The Motivation Conundrum

QuestionI’ve been a business leader for most of my career, managing staff ranging from 3 to more than 20.  One thing that constantly puzzles me is employee motivation.  Some folks attack their work with great gusto, others simply clock in every day and do the minimal amount to get by.  What can I do to get everyone to be motivated and driven to do their best?

Alice Waagen says:  Good question and one that I am asked with great frequency as I coach organizational leaders.  If I could discover the magic elixir of motivation, I’d be one very rich woman.  There has been much written on the subject of motivating others and the research I find most compelling focuses on some broad overarching principles while acknowledging that what motivates behavior is very much an individual set of drivers.  That said, here are my top three conditions that business leaders can leverage to support motivation in the workplace:

  • Create and communicate a compelling vision for the work to be done. A strong sense of mission or purpose can motivate people to do wonders.  If I believe in the work that I do, if I see my work has meaning and makes a difference, I will be drawn to give it my best effort.
  • Recognize and reward achievement with great frequency. The biggest killer of motivation I see are annual performance goals.  Annual goals need to be broken down into small, daily or weekly achievements and recognized thusly.  No one can stay motivated by recognition that is given once a year.
  • Foster learning and development. If I have a path to follow that allows me to grow my skills and knowledge, I will feel valued at work and want to do my best.

The bottom line:  no one can motivate another person.  People are motivated by the conditions of the workplace.  The job of leaders is to create a positive and supportive work environment which in turn will promote motivation and loyalty.