Performance Management Blog

Motivation and Dis-Un-Engagement

I got engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn, on a discussion page for HR professionals, where the question focused on, “How one can keep an employee motivated.”

The comments, again from HR people, focused on motivating employees through appreciation and recognition, having “a good environment,” having good morale where motivation, environment, management and employee relations affect things – and also having monetary benefits, having a speech to inspire them (and that they cannot always be motivated), and that they should be happy to work for your company (I am not sure if the latter meant that they should he happy to have a job or that they should be happy while working for your company).

The contributors also thought that one should also analyze each person personally and be sure that the employee is properly placed according to their strengths and expertise and that they should be assigned, “challenging work that would keep the passion burning.”

Lastly, I thought that this was also an interesting comment:

“Motivation sparks from self. A self-motivated person enjoys everything in life. Other people can just inspire the person. A person who enjoys his or her work can only stay motivated. Money, appreciation, recognition, environment along with work & personal life balance are some factors which helps only after the person is self-motivated. Its my personal view.“

All this is fine well and good. And it makes sense. BUT, will any of these thoughts actually impact work and productivity or quality or anything? My response was as follows:

There is a really great short video by Dan Pink on the theme of defining INTRINSIC motivation — it is animated and 11 minutes long and you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

So, motivation is one thing that is actually pretty well understood. The issue is that organizations tend to focus much more on EXTRINSIC (applied) motivators rather than create a workplace that is engaging. Much of this comes from the work of BF Skinner on animals during the 60s and 70s and those who followed him (like me). It got into schedules of reward and all sorts of things, including superstitious behavior (blowing on the dice to roll a 7, for example).

People like Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards, etc.) showed many of the downsides, but businesses today spend about 1% of revenues on such extrinsically driven “reward systems” that half of the employees do not even know exist. Obviously, there are mixed levels of effectiveness.

A better approach is to focus on improving the workplace to do a better job of NOT de-motivating workers. Much of my recent writings have been on themes like Dis-Un-Engagement and Dis-Un-Empowerment, focused on getting “leadership”  involved to do more to REMOVE those things that workers and work teams find de-motivating.

This kind of initiative can help generate alignment and teamwork and motivation and engagement / involvement to make things better for each and all.

The research shows that people are not engaged, in general. Spending money on a survey that tells you that you have a problem seems a bit foolish — if I were to ask four or five people the same questions, the dis-engagement would be obvious (either theirs or that of others they work with).

A LOT of this stuff ain’t Rocket Science and HR ain’t gonna fix it.

Some things need to be accomplished locally, at the interface of worker and manager; only there will improvements be made. (The exception might be if the feedback and measurement system were changed, since that helps drive behavior. Feedback drives results.)

YOU simply cannot MOTIVATE ME or anyone else. People motivate themselves and offering some “reward” for improvement is going to be a very short-term solution for maybe half of the workers.

As a joke, I could also offer them 10 cents if they were to reply, just to see if I could make my point!

A lot of people think that this is how things work in the workplace, insofar as motivating people for performance:

Needless to say, it might work in the former case until people want and expect even more, and it will certainly work in the latter (until the boss turns his or her back). The latter also generates Compliance, which translates to “very average” performance and there is no motivation to excel.

What we need to do is to remove the things that the people see as getting in the way of them excelling. Almost everyone WANTS to succeed. Let them.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at [email protected]

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. -- You can reach Scott at [email protected] and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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