Understanding Effective Employee Motivation

Dr. Brian Monger

A major role of managers is directing and leading the efforts of staff to achieve results. These managers must recognise that company success depends in a very large part on their ability to motivate staff to use the knowledge and skills that they acquired through orientation and training.

The Environment for Motivation

Motivation differs from the other activities of management because of its indirect nature of application. The action-oriented manager must realise that it is not possible to command a person to be motivated. It is possible, however, to create environments that encourages staff to motivate themselves. Because all motivation is self-motivation, the first step in a motivation program is to create an environment in which self-motivation is possible. This process must begin with the removal of demotivators, which may be defined as those conditions that discourage the positive efforts of staff. Thus the successful manager must generate an early awareness of the causes of demotivation and their effects on productivity.

Job Demotivators

Managers have identified demotivators that may be placed into the following classifications: uncertain job requirements, misapplied qualifications, inadequate development, poor working environment, and poor reward systems.

Uncertain Job Requirements

Unclear Job Responsibilities. People may not know what they are supposed to do, the limits of their responsibilities, their interrelationships with others who have related responsibilities, and where they fit into the organisation. “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that, too.” – “That’s not my responsibility.” Such statements reflect a poor job description, inadequate orientation, poor training, or all three of these activities that should clarify job responsibilities.

Uncertain Performance Standards. “How well am I supposed to do the job?” – “How do I know when I’m doing the job the way you want it done?” – “Yes, I know you’ll tell me, but I’d like to know, too, so I can evaluate my own performance.” – “The other supervisor said he wanted it done a different way.” These replies by a staff member reflect a system of inadequate performance standards. A clear definition of job responsibilities does not remove uncertainty unless the employee knows the level of performance that is expected.

Misapplied Qualifications

Wrong Job. An individual may perhaps be unsuited psychologically, temperamentally, or even physically for some roles. A manager who recognises that a person is in the wrong job might be doing them a favour by terminating the unsatisfactory relationship and suggesting other career opportunities that might be more suitable.

Under or Over qualified. Underqualified persons frequently become discouraged or frustrated because of their inability to acquire the needed knowledge and skills within a requisite time, to perform within the job standards, or to compete successfully with their associates. In contrast, the over qualified individual frequently becomes bored or bitter because of the lack of opportunity to use his or her talents.

Dead-end Job. Related to the over qualified case is the individual who perceives the present job as a dead-end with no opportunity to develop personally and be promoted to higher responsibilities and recognition within the organisation.

Inadequate Personal Development

Inadequate Training. To those individuals with the potential for development and a willingness to learn, the lack of proper training is frustrating and discouraging. This discouragement is particularly pertinent to new entrants into the field of selling.

Poor Supervision. To the average or above-average performer, supervision that is thought to be unfair or incompetent is highly demotivating.

Poor Communications. “Is anybody listening?” A staff member may at times, feel frustrated and lonely in their job. A manager who is a good listener can help prevent small problems from becoming major demotivators.

Poor Working Environment

Unsatisfactory Environment. The environment in which some jobs are performed may be depressing or unacceptable to some people, particularly for extended employment. Thus a comfortable and well equipped office area or an automobile is important for a sales representative who spends many hours on the road. Creative individuals tend to be more sensitive to their environment and therefore find an unsatisfactory environment more demotivating. An individual with a metropolitan background may become demotivated if assigned to a rural territory that requires travel, and vice versa.

Unsatisfactory Peer Relationships. Relationships with one’s peers can be an important part of the working environment. It is disturbing and demotivating to some individuals who may require a close working relationship with others.

Poor Reward Systems

Unfair Compensation. Unfair or inadequate compensation is viewed as lack of appreciation for efforts expended or results produced. It is important to note that unfair compensation can be a strong demotivator, but it is only one of many demotivators, not the only one. It is only one of many forms of recognition. An increase in pay, therefore, will have only a temporary effect if other demotivators are not corrected. Unfair compensation is a particularly strong demotivator in selling where productivity may be difficult to measure accurately.

No Recognition. “It isn’t the hard work that gets me, it’s the lack of recognition.” Recognition can be a stronger reward than compensation for employees who have a strong need for social recognition.

Managing through Motivation

If management is defined as the process of getting work completed through people, then motivation is the process of ‘creating job circumstances that will inspire, persuade, encourage, or challenge individuals to manage themselves’. Managing through motivation is no easy task because it requires a change in management philosophy from one of being in direct control to indirect control by creating job circumstances in which individuals will direct themselves. Thus management is achieving results through people who are motivated individually.

Defining motivation as an individual process differs with more popular definitions that characterise motivation as a process of inspiring or persuading employees to want to work. While the importance of the leader’s charismatic influence cannot be discounted altogether, behavioural scientists have shown that motivation is an individual process of meeting one’s own needs. The manager who wants to motivate his or her staff must therefore understand their individual needs.

A Logical Approach to Individualised Motivation

Why Do People Work?

If we ask, “Why do people work?” the most common answer will be, “To acquire the means to satisfy their needs off the job.” We earn money to buy goods and services that we need and want. While this answer recognises the role of money as our exchange medium, it fails to identify the important role of job motivation in our industrial society.

Would the individual who works for money to satisfy needs off the job continue to work if he or she inherited a large sum of money? There are innumerable instances of persons who work hard, enjoy what they are doing, and receive no compensation. This leads to the conclusion that most needs are job-related needs that can be satisfied on the job. It is important to emphasise that the individual is working to satisfy his or her needs, not the needs of the employer. Just as a mistaken purchase that fails to satisfy the buyer’s needs results in buyer dissatisfaction, a job that does not meet the employee’s needs on and off the job leads to demotivation that appears in loss in productivity, unrealised use of potentials, requests for transfer, resignations, terminations, or worst of all, retirement on the job.

