One mistake that we make as managers and leaders is to believe that people are not motivated. People are always motivated, just not necessarily in the manner we want them to be. Take, for instance, the person who does just enough on the job to get by. We might look at the behavior and think this person is NOT motivated. Now, let’s add the twist: this person does just enough because he/she has realized that everyone gets the same pay raise regardless of the quantity of the work. The person is motivated to do “just enough.” Or what about the person who does less, but who is striving for perfection which requires a slower pace and lower output? Again, the person is motivated to go slow.
So, what are some of the things we need to know about motivation? Every time I train on motivation, I ask people to write on one side of an index card the things that motivate them on the job and on the opposite side the things that de-motivate them. Then I ask them if the lists are different or just opposites. No, they suggest, the lists are different. Precisely. The things that motivate us on the job are different from the things that de-motivate us. Frederick Herzberg’s work on motivation suggested that the motivators (what he called growth factors) are predominantly associated with job content or achievement, such as challenging work, feeling valued, the satisfaction from completing difficult tasks, being given responsibility and the freedom to do the job as one sees best. On the other hand, the de-motivators (hygiene factors) are associated with the job environment: difficulties with supervisor/manager, stressful interpersonal relations, limited choice, lack of salary/rewards, repetitive work, and job insecurity, upset over company policy. The importance of this insight must not be missed. Eliminating or reducing the de-motivators will not motivate someone; it will simply reduce the person’s degree of de-motivation. It brings that person back to ground zero — it doesn’t actually propel them to succeed. What does motivate people are their job content and/or job achievement opportunities. When Herzberg explained the reasoning behind this insight, he suggested that improvement in the de-motivators does not excite people (motivate them) because they believe the factor should have been there all along. Think about it. Don’t we all believe we should work for reasonable, effective supervisors, get paid what we’re worth and not have to deal with a co-worker who is being obnoxious?
All of this leads to the question: “What can we do as leaders and managers to create an environment where people are motivated?” Again, let’s turn to Herzberg. He suggested four key factors that motivate. First is competence: the importance of the person knowing how to do the job well. The second is choice: does the person have the freedom or autonomy to do the job and make decisions as he/she sees best? The third is meaningfulness: does the person see why doing the job is important and how it fits into the bigger picture? This factor is critical when people have repetitive work that requires a high degree of accuracy. And the final factor is progress: do we feel like we’re getting somewhere? If we complete one mound of work, only to have it replaced with another mound of work, it feels like nothing ever gets accomplished.
Herzberg commented that if we were to spend time and energy developing these areas of people’s jobs, we would need to spend far less on the job environment factors (pay, physical space, equipment) that really don’t serve to motivate.
During this time of huge layoffs and job loss in the workplace, there are many de-motivating factors present: loss of co-workers, piles of additional work, tense environment and stressed-out managers. Is there something we can do that will help those who still have jobs but are feeling terrible? Focus — not on eliminating the de-motivators — but on building the motivators: competence, choice, meaningfulness and progress.