Salting the OatsPosted 1/16/2004
By Dennis E. Mannering, CSP
The old adage is true: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink!" However, you can put salt in his oats and make him thirsty.
There are numerous ideas about what motivates people. Labor unions would have us believe higher wages and fringe benefits will do the trick. Employers would love to believe their workers really want to help them make a big profit. Every once in a while, a company gives its workers a raise or a new fringe, and everyone is happy ... for a while. But, in a matter of time, discontent returns. Motivated people become harder and harder to find. Why?
The Unquenchable Thirst
Abraham Maslow's theory of the Hierarchy of Needs helps us to understand what motivates people and how, as employers and supervisors, we can practice appropriate and productive motivational techniques. Maslow placed "self-actualization" - the desire to become everything one is capable of becoming - at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of human needs, to be satisfied only after the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.
Unfortunately, we often look in the wrong places. Both workers and managers seek outside stimuli to create inner motivation. Human beings have an unquenchable thirst for more and better things, so that things and rewards and fulfillment of needs are not permanent motivators, but rather temporary movers.
Over the years we've tried every conceivable ploy to motivate people and have found that nothing works. Systems of reward, change of process and deeper psychological understanding are only partly successful. Why? I believe there are several reasons.
Motivation Versus Movement
One reason is that employers really don't want motivated workers. They confuse movement with motivation. They want people who do what they want, when they want and how they want it done. Now, a motivated person may not necessarily do just that. He or she may be looking for new and better ways to do things, rocking the boat by suggesting innovative ideas to a company content to do things the way they've always been done.
So the motivated employee may find ideas squelched and, along with ideas, motivation. We need to understand there is a difference between motivation and movement. Motivation is internal; movement is external. Motivation is based on belief; movement on money or other external conditions. Movement is temporary, while motivation tends to be more permanent.
When all is said and done, motivation is an inside job. If a person is truly motivated to accomplish a goal - to be the best in his or her profession, to be a productive and responsible member of society - it is because of a desire that comes from within the person, a desire that remains there even when rewards or recognition are removed. Once possessed, this desire manifests itself in the way a person thinks and acts.
Thinking, feeling, acting - these three words are primary to defining another word that is basic to motivation - attitude. Motivation is an attitude.
Creating the Environment
My work with managers and leaders over the years has taught me a number of valuable lessons about motivating others. The following ideas should serve as "thought stimulators" as you consider how to tackle the challenge of motivation.
Motivation happens within each person. Motivation is an inside job. What you can do is provide an environment where an individual will choose to be positively motivated.
With some people this may seem hard to believe. The catch is that their motivation isn't necessarily positive or what is desired by the leader. The student who is motivated to sleep late rather than go to school, the worker who stays up too late at night to be productive the following morning, the salesperson who spends more time in the coffee shop than with clients. In each of these cases the person is behaving in a manner with an inner need to sleep, to party or socialize. Motivation? Yes. Productive? No.
Trying to motivate someone by showing him or her how you'll benefit is futile. You would be more effective by recognizing the individual's needs and showing him or her how he or she stands to benefit.
Wait a minute! Don't you pride yourself on being fair with people and treating them all the same? If you had more than one child, would you treat them all the same? Of course not! I remember my own three sons and how different they were growing up. At one time my oldest was home from school and informed me that I wasn't fair. I gave the middle son the car much more often than I gave it to him. "That's true," I replied, "but let me tell you why. He doesn't bring the car back empty!"
The most successful leaders I have worked with take the time to communicate what they expect from employees, rather than leaving it to chance. Further, they express confidence in their employees' ability to meet such expectations. "I know you can make a difference with this project" is much more motivating than "Try not to screw this one up."
The person who is sincerely asked a question about solving a problem or tackling a project is apt to take ownership in bringing about a change or finding the right solution.
Most projects will need resources to do the job and overcome obstacles along the way. A positive leader will help equip an employee with the information, tools and contacts needed to be successful.
Most of the people I work with tell me they want to do a good job and then want to be told they have done a good job. Yet I find many managers nervous about giving compliments. "They might slack off," they tell me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people will take an encouraging word as a sign to keep going, not slow down. By the way, when giving recognition, be sure to provide things the person would value, not things that motivate you. Some people want plaques and public recognition. Others would find that to be punishment and would rather have a quiet "thank you."
In my book, "How Good Managers Become Great Leaders," I have separate chapters devoted to the topics of self-esteem and discipline. You need to connect the importance of self-esteem, discipline and motivation. You may have to criticize the performance, but never the performer.
To establish an environment that fosters motivation, you must exhibit the behaviors desired, as well as reward the efforts of
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