You actually may have called with a such a request. And I have to tell you, it always gives me pause.
I am clear about the fact that managers struggle to excite, energize—and sometimes long to light an actual match under—staff members who appear to be unengaged or unfocused.
In desperation, they think that a management training professional like myself must have a workshop, presentation, or speech—something, anything, that will inspire the unmotivated masses.
The truth is, I have yet to find the magical recipe for what motivates people. Heaven knows, it is not for lack of trying. I have spent countless hours diving into the research about what drives, motivates, energizes, and excites people. I have talked to hundreds of employers and employees, and asked them why they are eager to come to work and do a good job—or not. And I have discovered one thing: It’s a sticky wicket.
Why? Quite simply because not everyone is motivated by the same things. And to make matters more complicated, what motivates you today, this week, or this year is highly likely to change.
Fortunately, I am not one who suffers from a lack of motivation. And this repeated request to help managers motivate their teams has motivated me to look again at the research.
At the right, you’ll find my review of a fabulous primer called, “Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices,” by Harvard Business School professors Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria.
Below, is a set of suggestions that I believe all managers can start putting into immediate practice—although my conclusion may surprise you. As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.
Here’s to being your managerial best, — Alice
THE MOTIVATION EQUATION
It came to me a in a flash of blinding truth: The answer to the question of what motivates people has been staring us in the face all along. Achieving it requires nothing more than relentlessly practicing sound management principles.
If managers do their best to assign challenging work, to provide good feedback, and to reward success, they will be creating a work environment that will enable all to do their best, to be motivated to succeed.
There is no special sauce, no new mysterious chant that motivates employees. Be a good manager and you will motive others to do good work, insist the authors of “Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices,” by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria (see sidebar).
Why? Because all human motivation is based on the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn, and the drive to defend.
Of course, they aren’t the only researchers/writers to come to this conclusion. In “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Dan Pink offers a motivation model with three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Kenneth W. Thomas, author of “The Four Intrinsic Rewards That Drive Employee Engagement,” describes four intrinsic rewards that will get employees to move from “quiet satisfaction to an exuberant “Yes!” using four other drivers: meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress.
*After reading all three books of these learned authors, I decided that it was time to stop doing research and start asking how these models translate into management behaviors.
Here is how I matched these motivational-drives models into management actions:
1. Acquire, Bond, Learn, Defend: Help employees see a clear path to advancement and rewards. Promote collaboration and teamwork. Provide opportunities for learning and skill development. Create a climate of openness and trust.
2. Autonomy, Purpose, Mastery: Provide challenging work assignments. Relentlessly communicate mission and vision. Provide opportunities for learning and skill development.
3. Meaningfulness, Choice, Competence, Progress: Relentlessly communicate mission and vision. Provide opportunities for learning and skill development. Empower others to manage their own work and results. Help employees see a clear path to advancement and rewards.
Looking at the behaviors above, I see the blueprint for how to best direct the work of others. Granted, nothing is terribly new here. And let me be clear about my intention: In no way do I want to trivialize the authors who wrote these three important books. In fact, I have deep respect for each of them.
What I am suggesting though is that this research has not revealed any new breakthrough concepts of how to better motivate staff in the workplace.
It instead has provided us with new frameworks to explain and justify the best management practices we already know we need to use but sadly are often remiss in using. I see the value of this kind of research in serving as powerful voices advocating that managers incorporate sound management practices into their everyday actions as leaders in their organizations.
This is why I have stopped looking for a new wrinkle on how to motivate others.
If you want to motivate your staff, go back to the basics of management 101. The result will be a positive work climate that recognizes that achievement provides opportunity for growth and makes people want to work every day and be excited about what they do.
Sounds motivating to me.