on. I make no apologies for developing some of the ideas from that course, and if the guy who did the course recognises the material, he should take it as a compliment that 20 years down the line, I am still taking note of the training. Training is accelerated experience, and my intention is to accelerate the readers path to staff motivation.

Brads ten minute motivator pack

1. Take a good look at the people who you think work for you/with you, and ask yourself the question whether their physiological needs from the job are satisfied. If they are not, then further actions may be rendered useless. Things to think about are whether they are looking after themselves, can they get to the workplace, is the working environment hostile to them (it may be something silly like a chair that is uncomfortable).

2. Keep the guys informed, and make sure they inform you about what is going on, and what they think. If the team feels that there is something that they need to know, it may get in the way of progress. Similarly, if the team agree that they are being filled in on all the information, not only will they understand why they are doing what they are doing, but they may also come up with ideas that improve work for themselves and other group members. Under-informing will create group conflicts and speculation. It is also difficult to identify a problem without being honest  so if you are going to inform, dont tell porkies. Your lies will always catch up with you, and you end up telling lies about the lies.

3. Train your staff to do the job you want them to do, and make sure that the training gives scope for them to enjoy a level of personal development.

4. Ask yourself what it is that makes individuals want to work, beyond physiological needs?

A practical model for motivation identifies three broad categories of worker:

a. Those with a need for achievement (achievers)

b. Those with a need for companionship and support around them (affiliators)

c. Those with a need for power and to exert a level of authority (power persons)

Achievers are the sorts who take pleasure in the nature of their work. They are intellectually stimulated, enjoy the challenge, and want to deliver a completed job that the team is happy with. They want to improve, and thrive on encouragement and improvement. They can be great people to work with, because if they are given the information and tools to do the job, they will go away and do it on their own. I love achievers, because they are stimulating individuals to work with (providing you keep a tab on them). They analyse the work, and by asking searching questions make the manager a better person.

Affiliators tend to be people-centered. They need others around them, and they want to be liked. On the other hand, you would not want them to try to work in isolation because it just wont work. They need to be channelled into people-orientated tasks, such as teamwork or caring for others. They are not good with negative feedback. Whilst this might seem an ideal person for a sales force, remember the goal of selling is the sale, and although it is good to be loved, the targets are the bottom line.

Power persons are at their best when they can influence others or the outcome of an event. They want to change the world, and in the right environment, they can become good managers themselves. They can be visionaries and sell you their dreams. They not only want to do well, like achievers, but they want to be in control and will seek positions of responsibility, leadership and of course, power. They appreciate the trappings of power, the physical such as bigger offices and better cars, but they also want the public recognition that comes through title. However, you cannot have an army composed entirely of generals, and there could be conflict if two or more power persons work together. The good news is that individuals rarely fall into just one category as used here, you can identify elements of each category in an individual. The trick is to realise which element is foremost and will make a better worker. A power person could show achiever attributes, for example, and be motivated by the task of the job.

If you identify what makes a worker tick and offer a bit of what they want, they deliver the goods.

5.Finally, and probably most important, take a good look at yourself, and decide what it is that makes you work best.

Motivating staff is an ongoing process, and if you find something that works for an employee, then do it again and again.

If you need any more ideas, go to despair.com .

Brad Abbey is the pen name of an industry observer. He has followed the industry from both inside and outside over the past 25 years, and witnessed many bizarre decisions.

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