Having the opportunity of consulting and working within a number of industry sectors and various companies in many parts of the world, I am continually intrigued by the “motivation questions” that are so often asked – how can we motivate our staff well to achieve better productivity? How do we get our staff to take ownership for their respective roles and job responsibilities? How do we get our staff more excited about their work? How do we focus our people on what needs to get done?

There are many different theories about that which motivates people. The labour unions insist that better salaries and more benefits will increase productivity – this has never been the case. Even though an employer may give a staff complement a significant raise in monthly pay, after the initial “happiness” around the increase has subsided, the same problems arise and discontent returns. People become lethargic and, seemingly, the company’s interests and profitability are not central concepts in the minds of these employees.

Another problem is the seeming inability of management levels to create the right environment for staff to express their views or give ideas for improvement. Managers feel they need to be “in control” and that staff should just listen to instructions and do what they must do. This perceived lack of demonstrated value is demotivating for people who really do want to contribute and offer their best.

In their book, “Attitudes Are Contagious – Are Yours Worth Catching?”, Dennis and Wendy Mannering suggest the following principles about human motivation:

  • You can’t motivate other people – you can “move” people to do what you want them to do, but motivation is an “inside” job
  • All people are already motivated, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively – all people already do things as per their inward motivations, likes and dislikes, needs and wants
  • People do things for their reasons and not your reasons – trying to convince someone to do something by showing them how you will benefit is futile. You would be more effective by recognising their needs and showing them how they will benefit.
  • If you treat all people the same, you are mistreating most of the people – no two people respond to the same stimuli or treatment in the identical way. Seeming “fairness” may bring more successful motivation in some, but less in others.

The Mannerings conclude by suggesting that “motivation is an attitude” – the way we think, feel and act. If so, how can we use the above knowledge to enhance motivation and consequently productivity in the workplace?

Leadership levels may need to think differently about employee engagement, perhaps in some of the following ways:

  • Create an environment where suggestions and ideas are appreciated, discussed and put into action where possible
  • Give recognition for good ideas and employees “going the extra mile” in their work
  • Treat people as individuals, with their own needs and desires, their own aspirations
  • Attempt to get decision-making down to the lowest levels possible so that employees have a sense of control, accountability and responsibility over their own respective areas of work – this develops pride
  • Share as much “big picture” information as possible as often as possible with your staff – they should know exactly where the company is heading, including their responsibility in getting it there
  • Communicate with employees individually – understand “what makes them tick”
  • Celebrate successes with the employees – show your commitment to them in this regard
  • Reward employees appropriately
  • Be firm about expectations – performance management is crucial to create expectations around targets, behaviour and levels of service

Within an environment of trust, where individual and team contribution is valued, individual and team motivation comes to the fore and people start expressing their unique giftedness and take ownership for the company and its profitability. Employee engagement is key to a motivated workforce.

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