How Should Managers Manage?

If people buy to satisfy their needs, if people work to satisfy their needs on and off the job, and if management is the process of getting results through people, then how should managers manage? Clearly, their management style should be to help employees meet their needs.

There is a sales dictum that states, “If you would sell what John Brown buys, you must see John Brown’s needs through John Brown’s eyes.” A management version of this saying could be, “If you would motivate how much John Brown tries, you must see John Brown’s needs through John Brown’s eyes.” Douglas MacGregor noted that we can improve our ability to control only if we recognise that control consists of selective adaptation to human nature, rather than attempting to make human nature conform to our wishes.

The Open Management System

In 1975, V.W. Kafka and J.H. Schaefer published a book titled “Open Management”, in which they state three motivational principles for managers. These principles are:

(1) see a situation from the other person’s point of view,

(2) identify and build on an individual’s strengths rather than concentrating on how to improve weaknesses, and

(3) understand and satisfy the individual’s human needs.

The Other Person’s Point of View

Because our point of view is the result of our total experiences, and because no two individuals have the same experiences, no two individuals can have the same point of view on all matters. The best that can be achieved is areas of understanding or agreement. If a manager wishes to see the situation from an employee’s point of view, then he or she must express a sincere desire to be understanding, to be willing to listen, to be a good observer of nonverbal communications, to communicate well, to generate similar interests if necessary, and to achieve clearly defined, mutually agreed upon common goals.

Build on Strengths

Our contemporary value structure emphasises the well-rounded individual, so that most of our training and reward systems emphasise the correction of weaknesses rather than building on individuals’ strength. Emphasising a person’s weaknesses is demotivating, while emphasising his or her strengths is a motivator. The management challenge, therefore, is to achieve superior performance by identifying persons’ special talents and arranging circumstances that will allow them to use these talents to achieve mutually agreed upon goals. Activities that are enjoyed most are usually done best. Thus developing areas of strength should produce a happier and more productive individual by satisfying his or her needs.

Individual Needs

The Open Management System focuses on five basic human needs – the need for economic security, the need for recognition or prestige, the need to dominate or control, the need for emotional security or personal self-worth, and the need to belong. These needs are very similar to those that have been identified by Maslow and Herzberg.

The Open Management System is directed more toward implementation than are the theories of Maslow and Herzberg. This system begins with the individual’s point of view by understanding his or her self-image, human symbols, strengths, and individual needs.

Self-Image. Individuals’ self-images are a reflection of how they see themselves and how they want others to see them. These images are composites of the many roles the individual plays – adult, parent, spouse, employee, community member, church member, organisation member, etc. It is important to understand how the individual sees himself or herself because he or she will be receptive to anything that reinforces a self-image and resist anything that threatens this image. To work effectively with an individual, we need to understand and reinforce the self- image by satisfying the related needs, building on strengths and not emphasising weaknesses.

Symbols. Human symbols are a way of telling others what is important to us. Our symbols include physical possessions like automobiles and houses; topics of personal interest, such as ideas and philosophies; and activities, such as sports, vacations, schools, and occupations. By observing these human symbols, the manager can identify persons’ self-images and begin to identify their needs. The manager must look for a pattern of symbols that identifies an individual’s needs and the importance of these needs to the individual. The manager must avoid making judgments regarding the values of these symbols and needs, thereby projecting his or her value system on the value system of the employee. Such judgments lose the perspective of the individual.

Needs. A manager who uses symbols to identify needs must consider several important points regarding the relationships between symbols and needs. First, one symbols may reflect different needs to different individuals. Second, it is the needs that must be satisfied, not the symbols. Therefore an employee who wins a contest is satisfying a need for recognition, not the need for a colour television set. Third, it is the use of a person’s strengths on the job that satisfies the individual’s needs. And finally, the circle of reference is really in three dimensions so that it is in the form of a cone.

As one set of needs is satisfied, a higher order of needs is sought, a concept that is reflected in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The manager, therefore, must understand the staff members’ present needs and anticipate their future ones. Thus the Open Management System of motivation requires considerable empathy on the part of the manager.

Why Is Motivation Theory Rarely Applied?

While Maslow’s motivational theory was first published in 1943, this and subsequent theories have found little systematic application in industry. This lack of application is explained largely by the fact that the systems for motivating individuals run counter to society’s and industry’s preference for dealing with groups by setting up systems, methods, and procedures that apply equally to all members of the group. Organised society finds it easier and cheaper to deal with groups than with individuals. Furthermore, governments and unions mandate that everyone be treated equally. The aforementioned theories of motivation, however, suggest strongly that group motivation schemes will be only marginally effective.

To motivate individuals to the maximum of their abilities, it is necessary to identify their individual needs.

A second reason for not implementing individual motivation systems is that they require eliminating demotivators, which is a costly and time-consuming process. Some managers would prefer the short-range incentive systems that give immediate results, but they must be supplemented with other incentives as the short-run effect wears off.

Eliminating Job Demotivators

Herzberg stated that satisfying hygienic factors is a prerequisite  for effective motivation. Failing to satisfy hygienic factors is like flipping the light switch where the wiring is defective. No matter how frequently one turns on the switch, the bulk will never produce light. Similarly, no amount of job enrichment will produce a motivated employee if the compensation is unfair or inadequate. It is essential to clean up the negative job environment before initiating positive motivational efforts. While this may appear to be a formidable task, current management practices provide the means to eliminate most demotivators.

Dr Brian Monger is Executive Director of MAANZ International and an internationally known consultant with over 45 years of experience assisting both large and small companies with their projects.  He is a specialist in negotiation and behaviour He is also a highly effective and experienced trainer and educator

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